Session 3: Causes and Conditions – Structural Racism

In this session we focus on structural racism, especially on black individuals, families and communities, of generations upon generations of racial oppression. We begin with some definitions, excerpted from ​Race, Power and Policy: Dismantling Structural Racism.

Racialization and Forms of Racism: ​Racialization shapes an institution so that as part of its normal functioning, and without anyone having a consciously racist intention, it produces disparities in outcome by race. A prime example of this is the way in which our criminal justice system has evolved. In general, officials avoid saying or doing things that are overtly racist. As long as the system appears to be operating ‘normally,’ many people do not perceive racism in the system, and many will resist any arguments that point out racial bias in criminal justice practices. And yet, racial disparities abound, in policing, in sentencing, in attitudes about the criminality of youth of color, and in profiling.

Different forms of racism

Interpersonal: ​This refers to prejudices and discriminatory behaviors where one group makes assumptions about the abilities, motives, and intents of other groups based on race. This set of prejudices leads to cruel intentional or unintentional actions towards other groups.

Internalized: ​In a society in which all aspects of identity and experience are racialized, and one group is politically, socially and economically dominant, members of stigmatized groups, who are bombarded with negative messages about their own abilities and intrinsic worth, may internalize those negative messages. It holds all people back from achieving their fullest potential. It also obscures the structural and systemic nature of racial oppression, and reinforces those systems.

Institutional: ​Where assumptions about race are structured into the social and economic institutions in our society. Institutional racism occurs when organizations, businesses, or institutions like schools and police departments discriminate, either deliberately or indirectly, against certain groups of people to limit their rights. This type of racism reflects the cultural assumptions of the dominant group.

Structural: ​This refers to the accumulation over centuries of the effects of a racialized society. Think again about the creation of the white middle class and what it means today to have been left out of that process of wealth-creation, home ownership, college education, etc.

Structural racism can therefore be understood as both the accumulations of racial oppression overtime as well as the interactions between racialized institutions. Separate from the bias of individual actors, structural racism refers to the embedded, entrenched patterns of a racialized society.

Before Your Meeting

Please read, watch or listen to these before your meeting:

Also please review the discussion questions in the agenda below.


At your last meeting a facilitator was chosen. Here is a link to the .


  • Sit (5 minutes)
  • Review   (5 minutes)
    • Read aloud your group’s guidelines developed in the first session
    • Discuss any revisions to the guidelines 
    • Confirm that all members can abide by the group’s guidelines, or at least open to practicing with them
  • Mindful Sharing (85 minutes)
    • Instruction:  involves each participant sharing from personal experience. There is no discussion or cross-talk during this time period, only personal sharing.
    • Each person in the group may share 3-5 minutes on each question (gauge the time depending on the number of people in your group). Speak to whatever questions are most salient.

Discussion Questions 

      • After reading and studying the Systems of Oppression and Internalized Racism information How do you see your own history in this? How does this relate to your current situation? How have you internalized any attitudes of privilege or oppression?
      • Were there any stories in any of the materials that caused more intense emotional response? Are there places where you noticed yourself having a hard time when reading or watching? What dharma practices help you stay present with those difficult experiences?
      • In your consideration of the quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” What came up for you? How do you relate to the idea of reparations and its potential for creating a new narrative of our country’s history? What thoughts and emotions come up? 
      • What do you imagine is the cost to all members of society of structural racism? This session focused on structural racism targeting oppressed communities. How do you think structural racism plays out for your community and other racialized communities?
  • Sit (5 minutes)
  • Group Reflection (10 minutes)
    • Instruction: Group Reflection is like Mindful Sharing in that there is no discussion or cross-talk, however the focus is on what kind of experience the participants had during the meeting rather than on the content covered.
    • Each person in the group can share 2-3 minutes about what it was like to participate in the group (gauge time based on number of people in the group)
    • PROMPT: What was it like to engage in Mindful Sharing today? How has this been for you so far?
  • Next Meeting (5 minutes)
    • How did your technology or meeting logistics work? Any changes you would like to try for the next meeting?
    • When will you meet?
    • Who will facilitate?
    • If you are meeting online, who will set up the next meeting?
  • If there’s time left, finish with a closing sit (5 minutes)

 Additional Readings, Videos and Podcasts