What do I want to share with my Sangha about Social Justice and Racial Justice?

Reflections by Gabi Otto

Photographed by Mark Berndt

For me, the discussion of social and racial justice is very personal. I grew up in Germany and was born not too long after Hitler’s dream of controlling the world came to an end in 1945. The savage legacy of the Holocaust has taught me the importance of denouncing and calling out injustice whenever and wherever it takes place. It is my responsibility to speak out against racism and injustice and I cannot be silent and turn a blind eye. Imagine how many lives could have been saved, if more people would have had the courage to speak out against the hatred propagated by the Nazis. Imagine how much suffering could have been averted.

During my teenage years, I came across the book, “Soul on Ice” by Eldridge Cleaver and began to learn about racism in the United States. Eldridge Cleaver wrote about his life in America where he suffered, living as a second-class citizen under the cloak of white supremacy. He described this America, the “land of the brave”, where black people were kidnapped from the African continent and enslaved. America, where Africans were deemed to be only 3/5 of a human being. Despite it being written in the constitution that all human beings were given the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He made me feel the pain of living in a society that treats you with utter contempt and doesn’t recognize your humanity. I never forgot this book.

Now that I have lived in Kansas for many decades, I recognize the anguish racism has caused in people’s faces. I see the pain etched in the faces of Black women and men. I often hear stories of their suffering endured every day, just doing mundane things like: buying groceries or driving to work. Danger literally lurks every time African-Americans step outside their home. I see poverty ranking high in African American communities and fewer opportunities for children to access the education they deserve. I see children grow up without their fathers, many who have become victims of an unjust justice system, steeped in racism, that incarcerates Black men at five times the rate of whites. This same unjust system permits the killing of innocent black men without punishing those who committed the murder.

I cannot turn a blind eye to these prejudices and sufferings. I have learned from my history that I must speak up.