Black Religion pp 155-192 | Cite as

Jan Willis: Duhkha and Enlightenment

  • William David Hart


Janice Dean Willis is professor of Religious Studies at Wesleyan University. She was born in 1948, in Docena, Alabama to Dorothy and Oram Willis. She has one sister: Sandra Williams. As a fifteen-year-old, she marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Birmingham campaign of 1963. Though reared in the Baptist Church, she fell in love with Buddhism while a college student. Jan graduated from Cornell University in 1969. She flirted with the Black Panther Party before pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University. Jan received a Ph.D. in Indic and Buddhist Studies in 1976. Initially, she struggled with her choice to become a Tibetan Buddhist rather than a Black Panther. Jan has never married and has no children. In addition to her scholarly texts, she is the author of an autobiography entitled Dreaming Me: From Baptist to Buddhist, One Womens Spiritual Journey (2001). Her mother once told Jan that she reminded her of Malcolm X.


Black Woman Black People Caste System White Supremacy Black Person 
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  1. 6.
    See J. A. Gordon, Why They Cant Wait: A Critique of Black Jewish Conflict over Community Control in Ocean Hill-Brownsville (1967–1971) (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2001) for an insightful analysis.Google Scholar
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    See P. Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do about It (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 78.Google Scholar
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    Compare Julius’ statement with Emerson’s famous claim: “I am God in nature; I am a weed by the wall.” R. W. Emerson, “Circles” in Emerson: Essays and Lectures (New York: The Library of America, 1983), 406.Google Scholar
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    See Matthew Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), where Jacobson presents this complex issue as follows: “Are Jews white?” asks Sander Gilman. The question gets at the fundamental instabil-ity of Jewishness as a racial difference, but so does its wording fundamentally misstate the contours of whiteness in American political culture. From 1790 [with the passage of the “Naturalization Act”] onward, Jews were indeed “white” by the most signifi-cant measures of that appellation: they could enter the country and become naturalized citizens. Given the shades of ineaning attaching to various racial classifications, given the nuances involved as whiteness slips off toward Semitic or Hebrew and back again toward Caucasian, the question is not are they white, nor even how white are they, but how have they been both white and Other? What have been the historical terms of their probationary whiteness? (176).Google Scholar
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    “Black Politburo” is Debra Dickerson’s term. See D. Dickerson, The End of Blackness (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004), 250.Google Scholar
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    Lester speaks of a “politic of blackness.” He claims that Jimi Hendrix helped him avoid the dehumanizing consequences of that politic: “I often referred to him jokingly to my friends as ‘my leader.’ But it wasn’t a joke.... He helped me to keep struggling to be me because he chose to be himself” See Lester, All Is Well, 254.Google Scholar

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© William David Hart 2008

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