It’s obvious anyone who’s been reading this blog for some time that I’ve got a thing or two to say about Asian American issues in the Buddhist community — and also that this thing or two has changed over time. I spent some time today skimming back over the Angry Asian Buddhist posts, and it was humbling (as in embarrassing) to read my own words. There are some things that I would never write again. And there are some things that I wrote again and again and again…
In reviewing the trail of the Angry Asian Buddhist, I ran across a new comment on an old Tricycle blog post with a link to an even older essay “On Race and Buddhism” by the Zen teacher Rev. Alan Senauke. It may be 12 years old, but it still rings true. I didn’t feel it said anything special up until one line that resonated with me:
Several years ago at a meeting of international Buddhist activists in Thailand I realized that in the first day I had figured out who (among the westerners) was Jewish. And even stranger I realized that all the Jews were doing the same thing and had “signified” to each other. We knew who each other was, and we were more comfortable for it. This, I am sure, is a pattern that goes back through centuries of being ghetto-ized, of being the other. It’s not a genetic thing. I can remember my mother telling me how to watch out for myself. That some people would exclude and threaten me just for being Jewish. It’s so deep that sometimes I find myself looking around the zendo and counting those I think are Jewish. Some of you may find yourself making a similar census. From talking with them, I know that people of color do this.
Sometimes I find myself looking around the zendo and counting those I think are Jewish. Well, he definitely did what I do when I open the pages of Tricycle and start counting the Asians.
I never took an ethnic studies class. I’m a complete stranger to all the theory and language used to describe the ethnic issues that seem just beyond the tip of my tongue. A couple weekends ago, I watched a documentary tribute to Chris Iijima and was awestruck at how simply this old folk musician/law professor was able to put into a few lyrics what I have struggled to say in the past few months. (Bay Areans, go see the documentary at the SFIAAFF!)
This blog has given me an opportunity to grope around for ways to both describe and publicize issues that for many years I believed I experienced alone. All the criticism and rough edged comments have also helped me see the sloppiness in my words and the vagueness in how I express my ideas. Thank you.
So I thought it’d be nice to hear someone else’s words, especially when they’re more coherent than my own. It’s also nice for me to have someone else say things like, “Keeping in mind that most Buddhists even in America don’t look like me. They are Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and so on. I come to Buddhism out of suffering. They come to Buddhism as a birthright.” I wouldn’t have the gall to say that… except when I’m feeling exceptionally indignant. And as a white Buddhist, he can say certain things with much more force than if it came from me:
This is necessary because in America, passivity means white supremacy. It’s subtle and pervasive, conditioned by and conditioning our magazines, movies, tv, our clothing, all the things we buy. It is a virus infecting my mind as a person with so-called privilieges, and the mind of someone who might not have such privileges. Last week I was invited to talk about Buddhism and race to a diverse group of teenagers doing an interfaith social action internship in San Francisco. Now maybe I did a good job talking to them, but I was the first Buddhist choice that came to mind for the organizers. There is some irony in that. Buddhism in America gets defined as and by people like me.