I realize this must be getting tedious. There is so much more to life than counting the Asians in Buddhist publications. I continue to do this count for two reasons. First, I’m learning how to use Microsoft Excel, and these numbers are fun, simple and original data to work with. Second, there is so much that I learn when I plug these numbers into the charts! For example, it never would have hit me that Tricycle had fewer Asian writers (proportionally speaking) than either Shambhala Sun or Buddhadharma. That bar graph really speaks to me. (Update: I also do this because I think someone should find out what the numbers say.)
The Best Buddhist Writing data was still lying around on my antique laptop, so I dug it up and dropped it into an Asian Meter graph. Three points jumped out at me. First, there is the obvious fact that even when it comes to The Best Buddhist Writing, the Asian quotient is still under-representative. Second, there are more Tibetan writers than all the other Asians combined. The third point is something that I only discovered after looking at the graph and comparing what I was seeing with the number I had written down in my previous post on these books.
Melvin McLeod at least deserves to know that, at a running average of 19%, this selection of writing has the highest proportion of Asians out of all the publications I’ve measured. I know, that doesn’t say much. If you read my posts closely, then you know the previous post on The Best Buddhist Writing stated that these publications averaged out at 15.4% Asian (it’s actually 15.3%; I missed an author). Both numbers are correct, but only because I analyzed the counts differently.
Just in case you’re curious, in the previous count, I looked at the total list of authors who’d ever had the occasion to see their name in The Best Buddhist Writing series. In the more recent count, I simply looked at each book. So on a book-by-book level, about 19% of the authors will be Buddhist. This number decreases to 15.3% when you look at all authors because I take into account authors who appear in multiple books. Hang onto this thought.
The Tibetan bias is probably not shocking to anyone. Shambhala Publications puts the book together, so their stew fits their tastes. I am just shocked at the extraordinary extent. In 2004, there was one Chinese, one Indian and one Vietnamese author. Plus four Tibetan authors. The apparently larger number of Vietnamese authors is simply the result of the fact that Thich Nhat Hanh appears in each book. In comparison, the poor Chinese, Indian, Korean and Laotian authors almost look like token minorities!
Back to the issue of authors appearing in multiple books. There is nothing wrong with this, but counting this number tells me something that I never considered about the editor(s) of The Best Buddhist Writing. Namely, how few authors they select from. Recall the book-by-book proportion of Asian authors (19.4%) with the overall proportion (15.3%). The book-by-book number for Asians is higher because the editors are double-dipping.
In fact, the editors double-dip with Asians three times more than they do with whites. There are a total of 34 Asian bylines, but there are only 21 Asian authors. Up to three-in-five of the authors were recycled. Compare that figure with a total of 137 white bylines with only 112 white authors, where the recycle rate is just one-in-five. It’s as though they don’t have enough Asians to choose from.
Granted, The Best Buddhist Writing is a selection of the writing that’s already been published in a given year. Unlike the periodicals that I routinely harp on, Best doesn’t have many options to broaden its author base. The writings that appear under its cover may reflect, magnify or minimize trends that are already set in play by the other high profile Buddhist publications. Given these limitations, I give Melvin McLeod some credit for pulling together a higher percentage of Asians per volume than you’ll find in the high profile Buddhist magazines.
Hopefully one day it will also represent.