The racially homogenous staff of Shambhala Sun.
In the past I’ve harped about Buddhist publications, and I’ve mostly opined about Tricycle because it has a popular blog. (The blog makes it an easy target.) In all honesty, I don’t hate Tricycle (or its blog) or Shambhala Sun or Buddhadharma. I think these are great magazines, but they could be even better. One point that I’ve been derisively hammering these past few months is that mainstream Buddhist media don’t properly reflect the Buddhist community. For one, they are overwhelmingly white.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being white. There are plenty of whites in the Buddhist community, and if you believe the Pew Survey, then whites even make up the majority of American Buddhists. That said, the Buddhist community has a large number of Asians — certainly many more than are exhibited on the staffs of magazines such as Tricycle and Shambhala. Why are there no Asians?
I was going to write a long post suggesting affirmative action and outreach for Asian Americans in Buddhist institutions, but I drew back because I think that would be too divisive. For one, affirmative action is an inherently divisive issue. It’s saying that we want you because you are Asian, not white, and certainly not because you’re qualified. Secondly, if affirmative action were actually implemented and the content of these magazines subsequently changed, then some people would definitely be disappointed and they would point to unqualified Asians degrading the quality of their cherished publications. That would certainly be an unintended consequence.
In my experience in the Buddhist community, I’ve always gotten the feeling that white Buddhists are trying to create their own acculturated version of the Buddhist community. They want the same thing the Asians have, just white. It seems as though all this talk about the future of American Buddhism is really about, “When are we white Buddhists going to be in control?” There’s nothing against Asians or Asian Buddhism, but there’s a strong sentiment that Buddhism in America needs to be more American. If Asians want to join American Buddhism, they’re welcome, they just have to speak English, sit in chairs (except of course when meditating) and act American. Can someone pass the candied yams?
For this reason, I feel that Asian Americans have stayed away from the white Buddhist institutions in North America. There’s this feeling of deculturation. You can come and sit with us, but leave your cultural baggage at the door. At least for me, I get the sense that the achievements of Asian Americans are completely overlooked in American society — we’re viewed as some sort of extraneous culture that doesn’t really contribute much. Of course, this is how I feel while ranting at 10pm while coping with an annoying cold. Who knows how I’ll feel once I’ve slept this off.
But is this what’s making Buddhist publications so white? Is it a combination of white Buddhists’ attempt to form their own community, and the Asian Ameicans’ reluctance to join this community? Or maybe we Asian Americans have nothing to offer. I think Asian American involvement in these publications would seriously push the topics of Buddhist American discussion in entirely new directions, and also engage the entire Buddhist community at a much broader level (and probably also generate more profitable revenue streams). But I really don’t know right now. I’m sick and tired. I’m going to go mediate and take a Nyquil.
Sorry for another bout of aimless ranting. I’m not a hater, I love you all!