There are many ways to talk about Asians and non-Asians in Buddhism in the West, but perhaps one of the strangest approaches is by Barbara O’Brien. She has been using a particular terminology for a while, but it didn’t occur to me how strange her wording was until last week when she used the expression, “non-ethnic Asian westerners [sic].”
Who are the Asians who aren’t ethnic? This expression puzzled me because O’Brien routinely uses the term “ethnic Asian” to talk about people of Asian heritage, but I always imagined that “ethnic” was a redundant modifier. Whenever I read those words, I always smirk because “ethnic Asian” suggests that there are Asians who are “ethnic” and Asians who aren’t. I always assumed that O’Brien was using this term somewhat unnecessarily to emphasize “Asian” as an ethnicity, but now it suddenly looked meaningful. You could be an “ethnic” Asian or a “non-ethnic” Asian! Which one am I?