September 7, 2009

White privilege isn't a bad thing

I tend not to read long blog posts, but I often mark them with a star and sometimes sift through them on weekends. Over on My Buddha is Pink, a couple such posts from early August really resonated with me this morning. Richard Harrold writes about how as a journalist, he got involved with the local Lao Buddhist community in Michigan.

Richard reached out to help and get involved in the community, even though he didn’t share a common ethnic or cultural background. He helped teach English, and offered to assist with challenges involving the local township board. Even when his overtures were declined, he still managed to publish articles highlighting the local Buddhist Asian community. He spoke directly with the township attorney about specific issues that may have underlain miscommunication with the Lao temple board. I imagine none of this was smooth riding. Indeed, Richard expresses his personal ambivalence with regards to the linguistic and cultural differences, especially on the topic of sexuality.

Some of what Richard was able to accomplish was due to resources available to him by virtue of his white privilege. Importantly, he was able to bend his privilege to the benefit of others who were relatively disadvantaged. Being white gives you an edge when talking with white administrators, when writing to a majority white audience, and even to the extent of being involved in the publishing industry.

In a sense, I have nothing against white privilege. I’d just like all of us to share these privileges. One way to move past institutional racism bias is by making use of our privilege—be it of gender, culture, sexuality, race, etc.—for the benefit of others with less privilege. You might want to see what you can do to help bridge cultural chasms in your local Buddhist community. Or say, if you happen to be a regular contributor to Shambhala Sun or Tricycle, then the next time you talk with the editors you might ask them if they’d considered offering more articles to be written by People of Color. Think of it as a democratization of noblesse oblige.

3 comments :

  1. While you know I don't think we will ever see eye to eye on this white privilege issue, I think your overall point is very valid and an important one. People who have the power and the means to effect diversity, need to exercise that power to give all points of view room to breathe.

    As you probably already seen, I've had an enjoyable time bashing Tricycle on my new blog. They (big 3 magazines) really need to move beyond the same old boring and pointless dribble they publish, and at least make a little room to really dig into a lot of these issues that all sides are discussing now online.

    This is were a lot of Buddhism today is being discussed and debated, and those with this big power need to realize there is a giant upsurge going on, online. People of color, no doubt, reformists, well yea us too, everyone who has a stake in the future of Buddhism should be heard.

    Ok, back to disagreeing with you. :-)

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  2. "In a sense, I have nothing against white privilege. I’d just like all of us to share these privileges. One way to move past institutional racism is by making use of our privilege—be it of gender, culture, sexuality, race, etc.—for the benefit of others with less privilege."

    Well, that was the most even-handed treatment of a touchy subject so far. I can't say that I disagree with the fact that the priviledges that whites have should be considered human priviledges and applicable to everyone.

    Interestly enough, once you start looking for examples of this, they start popping up like weeds in the most unlikely of places. My place of employment currently hires DOC inmates for some facilities/office tasks. And don't you know that every single one is white. Not one minority is choosen for this work detail (which, when you look at the other alternative, is a pretty nice one).

    As per the big three, I have never sat down and read one from cover to cover. I must be a bad Buddhist. But anyway, over the weekend I grabbed a beer and read an issue of Tricycle and it is definately from a white convert viewpoint (although, I think that one article was written by a person of color). So overall it is a pop-Buddhism magazine that is marketed towards "pop-buddhists" (which are mostly non-Asian from what I can gather). I don't know, it still seems like the Buddhist version of Boy's Life. Lame sandwiched between two slices of lame.

    I would willingly take any suggestions of better, less mainstream Buddhist periodicals.

    Cheers,
    Jack

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  3. Thanks for your comments, Kyle and Jack.

    @Jack: After reading your quote of what I wrote, I realized I should have replaced racism with bias. There are many types of privilege, which hopefully means many ways to help the underprivileged.

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