The question is almost inevitable. In response to the mention of white Buddhists marginalizing Asians, someone will raise their hand and shout, “Well, don’t Asian Buddhists discriminate against white people?”
I’ve received these comments since long before this blog was launched. I typically refuse to engage this type of response, but it so consistently reoccurs that I’m writing this post to dump my thoughts on it. Here are some basic reasons why I refuse to address these remarks.
- Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. If I’m talking about the marginalization of Asians in widely distributed English language periodicals in Buddhist America, then please show me the marginalization of white people in widely distributed English language periodicals in Buddhist America. Remember: millions of us Asian Americans speak English, even as our mother tongue—English speaking Buddhist America is our community too! Once you start talking about the exclusion of white people from Vietnamese language temple newsletters, the comparison has now shifted to apples and durians. I’d personally love to hear from all those white Vietnamese speakers who feel their voices are being grossly marginalized in the Vietnamese American Buddhist community. There’s little point in even acknowledging a comment when the comparison is so far off.
- Show me the numbers. Once upon a time, there was a young Asian Buddhist who felt that Asian Americans were being systematically marginalized in The Big Three. But there was no proof. Thus spawned the Asian Meter, crafted through diligent enumeration, documentation and research. As a result, we have charted analyses and budding histories that demonstrate this discrimination outright. Now, you could tell me that you had a bad experience with an Asian American community, but then I all I know is that you had one bad experience with an Asian American community. No more. I don’t want to hear you ventriloquize what you heard so-and-so friend tell you. If you intend to complain to me about white folk being systematically excluded from Asian communities or publications, I honestly have little inclination to listen to unless you do your due diligence and document it. That’s exactly what I did. And don’t forget to compare your apples to apples.
- Exclusion does not justify exclusion. I know of one local predominantly Asian temple where the congregation leader has a history of being not-so-discreetly hostile to white Buddhists. It’s definitely not cool—but his intolerance does not justify Buddhadharma refusing to consider the voices of Asian Buddhist youth simply because they are Asian. Complain about ethnic divides all you want, but the justification of one group’s exclusion based on the transgressions of the other only serves to perpetuate this division. I don’t see any logic whereby white Buddhists are compelled to marginalize their Asian brothers and sisters simply because some Asian congregation is unwelcoming.
This last point ultimately renders the first two irrelevant. I understand if you have a chip on your shoulder because of this or that experience you’ve had. If you need to vent, go ahead. But don’t expect me to buy into a contorted argument that amounts to little more than, “I know you are, but what am I?” Such comments neither educate me, nor do they weaken the basic dilemma of Western Buddhist communities and publications which ostensibly embrace equality and fairness in one hand, but engage in marginalization and exclusion with the other.
Update: Many thanks to the anonymous friend who alerted me to my misquotation of Pee-wee Herman. I’ve updated the title accordingly.