April 1, 2011

Not Angry, Just Wrong

Update: This is an April Fool’s Day post. And my last one too.

This blog has been silent for a couple weeks now, and I feel I owe my readers an explanation. I got into a disagreement on the blogosphere (what a suprise!), which caused me to really sit back and question what I’m doing here. I always knew that one day my blogging would end, but I imagined it to be abrupt and unhearalded—no goodbyes, no farewells. I never thought that I would stop blogging because of a change of heart. This post is to help all of my loyal readers understand where I’m coming from.

I wish I could go into details about the argument itself, but the shame and guilt I feel are still a bit raw. I now understand that in an effort to combat the stereotypes and marginalization of Asian Buddhists in the West, my writing has only served to perpetuate the very problems I decry. For one, there’s the issue of referring to “Asians.”

The category “Asian” is simply too broad. Asia represents 60 percent of the world’s population and an untold diversity of cultures. Even if we ignore our various cultures of origin, each new wave of immigrants is remarkably unique from the preceding wave, with different challenges and perspectives. I do an injustice to Asian Americans by grouping us all under a single moniker, thus implying that we are all the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. My use of “Asian” further licenses other writers to likewise group us and all our different issues together. Worse yet, this broad classification hides the ways in which Asian Buddhists marginalize other Asians.

Marginalization is a problem, but the issue isn’t race. I’ve typically framed the place of Asians in Western Buddhism as one where we’re marginalized by White Buddhists, but this framework glosses over the very same marginalization between different Asian communities. How often do you see Cambodian Buddhists attending Korean Zen centers, or Chinese Buddhist publications open their pages to Sri Lankan writers? And just as Asians Buddhists marginalize each other, so do White Buddhists.

I’ve previously documented that the authors and editors of Shambhala Sun, Tricycle and Buddhadharma are mostly White, but it isn’t just Asians they leave out. There are a number of predominantly White Buddhist communities whose voices are never represented in those pages. Where are the White Buddhist Southerners or the White Buddhist auto engineers? Yes, we need to tear down walls, but the real barriers aren’t between Asian and White, but between “us” and “them.” My Asian-White dichotomy—aside from marginalizing non-Asian and non-White Buddhists—diverts our attention from the real issue of being unawakened to our interconnectedness.

Even my usage of the term “White” is misguided in so many ways. I could write post-after-post on this topic, but the single biggest problem is that there is no such thing as “White.” For example, it has been well-documented that even Jews and Irish were once considered non-White. Black Americans have crossed the color line all throughout United States history. Anyone could be White. If racial divisions can dissolve away for all those groups, then those very same boundaries can also be washed away for Asian Americans. The mere act of pointing out race is where racism begins, and I am moving my community backward when I use such racially-charged terms like “Asian” and “White.”

I’m still trying to come to grips with the effect my writing has had on the Buddhist blogosphere. I’ve encouraged other writers with similar views and argued relentlessly with those who espoused contrary opinions. This post will likely not be my last, but I’m still trying to figure out where to go from here.


  1. Arun, as you might know, I write fairly often about various forms of oppression, marginalization, and discrimination within "Western Buddhism." It's tough work. I feel like I'm fumbling around half the time, trying to be precise enough to say something, but also trying to do more than just piss people off. I want my writing to make people re-think default positions, but so often, the language constructions people know and understand barely function to speak about these issues. And the myriad of overlapping issues, some of which you pointed out above, makes any single entry point a limited one. Yet, sometimes focusing on just race, for example, is helpful to highlight particular problems.

    The longer I write in public, the more I have seen the truth that anyone holding a minority view about issues around oppression is required by the majority to provide endless amounts of backup and justification. Whereas, those who hold the majority view can just say they are right, cite a few soundbytes, and call their "opposition" unrealistic, idealistic, jealous, arrogant, overreacting, etc.

    The other thing is that any mistake made in the writing by those from a minority point of view is fiercely scrutinized and often used to derail any further conversation about the main points of the writing.

    This is all beginner-level stuff on oppression that I can imagine you're deeply familiar with - but I think in the swirl of the almost anonymous internet, it's easy to forget.

    Perhaps this experience you've had will help expand the work you're doing. I would hope so anyway. There aren't enough people challenging the social narratives that keep us all apart.

  2. I appreciate your most recent post and Arun's comment, as well. Its courageous to be so direct in public about your internal process and sets a fine example of honest reflection that those on the other end of the discussion could beneficially mirror.