August 17, 2012

Why is the Under 35 Project so white?

This year Shambhala SunSpace has been posting weekly essays from the Under 35 Project, a laudable initiative to support and highlight the voices of the emerging generation of Buddhists and meditators. As usual, my naïveté never fails to let me down and I was once again shocked at the whiteness of the lineup. Not a single East or Southeast Asian among them.

A common retort to my posts of the whiteness of Western Buddhist publications is to question whether any Asian Buddhists are reaching out—or even writing—in the first place. In fact, I received a similar such comment on my last post on the overwhelming whiteness of the Buddhist Geeks conference.

In the case of the Under 35 Project, we can directly answer that question through open access to their archive of submissions.

This morning, I went looking for Asian authors who had submitted to the project, and I was able to find Nicole Mahabir, Joshua Shin, Chholay Dorji, Minh Tue Vo Thanh, Susan Yao, Georges Han, Duc Hong Ta, Justin Luu, Tina Ng, Phoebe Tsang, Subha Srinivasan, Ishita Gupta, Anthuan Vuong and Cristina Moon. These Asian authors are together more than were published in the last two issues of Shambhala Sun. Only one of them made it to Shambhala SunSpace’s weekly selection.

If we look at when Asian Buddhist authors submitted their work, we see a huge spike at the end of last year, when the Under 35 Project first went online. But during the nearly six months since Shambhala SunSpace began promoting this project by mostly reposting pieces by white authors, only one Asian author has submitted her work. She wasn’t included in the weekly Under 35 post.

I wonder if Shambhala Publications were to only start publishing more Asian authors, perhaps more would once again step up to submit. Or perhaps it’s already too late.

6 comments :

  1. This is a good post. I'll try to post a link / summary via my blog later this week. Has anyone contacted Shambhala Publications about this?

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  2. Shambhala Pubs. has a pretty notorious reputation at promoting to affluent white hipsters. The Under 35 Project was originally overseen by Susan Piver, which may have been when most of the Asian Americans submitted and had their work promoted. Since then I believe it was moved over to Lodro Rinzler who, predictably, moves more towards the trendy IDP crowd rather than more of an open exploration of Buddhism in America.

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  3. You know, I never even heard of this Under 35 Project until you mentioned it. I'm just barely under 35 myself, but it shows what a small demographic this is targeted towards.

    I've read Shambhala once in my life (years ago), and found it didn't resonate with me at all. I am a working parent, my wife is from Asia, and I've tried my best to immerse myself in Asian Buddhism (which according to some sources is "corrupt"...I don't buy it) from the remote shores of Seattle. :)

    If Shambhala wants to make a nice feature like this, that's fine. I wish them well. But believe me, sister, there's a much bigger world to Buddhism out there, and it's not these guys. If you ever get a chance (assuming you haven't done this before), take a trip to Asia and see how Buddhism is there. Once I finally did that years ago, I realized what a small world American-convert Buddhism really is.

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  4. For my final project in my Buddhism in the U.S. class, I'm doing a personal narrative project from young adults (YA), people of color's (POC) experience with Buddhism in the U.S.
    Ultimately, I would like to make it into an anthology of young adults POC's experiences of Buddhism in the U.S. I would like your help in making this happen. This is an opportunity for YA POC to share their voices from their own experience of Buddhism in this country.
    If you would like to participate by sharing your experience, I would love to send you an email with my questions. Feel free to write as much as you want. This is a free association flowing platform for anyone who would like to participate.
    If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me. Thanks in advance for your help!!
    Please contribute to my blog if you like:
    http://dancingyellowmonkey.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/buddhism-in-the-u-s-beyond-the-color-lines-2/

    Best,
    Anthuan
    AMV201@Gmail.com

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  5. um, it's super white because convert Caucasian Buddhists aren't interested in Asian Buddhists - only in the trappings of Asian culture that they can adopt to impress other convert Caucasian Buddhists. Blerg.

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  6. Heh, blerg indeed. Kind of like Panda Express for Buddhism.

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