Power of Education

In response to certain comments, I twittered a quote from Resist RacismPeople of color are not responsible for the education of white people. This quote resonates with me because it conveys the point that if people of privilege want to be educated about racial issues, then there are other (and better) ways to do so without finding a person of color and asking her to set aside a chunk of her life to write up a 30-min summary. One spectacular alternative is self-education. After all, we have ethnic studies for a reason. For Asian American studies, you can check out or order books like the classic Strangers from a Different Shore or the more recently published Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. For discussion of race issues in the Buddhist community, you might want to flip through the Angry Asian Buddhist Reader (because I must admit my ramblings are neither representative nor coherent). If we are committed to diversity, then we should be committed to educating ourselves and noting the inequities that may very well exist beneath our noses. These disparities aren’t exclusive to Asians or people of color. Gender, class and sexuality are also polarized on scales of privilege—these issues need to be addressed too. I’m not trying to say that I have no responsibility in this discussion; we all must play a part. But shoving the responsibility of one’s education (or ignorance) onto the less privileged is itself a manifestation of this privilege. We can all be better than that.

The Neutral Man’s Burden

I couldn’t help myself. Somewhat related to the post on Dharma Folk.

[Archivist’s Note: the original post contained an embedded video of a “The Word” segment from The Colbert Report. The video was embedded via Flash which is no longer supported by the Internet.]

My favorite lines:

In America, white is neutral.

Now for years, band-aids only came in only one color…white person. It’s standard “person” color. In fact it is so standard, that when I was a kid, in crayola boxes, it was the color called “flesh.” Now most Americans accept this [points at his own hand] as “neutral” without thinking about it.

And that is why the decisions made by all those white justices were not affected by their experiences; because their life experiences were “neutral.” That led to “neutral” decisions.

For instance, take the Dredd Scott Case. Those justice’s life experience, being white men in pre-Civil War America, some of whom owned slaves, in no way influenced their decision that black people were property. And the personal backgrounds had nothing to do with the all neutral court’s decision that it was legal to send Japanese-Americans to internment camps in 1942. Imagine how the life experience of an Asian judge would have sullied that neutrality!

Not to mention, in our “post-racial” society, a Harvard professor can be arrested for getting upset when police ask him to prove that he entered his own house. What a day.

Annoying Asians and White Privilege

Barbara’s Buddhism blog pointed me to an Asian Nation blog post by C. N. Le on a retreat at Deer Park Monastery, incorporating disruptive Asian foreigners, ambivalent Asian Americans and privileged white Buddhists who didn’t want to take out the trash.

As it turned out, of the 15 or so people who stayed to help clean up, all but one was a person of color — there was just one White person who helped in the cleanup … In particular, I took notice of one young White couple who came to the morning activities (apparently on the last day of the retreat, the monastery invites those from the surrounding community to come in and participate in a group walk and lunch). During lunch, this couple actually raised their hands when the monks asked for volunteers to stay and clean up, but for whatever reasons, just walked away and left once they finished their lunch.

But that quote’s just the part on white privilege. It’s worth reading the whole piece and Barbara O’Brien’s post too.

Buddhism Meets Cultural Entitlement

I write quite a bit about Asians and Asian Americans being marginalized by self-styled Westerners, and today Dr. Scott Mitchell takes on the complaints by these Westerners vis-à-vis discrimination by Asian Buddhists.

First and foremost, when having the racism-in-white-American-Buddhism conversation, invariably someone steps in with the quip that so-and-so Asian Buddhist community routinely excludes white people, routinely keeps white people from ascending the spiritual and/or political power ladder, etc., etc. When I hear this argument, I also hear my mom’s voice in the back of my head: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

I’m not trying to say that self-styled Western Buddhists have no basis for complaint. The post’s discussion is set in a historical framework that I personally wouldn’t be all too sanguine to sign off on, but importantly he explores the interaction of Buddhist identity and personal/cultural entitlement. I wonder if this back-and-forth all boils down to just that.