So there are problems. There really is discrimination, poverty, sexism, and homophobia in this country, no matter how much we would like to believe that these things are nothing more than ephemeral prapaÃ±ca, illusory delusions of the unenlightened. The fact that they are real means that there is suffering out there, that people cope in a variety of ways. Some of us write exceedingly long blog posts about it. And this one attempts to answer the question of why you should care.
There are those who wish this conversation would go away, who staunchly claim that “race is a construct” and that we, especially as Buddhists, should be “better than that.” I want to address that point of view. I want to answer the question of why I think that having this conversation is important for Buddhists, for Buddhists of a certain political persuasion, and for people in general.
This post will focus more on that issue the of whitewashing culture, of the homogenization of culture. This will bring us closer to the task at hand, namely, figuring out why this issue is important for Buddhism in the West.
But perhaps the best way to understand this is to take a step back away from Buddhism, and even a step back from race, and examine a different homogenization of culture. And we can find such an example in the current debate raging over gay marriage.
There is much confusion about the term white privilege. It seems fairly clear to me that many people assume that white privilege is the same thing as white racism, that white people are somehow choosing to be white racists, or that white privilege implies that all of us white folks are privileged in the narrow sense of the word (i.e., receive special, largely financial, benefits). And if someone fancies him- or herself as progressive or coming from a working class background, these associations can rub them wrong way. It’s an understandable response to a concept that is difficult to understand. But, and speaking here (full disclosure) as a progressive white man with something closer to working class roots, I think it’s worth struggling with this concept in an attempt to really understand what it means, to figure out if it really is little more than a synonym for white racism.
Short answer: no. No, it’s not.
Over the next couple of days, I am posting a long, three-part piece on white privilege, the homogenization of Buddhism, why you might care about these issues, and what we can do about it.
A confluence of thoughts came to me last night while I was laying bed, staring at the ceiling and unable to sleep. I started thinking about that endlessly fascinating conversation we’re having about karma. And Claudia’s comment about samsara got lodged in my head.
Some bloggers these days post daily (or weekly) digests of things they’re reading. You don’t want some bland, decontextualized list. You want commentary. You want to read my list of depressing (and hopeful) news stories from the Interwebs, circa this week, 2009. (Oh, and I hella love Oakland.)
I have been asked on more than one occasion why I’ve chosen to follow the Shin Buddhist path. Many times, I get the strong impression that the asker is thinking to him/herself, “Isn’t Shin Buddhism a Japanese Buddhist path? You’re not Japanese. You didn’t marry a Japanese Buddhist. What’s the deal?” I think, despite the obvious problems with those stereotypes, that it’s still a valid question. It’s as valid a question as why one chooses Zen or Nichiren or Shambhala or any other school of Buddhism.