“The fundamental black/white binary endures, even though the category of whiteness or we might say more precisely, a category of nonblackness effectively expands. As before, the black poor remain outside the concept of the American as an “alien race” of “degenerate families.” A multicultural middle class may diversify the suburbs and college campuses, but the face of poor, segregated inner cities remains black. For quite some time, many observers have held that money and interracial sex would solve the race problem, and ,indeed, in some cases, they have. Nonetheless, poverty in a dark skin endures as the opposite of whiteness, driven by an age-old social yearning to characterize the poor as permanently other and inherently inferior.”
Here’s some stuff going on.
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.
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.
Over the past couple of months, both online and in the real-world, the issue of identity has come up in a number conversations I’ve had. A recurring theme has been the explicit rejection of identity as a meaningful category or, more plainly, the assertion that folks don’t want to claim an identity or “don’t want to be defined” as one thing or another.
The notion of identity and the related but different “subjectivity” in social theory is a given, so this attitude surprised me. Which, of course, is a sure sign that even I can get a little myopic out here in the academic hinterlands.
So I thought I’d write about it, organize my thoughts, and make a case for not only the reality of your identity but its relevance to Buddhist practice.