“Any scholarly attempt to describe groups should at least consider how members describe themselves. Our descriptions must be nuanced to account for exceptions, parallels, blends, and developmental processes. They also must pay attention to the history and ongoing effects of racism in the United States. As a white scholar, I have tried to use my own privilege to draw attention those effects, in support of efforts to dismantle them. If we cannot do this, then as Jan Nattier cautioned, ‘there will always be “two Buddhisms” in America: Us and Them, however we define each other.'”
I lieu of anything more profound, on a general interest or even, dare I say it, Buddhist topic, and in lieu of a long-winded diatribe about the general hypocrisy and double standard in American media whenever a Muslim, a person of color, a non-Chrisitian in short, a non-white heterosexual middle-class male does anything, I offer the following.
I’ve been thinking about the tragedy at Ft. Hood, and I’ve been actively boycotting the media ever since I heard an interview on NPR NPR of all places! of an Army chaplain who happens to be a Muslim. They were interviewing him and asking him asinine questions because another person who also happens to be a Muslim went on a sociopathic shooting spree, as if there’s something about being a Muslim that makes one predisposed to being a sociopath or that there’s something about being a Muslim that makes you able to relate to all other Muslims. And I found myself thinking, after another sociopath who happens to be a Christian gunned down an abortion doctor earlier this year, did NPR seek out the nearest Christian clergy member and ask similarly inane questions about Christianity? Or did they just assume, rightly, that that one lone sociopath was indeed a sociopath, nothing more and nothing less, who happened to use his religious views as justification for his behavior? It’s a fine line. But it’s a line worth keeping in our minds. I’d like to call that line: “Sociopathic behavior is bad no matter what; but just because said sociopath happened to belong to marginalized group X does not mean that all members of marginalized group X are sociopaths.”
We got some weird weather in these parts in September. September in the Bay Area is usually a late summer, dry and hot. Instead, we got thunder storms. A somewhat fitting end for a summer of contentious, Buddhist blogging about the politics of race and representation.
Over the last couple of days, I have tried to write a blog post about these issues, some sort of summary post, or some sort of recap of the issues, or even a response to some of the more slanderous things that been said out there. But I can’t seem to get the right tone, get my thoughts in order. I keep getting distracted.
One of my favorite moments from last year’s presidential campaign was when Former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama. Not because I particularly cared who Mr. Powell thought we should vote for, and not because I agree with the man or thought his endorsement, that late in the game, was really going to change anything. What I liked about that moment was what he had to say about the Tin-Foil Hat Brigade’s claims that Mr. Obama was a Muslim. To which Mr. Powell said, “So what?” “Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
And I’ve been having the same reaction lately in this health care debate as the Tin-Foil Hat Brigade marches to town halls to scream about Pres. Obama being a socialist. I had that same reaction, thinking to myself, if Pres. Obama’s “socialism” is little more than the type of health care enjoyed by most of Northern Europe and Canada, who cares?
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.
Moments of truth and beauty can come from all manner of place. Be aware.