Filthy Filthy White Buddhists

Posted by Asian Nation Blog and then commented on at Angry Asian Buddhist and Progressive Buddhism:

…But on the other hand, the Vietnamese group’s behavior may have reinforced the notion of them as loud and crude foreigners and “outsiders” to the rest of the attendees. As such, failing to confront their behavior could have caused more harm than good in terms of helping to bridge social divisions and dispel lingering cultural stereotypes toward non-Whites and/or foreigners. For me personally, this is a complicated issue that highlights some of the ironies and contradictions involved in being Asian American, as I wrote about earlier in regards to a similar incident in an airport security line — standing up for and defending Asians in racial solidarity, but also being embarrassed and even annoyed by their “foreignness” as an American myself. Wow…a group of people were loud at night. Hmm…to me this is cut and dry. They either didn’t know the rules or didn’t care. Has nothing to do with race. I appreciate you admitting the complexity of the first incident and that many factors may be in play that you are not aware of. I am sure you will provide the same for the second…

In contrast, the second “racial” incident at the retreat does not involve much ambiguity at all. (Fuck….)

…Specifically, during the retreat, families were assigned to different “service meditation” work groups, helping the monks with different tasks involved with running the retreat, such as cleaning bathrooms, setting up the meditation hall, etc. Our family was assigned to one of three teams who helped to clean up, wash, and dry plates, pots, and utensils after one meal each day. My family and I actually enjoyed this work as it allowed us to give something back to, or at least directly help in the mundane, behind-the-scenes operation of the retreat — a sense of ownership perhaps. We also felt a sense of community in working as a team within not just our family, but with the other families in our group, each of us doing our part to contribute to the larger purpose and becoming closer to each other in the process. I am very familiar with this form of meditation. I actually enjoy it quite much…very surprising being that I am both white and privileged (by privileged I mean that I was raised without serious want by caring parents)

However, after the last meal (lunch) on the last day of the retreat, there were no teams assigned to clean up afterward and instead, the monks asked for volunteers to stay a little bit to wash dishes, etc. Our family was not in a rush to leave so we joined in the effort.

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… This is a shame but I still don’t think that it is from an over-arching white perception that others should do the cleaning up. And what about the other people who didn’t stick around?

…I hate to say it, but the actions of this particular couple and the White attendees present at this last lunch seem to be a microcosm of the White-privileged notion that service work should be left to people of color and that unless they are specifically assigned to do so, many Whites seem to think that they are “above” such “demeaning” work and physical labor. A Buddhist retreat is FAR from a microcosm of society. And I appreciate that whites “seem” to think they are above such things. Well, let me clear this up. We are not. What you probably met at this retreat are what I call “douches” or “dip-shits”. It is a category that spans every race that I am familiar with. And seriously, what white privileged notion that service work should be left to people of color. Your observations are colored by your own biases. You are seeing what you want to see.

These two incidents go to show that even at an event that shows us the peace, harmony, and mindfulness that exists in American society and among people from all kinds of backgrounds, in many ways, American society is still quite racialized, even if most of us may be completely oblivious to such dynamics. That seems to easy and ridiculous…being completely oblivious to “dynamics” that causes me to not clean up in a social situation where other minorities may be present b/c subconsciously I believe that they should be doing it?

The simple fact is that both groups probably just did not understand the rules. Since the staff was unable to confront the group of rowdy night-time party animals one can also assume they didn’t outline the specifics very well at the lunch. Who knows?

I can’t explain it any better than Occam’s Razor. Simple explanations are always the best in lieu of new evidence and observation. And the simplest explanation in this case is that the people just didn’t know the rules. It is simply in bad taste to make this one event into a racial stereotype especially since it seemed that for the most part this retreat did exactly what it was supposed to do….bring a group of diverse Buddhist practitioners together.

Le is not putting his PhD to good use…actually just the opposite he is driving people away from each other by parading a few personal recollections around as grandiose theories.

All of us need to refrain from making obtuse generalizations. While it is every one’s right to say what they wish as long is it is neither inflammatory or slander (and my comments are sometimes both), I think that comments of type from Mr. Le generally hamper rather than help. We all find ourselves drawn to Buddhism and we all come from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. This is different from many other religions that have a tendency for more cultural and racial segregation (not on purpose but well…Greek Orthodox does limit itself to Greeks and…um, maybe an Albanian or two). As such this diversity is our strength but it can lead to some difficulties as well. We need to understand that what was missed was a valuable “teachable moment” where others on this retreat could have bridged the gap that tends to form. This self-segregation happens and can be just as detrimental to practice and understanding as the forced kind.

I think Kyle over at Progressive Buddhism put it best:

I have seen this phrase a lot, “privileged white people”, and I can tell you it is no less offensive than the words “privileged Asian people” when describing an entire race of people. I know my life is not the ‘privileged rich white liberal intellectual’ that I have seen so many people peg white Buddhists as being; my life is far from fucking privileged. I’d bet dollars to donuts a good majority of the white people that read this and many other blogs have struggled, had very difficult hardships and suffer just as much as many Asians or blacks or Hispanics that live in the West, or around the world today. Does that mean that there aren’t white racist Buddhists? Of course not, there are. Does this mean we should brand an entire race of people, based solely on the color of there skin into a narrow minded generalization? Hell no. If I was half white and half Asian, does that mean I am only half privileged and half lazy?


2 thoughts on “Filthy Filthy White Buddhists

  1. White Privilege is a real phenomenon which few white people understand. It's not really about what you have or don't have – it's about things you never had to deal with because the color of your skin, like policy harassment. It's when everyone refer you as the default "man" or "woman", but when a person of color comes along, they are "black man" or "Asian girl". It may or may not have to do with sense of entitlement, but simply not having to go through what people of color have to deal with on a day to day basis.

    This is where Le is wrong. The actions of the White Buddhists in his blog could have done what they did for many other reasons – from either being ignorant of the the correct conduct to trying to be a polite guest – but he decide to bucket everyone under the highly charge umbrella of "white privilege". There are many instances of white Buddhists actually displaying this phenomenon, but not the incident in which to raise this issue in.

    I'm an Asian American Buddhist and I think Le's blog post really did a great disservice and cause more rift than any loud Vietnamese ever could. There are a lot of wonderful, self-less, and compassionate Western Buddhist all over the world and they would donate time and effort to help with their sangha. I spend a lot of time building bridges between Asian and Western students for my Guru's large international system of sanghas, and I really hope what he wrote won't further increase the misunderstanding.

    We live in the End-Dharma Age where even a little bit of Buddhism is better than none. There are 84,000 ways to Enlightenment and every path should be respected and cherish.

  2. @Tivome:

    I had a nice list of things about your comment but instead I will make it short and say….

    yes. I agree completely.

    I wish I said it that well myself.


Comments are closed.