Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tumbling over privilege

My re-imersion into the Buddhist blogosphere, I'm afraid, is going to make people uncomfortable. Particularly white people. And I hope it does. But I ask of you, even beg of you, to persist, to stay with me as I examine the topics I've been pondering the most of late. Whether it's about race or queer identity, I will always attempt to provide a Buddhist framework, or at least a framework based upon my own experience with Buddhism and from my own reading of Buddhist texts.

And when I say "Buddhist texts," I'm not talking about some book by some popular Rinpoche or a San Francisco Zen master. I mean the Tipitika. Because the bottom line is even what some popular Rinpoche or San Francisco Zen master writes must hold up when compared with the Tipitika.

It's not just other people that I expect to make uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable myself. And frankly, I think that's a good thing. Because when we become aware of our personal discomfort and we are willing to explore the source of that discomfort, real learning and understanding takes place.

You can't learn anything new if you think you already know everything. The polarization of American politics should be evidence enough of that (not that the polarization within American politics is anything new, really; American politics has been polarized since the Constitution was first ratified).

Recently I started a new Tumblr blog that I call "Arf, She Said." When you first examine it, you might think there's no fixed theme to the items, mostly photos and animated GIFs, I post there. But there is. And when I launched this new Tumblr, I began following some other Tumblrs that more specifically relate to race (others tangentially).

It was via one of these Tumblrs that I came to read this article. A particular line from the article jumped at me.

"In conversations about race, I’ve frequently tried and failed to express the idea that whiteness is a social construct."

And I was like, "Yes, yes!" And I know that many of you reading this are also saying, "Yes, yes!" But the trouble is the reason why I am saying "Yes, yes!" is very different from the reason why some of you are saying the same thing.

When I read those words, it was like a giant ball and chain swung with such momentum and striking me in the chest, obliterating my sense of being. But that's exactly what needs to happen. Sitting on a cushion while contemplating beguiling notions such as "race is just a fabrication" doesn't help anyone at all. Clinging to such a notion is, bluntly put, a form of mental masturbation designed to give you momentary pleasure at how awesome a person you are. All that does is distance yourself from confronting the fabrication you carry around with you every where you go and exude like a plume of noxious gas every time you take a breath: Your privilege.

"Well, you sanctimonious little shit."

For many of you the initial reaction you'll have is I'm labeling you an awful person, and you'll likely retort that you're a very sympathetic white person who reads the right articles and votes for the right people and policies and thinks the right thoughts. In fact, you'll probably get angry with me, feel like I've just personally attacked you. That's not what I'm saying at all. Frankly, if the Buddha has taught us anything, you're just not that special to have such a self-centered reaction.
This thing is I am very sympathetic to your reaction. You still need to get over it. Just like I do. Everyday I discover how I act under the cloak of privilege and repeatedly vow to avoid it next time, but there I am, doing it again. As Ministry sings, the mind is a terrible thing to taste, and this is all about the mind.

The Buddha's words to the young and bright Brahman Assalayana show how resistant the mind can be to the privilege it creates. I wrote about this in a previous post, but you can read the entire sutta here. When the Buddha contradicted the Brahman premise, as presented by Assalayana, that it is the superior caste and all other castes are "dark", the teenaged Brahman does not disagree with the Buddha's answer, but repeats every time that this is a difficult concept for the Brahmans to grasp. There are other links within that post that are applicable to race and racism.

I don't expect all my posts to be about white privilege and race, but a good many will. This is where I am, and this is how I'm using my practice to investigate.

No comments:

Post a Comment