Posts Tagged ‘racism’

In the last blog I discussed Brad’s blog on cultural appropriation.
I do not like misuse and misapplication of such terminology “cultural
appropriation” because it muddies already difficult waters – encouraging anger
from the wrongfully-accused. It is my view (here I disagree with Brad) that
cultural appropriation is a serious problem. Many years ago I was helped by
various black people to overcome the racism I grew up with in a white
middle-class community. Part of that racism included making erroneous
judgements about black culture that I had received from my family and community – this would be fitted into what is called cultural appropriation. With what I later learnt from black people such appropriation was a serious problem to them. [I should note here that my learning initially occurred in the late 70s, and my conclusions might not be appropriate now as race relations have changed. Having said that there is a new report by the EHRC (new CRE) which reads to me that little has changed.]

I am now prepared to make statements concerning black people or culture
although I avoid doing so. And the reason I am prepared to make such statements is that I would make sure that I know that black people would be prepared to make the same statements – some if not all. I would therefore not be making judgements in “white” isolation but repeating views of black people. I would use the term cultural description rather than cultural appropriation as terminology for my approach as I would be describing my approach and not asking black people to behave the way I tell them.

Here is an old chestnut that I am still prepared to comment on. I hate the use
of the words “nigga, nigger, niggaz” by black people. I understand that the
development of the use of such words by the black people concerned was an
appropriation of the form “we own the use of the word and it is only to be used
by black people”. I know there are many black people who oppose the use of such words by black people – perhaps the most outspoken being Oprah, and because some black people are critical I feel I have the right to voice such criticism. BUT this is not appropriation, it is a description of my feelings, I am not telling any black person what words they should use to describe themselves. I would be critical of any white person who used those words, and would hope I would never use such words inappropriately.

This use of the word “nigga” by black people falls into a wider category of inappropriate usage that is worth considering. The global 1% system encourages self-deprecation within groups as a means of divide-and-rule repression. Perhaps the most obvious example is the “Beyonce” approach – and I do not choose Beyonce because she is black but because she is a woman. In this argument I use Bell Hooks for support as she discussed it here – examined in my blog here. Beyonce is a beautiful black woman who takes advantage of her beauty in her career and to increase her own wealth – she is a talented singer as well! Her image, and the consequential implication that chauvinist society could make of what a successful woman could look like, adds to the pressures BigFashion exploits. When I examined the issue of woman and her body, I became aware of how much a woman’s body is exploited by BigFashion, and how there are serious consequences of such exploitation such as the death of Karen Carpenter (anorexia), and the image problems that Jane Fonda discusses including bolemia. Such image issues are a consequence of a chauvinist society and in the view of Bell Hooks and others Beyonce contributes to this. [For balance I should note that in the (black women’s) panel where this wasdiscussed Bell Hooks was in the minority.] It helps the 1% system for black people to use language such as “nigga”, language that appears deprecating to some white people and despite the black ownership described above enables some white people to misuse the term, and for these reasons I am against such usage. But if black people choose to do so I accept it however much I dislike it.

Bearing in mind this background on cultural appropriations (please note I do not consider Brad’s description of Buddhism as cultural appropriation as discussed in the last blog), I have to point out that I missed this on the first time of reading “It’s a clever way of justifying racism in the guise of being anti-racist”; this omission was an important error. When it comes to racism in white cultures such as the US or Europe, in my view the response by black people to the racism of these cultures of itself ought not to be called racism. There is the maxim “Prejudice + Power = Racism” that needs to be understood in this context. In response to the historical racist treatment that prevails in white societies there has developed responses such as the use of the term “honkie” [again I have to note that my understanding of these issues dates from the 70s and 80s as I have not lived in white society since 1992]. Whilst on an individual level the experience of such personal prejudice is both uncomfortable and sometimes violent, it has to be understood that, within the context of the power of the racism of white society, negative personal responses by black people are those of prejudice (a prejudiced reaction) however distasteful they might be. In the context of the facebook quote (in this Brad blog) “No please white American dude ….”, if this is written by a black person please examine what I have written in the last blog on cultural appropriation. But even if that is disagreed with, I suggest to Brad that the facebook quote only contains prejudice and not racism.

The effect of 1%-power that underlies our society is something I have repeatedly discussed – see Occupy view – when examining Brad’s work. In terms of race issues that power becomes the racism of white people, to give parity (implied in this quote “It’s a clever way ….”) on a systemic level shows a limitation of understanding – a Guardian view. As for this:- “(Cultural appropriation) says that cultures and races should never mix — that “white people” should only like “white people” stuff, that “black people” should only like “black people” stuff, etc. “Some time in the 80s I watched a TV special made by the Ku Klux Klan. Their claim was that they didn’t think “white people” were necessarily superior, just that the races should not mix. The idea of “cultural appropriation” says pretty much the same thing”. In my younger days, Brad, I would have described this as racist. It makes me angry enough to question whether monks should stay in cloisters, at least there they then have an excuse for what can only be described as “ignorance”. It is time, Brad, to make the effort to learn from black people why cultural appropriation (in its proper context) is an issue, and study why anti-racists use (used to use?) “Prejudice + Power = Racism”.

This racist comment creates a division for me – I always knew there was something there but had tried to avoid it; if the facebook quote was from a black person, I would suggest that s/he also recognised racism in Brad but in my view applied that awareness in the wrong place. Previously I have tried not to be contentious with Brad because I think his approach is so important for monks in general. But monks need to listen to lay people over issues that their own cloistered lifestyle and beneficent awareness makes it difficult to understand. Marx talks of the alienation that comes from wage-slavery, and the awareness that follows from that alienation. You have to feel the powerlessness of wage-slavery to deeply understand what sort of system we live in. I have avoided being definitive about accepting the Occupy view because such definitiveness is divisive but racist comments are far more divisive and racist comments cannot be tolerated. If Brad’s liberal or Guardian view is unable to transcend to an understanding of the power of the 1% and the pervasive influence of that power in all areas of society, if Brad is unable to listen to those who have made this political transcendence, I have to question whether he truly has the right to be a monk out of cloisters. I don’t know where I stand on him – his books – at the moment. A great disappointment.

Brad, there is an obvious indicator. How can it possibly be acceptable to use the KKK in support of an argument when discussing race? Isn’t thinking the same as the KKK a wake-up call? What mistake in your thinking enables you to agree with them? An emotional block?

Maybe I can learn from his Buddhism and ignore his ignorance. Previously I thought Brad would be the last person I would say that of. Maybe monks can never make that political transcendence because of their lifestyle and awareness, maybe they belong in cloisters leaving lay people forced to earn a living to apply the theoretical understanding of Buddhism to daily life. In cloisters it appears to me that monks do not experience the reality of daily life (I would include here monks such as Brad who live in the wider community). Through meditation their minds become sharp, and with that sharpness they apply this to analysis of their meditation. They apply this same sharpness to daily life but their experience of daily life is not the same as that of most people. Most people work within a hierarchy of business or institution in which compromise is the byword. Policies based on profit established at the top (influenced by the 1%) become everyday realities that people are forced to adhere to. Consider people who meet monks. They are not there to demand compliance with policy, they go to learn about Buddhism and hopefully apply zazen. These people live with the realities of wage-slavery and can readily understand the power of the 1%, but in meeting monks they are seeking understanding in a completely different reality.

How does a monk then judge the Occupy view? I used the term political transcendence above (discussed in a later blog). I am specifically describing the jump in understanding between those with the Guardian or liberal view, in which there is hope that good action can bring about meaningful social change, and the Occupy view in which much more radical means are described in order to bring about change. The difference is a question of intention, the Guardian view thinks that things are going wrong but good action can make it go right, the Occupy view recognises that the system is there by intention and has to be radically altered. Why would a monk want to be associated with those who seek a violent overthrow? And yet those people would have an Occupy view. When a monk meets the good side of people it is so hard to see the reality of what they are forced to do in their daily lives because of compromise. From the times we are born we are taught to live with compromise within ourselves. We become at ease with compromising, and when we meet people such as monks who seek right action from us we genuinely see ourselves as trying to be good and naturally convey this to a monk. How can monks see the truth about us when we don’t see the truth in ourselves? I seek people who have made a dual transcendence, the spiritual transcendence of those who have moved from the sankara-khanda, analytical intellectual minds, to insight, and the political transcendence in which liberal reactions to injustice transform to the Occupy acceptance of neo-liberal oppression. Perhaps that is too much to ask as people usually go one way or the other, spiritual or political.

Brad has just written another blog purely on zazen. Previously I would have read this without any doubt but if after years of zazen he can still have such a wrong view on race I have no confidence. The end of Brad for me????????????? And I’ve just bought his books, and planned to study “jerk” and Shobogenzo in parallel!!

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Matriellez.


Brad wrote this blog in response to an accusation of cultural appropriation. The Buddhist theme of the blog is one that I support, but I would also ask if what Brad did fits in within the category of cultural appropriation.

Firstly Brad described Buddhism as a “religion” that examined the approach that enables us all to be “Buddhas”. It is my understanding that at the root all Buddhisms accept this, so how can it be considered religious appropriation?

Secondly I do not consider that a religion is a culture. Religious practices might make up part of cultural practice but on its own I would not consider religion a culture. Therefore in my view description of a religion as “cultural” is a misdirection, how culture applies to Buddhism is discussed below.

I want here to discuss “western” Buddhism, and I have previously felt that there is appropriation going on there. Let me expand, but first I need context. There is what the Buddha taught. Theravada believes they go back to the source, and that others, such as Zen (including the Soto Zen of Brad), are all revisions. But there are even doubts about the Theravada claims because no-one wrote down when he was saying (no tape-recorders!). Theravada justifications that they follow what the Buddha taught are based on the integrity of oral transmission, and that is maybe 50 years after his death. If you read what Brad describes in Bendowa from “Don’t be a Jerk”, what travelled to China and then Japan cannot be rigorously supported. And if you read his opening to Chapter 3 on the Heart sutra, there is even less rigour for such an important work. If you describe Buddhism as what the Buddha taught, it is very hard to be definitive.

But the problems don’t stop there. If you examine the way Buddhism is practised in the East you have great differences, I personally describe these Buddhisms as cultural. There is a kind of underlying Buddhist ideology connected with what the Buddha taught, and different cultures apply that underlying ideology within their own cultural framework. Hence we have very different Buddhisms practised in Tibet, Japan, Thailand and Sri Lanka. I have seen Tibet and Thailand at first hand – I live in Thailand, and to be honest I find it hard to recognise it as Buddhism. Yet Thailand is proud to call itself a Buddhist country, and I would not dispute that – nor even judge the statement.

To suggest that there is cultural appropriation of Buddhism anywhere is not appropriate.

I noted in the Bendowa blog that Brad is guilty of describing his own Buddhism as Buddhism. At the time I noted that it might just be habit, he speaks to audiences interested in Soto Zen, it would be tedious to continually refer to it in the correct manner of “the Buddhism he follows”. If it is not out of tedium then it is arrogant and inappropriate. We all make a decision as to which aspects of Buddhism we consider the truth for us, it is natural to then call that Buddhism. But if we cannot see that there are multifarious Buddhisms and cannot show tolerance to them, then the question of tolerance and arrogance has to arise.

When I think of western Buddhism I do feel there is arrogance. There appears to be an intellectual abstraction process that goes on in what I perceive of western Buddhism. Intellectuals examine the cultural practices of Buddhism, abstract the culture from the process and then decide this is what Buddhism is. This is the intellectual arrogance I refer to. I believe this intellectual arrogance is at the root of what is loosely known as western Buddhism. And this type of intellectual arrogance is common within academia, and I am not surprised that someone might refer to it as white Buddhism with some truth.

Because of what I will be saying I do not feel Brad is doing this. I surmise that Brad has studied Soto Zen in Japan, has been a part of bringing it back to the West, and has been so immersed in his own version of Soto Zen Buddhism that he has developed an approach that says his version of Buddhism is Buddhism. I further surmise that his single-mindedness that his sect’s version of Zen is Buddhism is a sin of omission rather than arrogance.

I therefore disagree with the assessment that Brad’s “white Buddhism” is cultural appropriation as asserted in the facebook quote “No please white American dude ….”, but ….

And it is a big BUT I feel there is so much more to the facebook quote and response, and this is significantly worrying and discussed in the next blog.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Matriellez.