Several weeks ago, zhana26 posted a question on the Black Buddhists Yahoo! group inspired by an article that attempts to explain why Black people are turning to Buddhism. Her question:
How did you come to Buddhism?
This prompted a great deal of discussion, which I encourage you to read first-hand. The article suggests that Black people come to Buddhism through Tina Turner and pop culture. It even gets more insulting:
Turner's story of going from poverty to selling 50 million albums worldwide inspires a population entrapped by poverty and abusive relationships.
Let me preface this by saying that I love Tina Turner. I admire her courage and am moved by her story. My goal is not to diss her. I guess I just feel the need to point out a few facts for the clueless journalist that threw this article together...
- The entire African-American population is not entrapped by poverty or abusive relationships
- The entire African-American population is not spiritually moved by an artist's ability to sell 50 million albums
- Black people really do have depth and self-awareness... the underlying reason for our actions is not "the Celebrity made me do it"
- African-Americans have deep spiritual roots that reach back generations... I take issue with being labeled a "culture groping for spiritual understanding"
Unfortunately, this is not the only journalist spouting nonsense about Black Buddhists. While surfing Zen Unbound, I read Tom Armstrong's article Tricycle Gets Ugly. He quotes an article from one of Tricycle's back issues that suggests that a river of subtle racism runs through Buddhist sanghas in the West.
I'm not going to sit here and pretend I can speak for the entire community of Black Buddhists, so I'm not going to speak to whether or not individuals within the African-American Buddhist community have or have not had negative experiences while seeking a Sangha due to racism (blatant or otherwise). I can only speak to my own experience. What I will say is that I think the journalists that have chosen to write about the issue of race/racism in Buddhist communities found a few glowing embers and tried to make a fire. The cynic in me believes that there is a capitalistic urge that drives all of this attention to Black Buddhists... Acknowledge us, and maybe we'll buy more of your publications. I digress...
Black people come to Buddhism for the same reasons that others come to Buddhism in the West. It is often a deeply personal choice inspired by the desire to end deeply personal suffering.
Our country is still plagued by a racial divide. Personally, I believe Buddhist communities and other integrated places of worship are part of the solution not part of the problem. Instead of trying to advocate for the comfort and acceptance of Black Buddhists in predominantly white sanghas, I wish these journalists would attack the larger issue and advocate for the comfort and acceptance of Black people (and all other people) in the world.