By Rima Fujita
Racism against Asians has always existed in the US for centuries, but it has been drastically escalated ever since the former President Trump’s numerous racial remarks. He kicked-off his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and at the end of his term referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus.” It has been said that Trump’s rhetoric has encouraged some Americans to feel emboldened to show their hatred towards non-white individuals and communities.
Approximately 3,800 cases of racial attacks towards Asians were reported in 2020. This includes the recent media coverage of elderly Asian men and women wantonly attacked in the streets of San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. This is an astoundingly 150 per cent increase of Anti-Asian hate crime in 2020. Here in Los Angeles, my community is feeling the impact of having a major Japanese Buddhist temple vandalized and burned just a few weeks ago.
In 1979 I moved to New York City with my parents from Japan due to my father’s business. We were not immigrants – my parents would stay only for several years as my father had to take care of the company. I was a teenager then, and I have experienced racism ever since.
At a private school I attended, some classmates hurled racial slurs at me, and once my English teacher called me, “Jap” during a class. I was questioned by another teacher, “You are Asian – why aren’t you good with math?”
An anonymous boy telephoned me every night and yelled, “You, Chink!” followed by sneering laughs.
My parents and I often received scornful stares from strangers on the street. My father would not get waited at a restaurant near his Rockefeller Center office while every other white person got served right away during the lunch hour. One day he went into a Steinway & Sons piano store, and the clerk scoffed, “There is nothing here for you.” My father was a successful businessman who dressed impeccably in an elegant suit. But It did not matter – he was Asian.
While talking about English literature one family member from my previous marriage said to me, “What do you Japanese know about Wordsworth?” and walked away. Generally speaking, racism among families is nothing rare here in the States.
Dealing with racism is a part of my life. That is normal in the US if you are a non-white minority.
Do I let it bother me? I certainly did so in the past, but not as much anymore. You can rarely change the racists’ views. What I changed is mine.
Over the years Buddha’s wisdom has inspired me how to deal with disturbing situations of racism.
The first Buddha’s teaching that helped me was to carefully analyze the situation when I experienced racism in order to avoid getting caught in my own victimized drama.
Let’s say a man makes racial remarks based on my race and appearance, and I get upset.
Who is being ignorant here?
The answer is he. And I. It’s both of us: the person who hurled racial slurs at me and I who got upset by it.
Making racial remarks is nothing but a pure act of ignorance. So you should feel sorry for him and for his action because a happy, fulfilled person wouldn’t have the need to behave that way. He obviously has so much hatred within that it must be creating suffering. Therefore, you should feel sympathy for him rather than victimizing yourself.
2600 years ago, Lord Buddha said: “If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”
This wisdom never fails me to help me calm down when I get upset by other’s ignorant behavior.
Then, when my anger is settled, I meditate on emptiness while reflecting upon the unpleasant experience. This meditation is a good reminder that things don’t actually exist as they appear.
The second Buddhist teaching that has inspired me is the Law of Causality, which we often call karma.
When I experience racism, I try to reflect on my own thoughts, speech and actions. Have I ever had racist views and thoughts? Have I ever judged anyone based on their race? Have I ever said anything I shouldn’t have? These are very tough questions to ask myself, and it is even harder to answer them truthfully.
Every unpleasant act of racism forces me to look deeply at and into myself. The racist behavior of others could be the reflection of my own thoughts – even though I would never hurl racial slurs at anyone nor hurt anyone violently. If I could recognize it, I would be able to have more understanding towards their racist actions. And if I could understand it better, it would be easier to forgive and let go.
What we need to do is to take these disturbing experiences of racist attacks as lessons to practice patience and compassion. At least patience to begin with, if compassion feels like it’s too difficult to achieve at the moment.
However, don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that we should all stay quiet and passive when we are attacked by racists and face discrimination and injustice. Of course, we need to stand up and speak up in solidarity. Rather, I am saying that we do not need to react nor feel victimized by their ignorance and our own ignorance.
Racism is extremely complex. Racism comes from ignorance, such as hatred, anger, fear, greed and delusion, and as long as ignorance exists so will racism. That is the reality as we are all in Samsara together.
It is darn hard, I know. But the good news is that we all have the seeds to succeed. We all have the ability to accomplish compassion and wisdom. That is ultimately the most powerful insight I learned from the precious Buddhist teachings.