I originally signed up for this class thinking it would be more of a survey of Asian Religious Traditions – apparently, I was wrong (as stated in the syllabus.) Originally, I was disappointed, but after having completed the first readings and watched the videos, I’m both glad and interested that it is not. I must confess that this class will likely be difficult for me, as a straight white male (otherwise known as “the devil” in these current times) but that doesn’t deter me. I grew up in the Bay Area and feel fortunate to have been raised around a very diverse group of friends. I admit to thinking that racism was something I read about in the history books as it wasn’t something I overtly experienced. In 1996 I joined the military and spent a lot of time in the South (specifically Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia) where I realized racism was still occurring, while watching my friends get treated differently than me depending on what neighborhood we were in. Those feeling came rushing back as I continued the readings today.
One of the recurring thoughts I had today revolved around the people who were writing the history books at the times, and how they were unable to see people that were different from themselves through any lens but their own. In the article by Professor Lee, he explains that “explorers and missionaries have claimed indigenous peoples of the New World ‘lack knowledge of God’ or ‘have … no religion as we understand it” (Lee et. al. 130). This, to me, is one of the fundamental problems we have today: the inability to appreciate someone or something that is different from what we “know” without viewing it through the lens of our own understanding. This still happens today. Those who are writing the history only see it through their own eyes. I know this is not a uniquely American trait, though. As an example, throughout my time in the Navy I had the opportunity to travel through some amazing places. One of which, and I will never forget this, was Nagasaki, Japan. My shipmates and I had the privilege to tour the museum there dedicated to the lives lost in WW II. I will never forget the emotions I felt that day. One thing we all noticed, is that the history that lines the walls of that sacred space was very different than the way we learned it in the States. In our opinions, there were a lot of things completely left out (like the Pearl Harbor invasion for one.) Initially I was a little angry, but it didn’t take very long for understanding to wash over me. The people I met there (including a survivor who happened to be lucky enough to be behind a cement pillar in his workplace) were amazing. I saw them for who they were: human beings. I’ll never forget that day for a couple of reasons: 1) meeting that survivor made the events of that war human to me, and 2) we all (as humans) tell the stories as they relate to us, no matter how different it may be to others involved. I understood why the Japanese people tell the story of WWII differently than we do.
I realized while reading the second article, that I’m not any different – I see things through the lenses I was given, although I’m trying very hard to remove them. I was struck by the understanding that I didn’t think of Indian Americans as Asian, as discussed in the excerpt from Mr. Khyati Joshi where he says, “Even within the developing dialogue on Asian America, Indian Americans are the other, often invisible or marginalized because of the widespread popular understanding of the term “Asian American” to refer primarily or even exclusively to East Asian Americans” (95). When I thought about it, I knew where India was located (as I verified it on Google), but it just never occurred to me as I fell into the trap that Mr. Joshi discussed. Again, seeing things through the lens that I have constructed. This was confirmed even more for me, when I listened to Prof. Lee’s lecture on “Race and Racialization” where he defined race as being a “social construct,” or something of human invention, thus being unstable and changing over time. Today was also the first time I have ever heard the term “racialization.”
I have always considered myself relatively “woke” (to use the vernacular of the day) but I am quickly realizing that I have a lot to learn, and I’m happy to be here to do it. All of the readings today, including the lecture and the video, “A Class Divided” have shown me that, even though I’ve felt for a long time that we, as a society, need to stop seeing things that are different from us through our own lenses only, that I am just as guilty as those I call out. Even after the first day, I’m starting to see things differently – which excites me for the rest of the course!
Joshi, Khyati, “What Does Race Have to Do with Religion?” 2006. Pdf.
Lee, “Race and Racialization”, week 1.
Lee, Jonathan, et. al., “Religion, Race, and Orientalism.” 2015. Pdf.