ETA: My curiosity took me to the Wikipedia page for Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, and it turns out that O’Brien’s comparison is even less apt than I initially thought:
The village’s long name cannot be considered an authentic Welsh-language toponym. It was artificially contrived in the 1860s to bestow upon the station the honour of having the longest name of any railway station in the United Kingdom: an early example of a publicity stunt.
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White Privilege wins in one round! KO!
There’s this great blog, Angry Asian Buddhist, that every Buddhist and every non-Buddhist and everyone else besides that should read. In the latest post, Arun addresses a comment made by Buddhist writer Barbara O’Brien about the apparently very exotic sounding name of a university in Thailand:
Ooo, Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University. How awesome is that?
and the subsequent exchange between O’Brien and a commenter in the thread:
One can only imagine what the cheerleading squad for Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University’s basketball team has to contend with “Gimme an M! Gimme an A” .
The game would have to go into overtime to let them finish.
This lighthearted banter summoned up memories of all the times that white Americans made fun of my Asian name, mocked my ancestral language with ching-chong routines and done the good ol’ chink-eye to my face. In case you’re unaware, it can really suck to grow up Thai in America—because you might just have to live your entire life with people like Barbara O’Brien making fun of your family’s long name, only to then hide behind, “Relax! It was only a joke!”
And O’Brien responds in the comments:
Dear, your skin is too thin. It so happens I have family living near Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales, which is also awesome. I’d brag about it more but I can’t pronounce it.
Yes, you are over-reacting. Lighten up.
And on the OP’s thread:
I learned a long time ago that people who are determined to take offense will do so, no matter how careful one might be to not offend them.
I want to add that this is the pattern of an abuser — find some picayune thing to turn into a big bleeping deal that will justify an Episode.
My first Zen teacher used to say that no one can make us angry; we make ourselves angry. So if Arun is determined to make himself angry, I feel sorry for him. If I ever see that he is the object of genuine racial oppression, I will certainly do what I can to defend him.
But my days of being jerked around by other peoples’ anger ended a long time ago. Is that clear?
Now, if any of you other puppies wants to lecture me about my bad attitude, well, sit on it. Further such lectures will be deleted. Thanks much.
Boy, is this ever familiar. I should note write here that Arun’s post was far from the tirade she paints it as; indeed, Arun even commends Barbara’s feminist work. But that gets lost in O’Brien’s furious defense of her comment. (What was that about people determined to make themselves angry?)
Now, the situation is certainly complicated by the fact that O’Brien is an abuse survivor; I’ve experienced a good deal of emotional abuse, and as a result, I have a tendency to read things into people’s behavior toward me that aren’t always there. Still, though, given the power dynamic between white and Asian Buddhists – and whites and Asians in general – her behavior on the thread is inexcusable, especially from a Buddhist perspective. (Regarding O’Brien’s OP, I must say that I also worry about the tenor of Western support for the Bhikkhuni cause in general, as it feels a little too close to the way white people routinely use issues like the burqa and FGC as an excuse to paint other cultures as backwards and in need of enlightenment, no pun intended). As Arun writes:
This cruel little joke on a Thai name encapsulates a recurring dilemma for Western Buddhists of Asian heritage. We are embraced by white Buddhists, even while we are culturally denigrated.
Comments debating the validity of Arun’s – or any POC’s – response to comments like those above will be deleted.