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White/coloured, cis/trans, straight/queer profiling… and Buddhism

by Bup Sahn sunim (@BupSahn)
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“That's racist” will be the reaction of many reading this title and that is exactly the position that I am arguing against. I am arguing here against a certain type of profiling on the back of gender, race, or sexuality which is in direct contradiction to Buddhism's virtue ethics and is uncompassionate, stoking the fires of ill-will and division.

Anyone who has been around the chattering classes on social media will know profiling people on grounds of race, gender, and sexuality is a common pastime, straddles political affiliations and takes many forms… such as “critical theory”, “identity politics”, and traditional types of racism, sexism and other prejudices such as homophobia. But, what exactly are “critical theory” and “identity politics” and how do they relate to traditional Buddhist ethics?


“Critical theory” is a neo-Marxist critique of society [Out88, pp. 5–8] aiming to liberate humans from the circumstances that enslave them [Hor82, p. 244] “by situating them in historical and cultural contexts [by] the process of collecting and analyzing data” [LT02, p. 49].

“Identity politics” is a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups (Oxford Dictionaries (2019); Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002)). Rather than organizing solely around belief systems, programmatic manifestos, or party affiliation, identity political formations typically aim to secure the political freedom of a specific constituency marginalized within its larger context. What they share in common, in the context that they tend to profile people based on certain identities such as race, gender, or sexuality reinforcing the sharp distinction between ‘them and us’ that perpetuates a notion of otherness.

To be clear, I am not saying that there are no structural inequalities in society, or that these inequalities are not unjust or that they don't need tackling; nor am I denying that “critical theory” does provide some relevant insights. The claim

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