Mindful Action in Mindless Times: A Buddhist Response to Injustice

The recent murders of eight people in Atlanta, the majority of whom were Asian Americans, were a tragic crest in a wave of anti-Asian violence that has swept across the United States.

Although we may attribute this violence to contemporary xenophobic and sinophobic rhetoric in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of those lives rests within a much deeper, far more treacherous past.

People of Asian descent have resided in North America since the 16th century, yet mainstream society has long cast them as perpetual foreigners. As history shows, this was by design. Catalyzed by political instability and economic precarity in Asia, mass immgiration began as early as the 1840s.

With dreams of security and prosperity, these working-class immigrants confronted a harsh land where a combustible mix of racism and class anxiety produced violence and exclusion. These nativist actions privileged native-born whites and deflected attention away from the inequalities of the economic system of the day.

Chinese laborers, for example, became a convenient scapegoat for whites dissatisfied with poor wages and job insecurity. As a result, deadly anti-Chinese riots erupted in locations from Los Angeles to Denver and culminated in the first immigration law to target a group based on ethnicity or nationality: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.