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Duncan Ryūken Williams: 'The Karma of a Nation: Racial Reparations from an Asian American Buddhist Perspective'

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By Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

Tuesday, March 16, 2021 5pm to 6:30pm

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021 5pm to 6:30pm

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Please join us for the third monthly event in the Harvard Buddhist Community's 2021 Buddhism and Race Speaker Series. March's event features Professor Duncan Ryūken Williams. The forced removal and incarceration of over 125,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them Buddhists, in U.S. concentration camps during WWII began with the arrest of Buddhist priests even before the smoke had cleared at Pearl Harbor. The prewar surveillance of Buddhist temples and the making of registries that targeted Buddhist priests, unlike Christian ministers, as threats to national security was based on a long-standing presumption that America is essentially a White Christian nation. The first federal immigration law that targeted a particular group for exclusion from the United States was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, legislation that deemed the predominantly Buddhist Chinese immigrants as the “heathen Chinee,” a group religiously and racially unassimilable. Despise this long history of religion-racial animus, Buddhists who found themselves behind barbed wire in camps surrounded by guards drew on their Buddhist teaching, practice, and community to not only survive the wartime incarceration, but advocate for a vision of America that is multi-ethnic and religiously free. In this presentation, Duncan Ryuken Williams will talk about how the teachings of these Asian American Buddhist ancestors offer a way to heal and repair America’s racial and religious fractures that endure to the present. An interned Buddhist priest and a postwar advocate of racial reparations, Rev. Kyoshiro Tokunaga, often spoke about the “Karma of a Nation” in reference to America’s racial legacy while Ta-Nehisi Coates has argued that reparations is more than a recompense of past injustices, but a national reckoning “that would lead to spiritual renewal.” Williams proposes a Buddhist approach to the work of repair and building a nation that values multiplicity over singularity, hybridity over purity, and inclusivity over exclusivity.

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