Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why be inconsistent on Tibet?

An Australian expert on China has analysed the riots in Tibet as follows:

The Chinese Government has sought to strengthen its legitimacy in Tibet by raising living standards to counter any separatist moves by Tibetans.

Ironically, that has brought an influx of Han Chinese, where they have come to outnumber Tibetans.

That has fuelled the resentment of Tibetans, many feeling their culture, language and identity are being diluted. Rioters have been smashing shops run by Han Chinese.

The expert, Dr Dennis Woodward, then considers the various retaliatory measures which might be taken against China, but concludes that they're unlikely to be effective.

What's odd about this is that Dr Woodward, and the other Tibetan sympathisers in the political class, are taking what appears to be a traditionalist view. It is assumed in Dr Woodward's analysis that the Tibetans have a legitimate grievance: that an influx of migrants from China is diluting the traditional ethnic national existence of the Tibetans.

It's not that I think Dr Woodward is wrong in supporting the Tibetans for this reason. I just wonder how he squares it with the usual modernist liberal line in which we are supposed to be oppressed by a boring monoculture and enriched by diversity. If Dr Woodward had held the Tibetans to the same liberal standards Westerners are kept to then he would have written something like the following:

Our imaginary liberal Professor: "Xenophobic Tibetans have erupted in a violent display of bigotry and racism, motivated by fear and hatred of the other. They claim to be defending their culture, but what is Tibetan culture anyway? The Tibetans want to turn the clock back to the grey past, before diversity first brought colour to their country."

So why is there such a double standard when it comes to defending nationalism? I suspect it mostly has something to do with the way that liberals process questions of power; if the Chinese are perceived to be the stronger power, then the Tibetans fall into the category of the oppressed and their "vehicles of struggle" will be respected even if they violate the standards liberals apply elsewhere.

There's another more worrying explanation. There are some liberals who believe that whites are exceptional in being uniquely evil. If you hold this view, then it can be logically consistent to oppose the existence of white majorities, whilst supporting the traditional identities of others.

The idea that whites are exceptional has gained ground in academia, with a major conference of "whiteness studies" scholars being held at Monash University later this year. Whiteness studies is based on the theory that whites invented racism to dominate others; that all whites benefit from an unearned privilege; that no matter how whites act they are complicit in racism and cannot escape their guilt; that whites are a kind of cosmic enemy and that it is right to aim to destroy whiteness.

Something very similar to whiteness studies has been in the news lately. Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremy Wright, has expressed strongly anti-white views, inspired by the "black liberation theology" of James Cone.

What does the theologian Cone believe? Despite holding a prestigious position as a professor at a New York seminary, Cone has written that:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

And on white complicity:

All white men are responsible for white oppression ...Racism is possible because whites are indifferent to suffering and patient with cruelty.

On whites as a cosmic enemy:

And it is the task of theology and the Church to know where God is at work so that we can join him in this fight against evil. In America we know where the evil is ... The demonic forces of racism are real for the black man. Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man "the devil." The white structure of this American society, personified in every racist, must be at least part of what the New Testament meant by the demonic forces.


  1. Here in NZ, some Maori elites have made the claim that only whites can be racist (in New Zealand) because only whites have significant institutional power.

    However, who says institutional power is the only kind of power?

    For example, in some situations being in the minority can make you more powerful, eg a Maori applicant for a government job has an edge over a white applicant with a similar level of education.

    If other situations you are better of in the majority, eg if there is civil strife and the population decides to take out its frustration on the economically successful minorities.

    Power can exist on all sorts of levels depending on the situation.

  2. Considering all human relations as part of some power dynamic is the problem.

  3. But, it's not about Woodward and his ilk being consistent.

    It's about what makes them feel good about themselves.

  4. Considering all human relations as part of some power dynamic is the problem.


  5. "many feeling their culture, language and identity are being diluted. "

    Ha-Ha! That was exactly the point! Mao's Cultural Revolution needed a little help in Tibet.

  6. To me it is strange this emphasis on the inherent evil of "whiteness" in the references above. What about the station of blacks in Arabia or Latin America, where there is clearly stratification even at the geographic level, with blacks relegated to the coastline in many areas? No doubt very old racist ideas and practices, including slavery, play a major role here.

    It is a problem of a supposed struggle for power, yes, but also a matter of *all groups* placing artificial emphasis on materialism rather than higher social and individual mores. This is particularly true in developed countries where there is parity or at least opportunity between economic classes.

    Modern liberalism places emphasis on convenient truths whereas conservatism emphasizes inconvenient truth-- to its popular detriment.