October 29, 1999

The Dalai Lama's
Politics of Race

Racism is the practice of categorizing human beings by their ethnic origin rather than their traits as individuals, or as the late Reverend Martin Luther King put it, by "the color of their skin" instead of "the content of their character." People who categorize other human beings by their race, particularly those who demand their segregation on the criterion of race, are racists.

What does this have to do with one Tenzing Gyatso, better known to the world as "the Dalai Lama"? Everything. Because as we shall see, the Dalai Lama is a racist.

Let's not allow ourselves to be confused. The Dalai Lama is not a New Age guru. The Dalai Lama is not the facilitator of a Southern California encounter group. The Dalai Lama is, in the words of his admirers, and not his detractors, a "God-King." No one with "God" as part of his title can honestly pretend to be merely "a simple monk." No one with "King" as part of his job description can honestly pretend to be a disinterested "spiritual" personage, far above the fray of realpolitik power struggles.

The Dalai Lama is no different from Prince Norodim Sihanouk of Cambodia. The Dalai Lama is an unelected monarch. The Dalai Lama is a politician. The only question is, what kind of politician is he? What are his politics? The unsavory fact is that the Dalai Lama's politics are the politics of race.

When the Dalai Lama raises his periodic alarms about how "the Hans are overrunning Tibet" he sounds uncannily like Australia's resident bigot Pauline Hanson, raising a hue and cry about White Australia being "swamped by Asians." Let's face it. This modern-day saint, a Nobel laureate no less, purportedly the most enlightened man on the planet, is a petty tribalist preoccupied with ethnic identity.

A quick visit to the Dalai Lama's official Internet Website will confirm that the Dalai Lama demands that a specific geographical region of China be declared off-limits to other ethnic groups on the basis of race. The world harshly condemned P.W. Botha and bigoted white Afrikaners when they demanded such an arrangement for South Africa. A principled moral consistency demands that the world condemn Tibetan tribalists when they demand an identical arrangement in China. This unflattering reality may be hard for the Dalai Lama's acolytes to stomach, but it is inescapable. The Dalai Lama is a racist.

Enlightened individualists must reject the notion that human beings in our modern world ought to be legally classified and physically segregated on the basis of race. Racial segregation in America, known as "Jim Crow," was wrong and contemptible when Lester Maddox and George Wallace defended it in the deep South. Racial segregation, known as "apartheid" was wrong and contemptible when P.W. Botha defended it in South Africa. Racial segregation is wrong and contemptible when the Dalai Lama defends in southwestern China. Racism is racism, no matter who advocates it, no matter where it is advocated, and no matter how it is disguised as something less repugnant.

Bevin Chu is an American architect of Chinese descent registered to practice in Texas. Currently living and working in Taiwan, Chu is the son of a retired high-ranking diplomat with the ROC (Taiwan) government. His column, "The Strait Scoop," now appears Fridays at Antiwar.com.

Archived Columns

The Dalai Lama's Politics of Race

A Republic, Not an Empire: The Conventional Wisdom is Wrong, Dead Wrong

All Politicians are Essentially Actors: Al Pacino, Ronald Reagan and Lee Teng-hui

Playing Politics with Taiwan's Quake Victims

Taiwan's Great Earthquake and the Mandate of Heaven

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Globocops With Guillotines

Taiwan Independence and the Stockholm Syndrome

Taiwan Independence and Free Lunches (8/31/99)

Inside the Taiwan Political Scene (8/19/99)

American Values in Dire Straits (8/10/99)

Would fellow Americans who champion a racially segregated, politically separate Tibetan region of China, tolerate for one minute a racially segregated, politically separate "Whites Only" or "Blacks Only" Georgia or Alabama? No? Then please don't wish this kind of reactionary apartheid state of affairs on China. America is hardly the only multiethnic and multicultural nation in the world, nor should it be.

Many Americans who are admirers of Martin Luther King erroneously compare the Dalai Lama to King, Nelson Mandela, or even the great Mahatma Gandhi. This flatters the Dalai Lama and insults King, Mandela and Gandhi. Gandhi, King, and Mandela were integrationists, not segregationists. Gandhi opposed Hindu-Indian and Muslim-Indian segregation and did his utmost to preserve Indian national unity. King opposed African-American and European-American segregation, and dreamed of a day when black and white children would walk beside each other hand in hand. Mandela opposed black, Cape-Colored, and white Afrikaner segregation.

Pro-unity Chinese oppose Han-Chinese and Tibetan-Chinese racial segregation. The racial integration of Tibetan and Han is hardly a pie-in-the-sky proposition. It has already happened. It keeps happening year after year, even as the Dalai Lama struggles to keep Tibetans and Hans racially segregated. One need only look at China's astonishingly complete integration of her Mongolian, Manchurian and Han subcultures to see how thorough racial assimilation can be. No modern Chinese, including those of us who matter of factly assume we are "Han" knows for sure whether we have Manchurian Mongolian, Uyghur or Tibetan blood in us. Nor should it matter.

Whatever feet of clay Gandhi, King, and Mandela might have had in real life, these three icons were or are genuine integrationists. In this respect, the Dalai Lama has hardly anything in common with any of them. The Dalai Lama is, if anything, closer to militant separatist oriented religious/political figures such as the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, or the Jewish Defense League's Rabbi Meir Kahane. The omnipresent Al Sharpton is the epitome of this kind of opportunistic agent provocateur. He is what African-American libertarians refer to as an "ethnic grievance pimp." The omnipresent Dalai Lama, always in the right place for a photo-op, is a Tibetan Al Sharpton. He merely affects a "kinder, gentler" persona and boasts slicker PR. After all, he has Hollywood's glitterati doing his image-making for him, gratis.

World opinion meanwhile, suffers from selective amnesia. It has conveniently forgotten "His Holiness" was the plotter and instigator of a violent armed revolution in 1959. It has blanked out the fact that this politician forfeited any claim he might have had to being a pacifist decades ago.

The way to move beyond race hatred, and festering grievances about "who done who wrong" is actually quite simple. Hardly easy, but simple. The solution is: first integration, then intermarriage. The solution is exactly what neo-Nazi skinheads and Ku-kluxers fear and dread: the "mongrelization of the races," the "dilution" of "racial purity." The solution is what racial bigots' refer to perjoratively as "miscegenation." Intermarriage makes it more difficult, albeit not impossible, for anyone of mixed parentage to hate one side of his family for wronging the other.

This process has an important prerequisite – racial integration. In order for it to take place people must not be deliberately segregated from each other. It requires that people of goodwill of all backgrounds refuse to tolerate the establishment of artificial barriers to individuals mixing with each other economically, socially and ultimately, genetically.

Interestingly enough, this is also what militant Tibetan and Uyghur separatists fear – the "dilution" of their racial distinctiveness. The term they apply to this dreaded phenomenon is "cultural genocide." Their identities are so invested in their biologically-inherited racial characteristics as "Tibetans," "Uyghurs," or in the case of neo-Nazis as "white Aryans," that they cannot see their common identity as members of the human race. As the talented African-American singer Pearl Bailey put it "there is only one race, the human race." It is worth noting in this connection that recent DNA evidence has confirmed that Chinese, as well as other Asians, are all of African descent.

The chief obstacle to this benevolent process of "creeping integration" is ambitious political "leaders" whose power is built on racially-defined constituencies. These "leaders" ability to lead their followers around by the nose is threatened by any dilution of "ethnic purity" and any blurring of racial lines. This means they have a vested interest in keeping apart individual human beings who otherwise would have traded, formed friendships and intermarried.

Sad to say, the Dalai Lama ranks not among the Gandhis, the Kings or the Mandelas of the world, but among those charismatic "leaders" who abuse their stature and authority to keep these racial lines sharply drawn by fanning the flames of primitive ethnic resentment. The Dalai Lama indisputably does it with tremendous flair and finesse, so he doesn't come across like a Louis Farrakhan, in other words, as a raving lunatic, but make no mistake, he does it. This misuse of his personal charisma arguably makes him worse, not better than his peers.

Given the state of the world today it is clearly unrealistic to expect existing sovereign nations to completely lower their guard against once hostile foreign nations. I am not urging that existing nation states adopt naively Pollyannaish foreign policies. But is it too much to demand that anyone with humanitarian pretensions at least refrain from aggravating internal racial tensions within currently existing nations? For China as well as for America?

Meanwhile, individuals of goodwill the world over can gradually increase the porousness of international political boundaries via free trade. Stable, mutually beneficial trade relations increase human to human contact across existing national boundaries, and contributes to the eventual diminution of irrational xenophobia.

Genuine spiritual leaders of global stature do not speak only for their tribe. They are not nearly so petty and narrow-minded. They have hearts which encompass the world. They speak for all of humanity. Whom does the Dalai Lama speak for? Does he speak for global racial integration and the universal brotherhood of man, or only for his narrow tribal constituency? The question is rhetorical, and the answer should be obvious.

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