Black Americans and Tibetans

It is not only January and a New Year (Happy New Year and Tashi Delek to all), but closer home, the United States will see a new President take charge on January 20. Everyone says Barack Obama has created history with his African-American background. What appropriate time than this to talk about Tibet and how it resonates among the African Americans. I wrote the following in 1999.

Black Americans and Tibetans
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Tibetan Review
July 1999

If you look at the Tibet movement in the United States, or, for that matter, throughout the world, one of the glaring points is the absence of a major support base among the Black community. President Nelson Mandela of South Africa is the only African political leader showing an interest in Tibet. Among spiritual leaders we again have to turn to Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Within the United States, almost all Tibet support groups are composed of non-black Americans. The only black American actively involved in Tibetan affairs could be the monk who studied in Sera Monastery in South India. He is now ensconced somewhere in New England and seem to have been so Tibetanised that the last time His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Boston in 1998, I saw this monk being included in the “Tibetans only” audience.

Why has the Tibet movement failed to attract the Black community and how can we change the situation? The Tibetan Government in Dharamsala has been studying this issue and has even started an office in South Africa. We Tibetans need to ponder more on this issue at our individual level and even have a public debate.

It is not that Black Americans totally ignore Tibet. This was brought clear to me during the ceremony to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Movement held in Harvard University on June 2, 1999. Mrs Coretta Scott King, widow of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, was the main speaker. In her speech to the predominantly Chinese audience that evening, Mrs King dwelt at length on the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the future of Tibet. She even went to the extent of appealing to the Chinese community to support His Holiness on his endeavour.

I am interested in ideas that our readers may have on how we can maximise our support among the Black community.

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2 responses to “Black Americans and Tibetans”

  1. Gyatso says :

    First of all, congratulations on launching TibetReports. I’ve read several of your pieces over the years, but am sure that I’ve missed many more and look forward to seeing them here.
    On the issue of the dirth of black support for Tibet, I believe that there are two principle reasons for this; Firstly, there has been a complete failure on the part of the Western Press in identifying and focusing on China’s racist views and policies towards Tibet and Tibetans, perhaps because it’s too difficult for them to grasp the idea of Asian on Asian racism. And secondly, while Tibetans have been able to frame the China Tibet issue in many contexts, such as political, human rights, women’s, environmental, religious, political prisoner etc., Tibetans have not been as sucessful in articulately framing the racial and racist dimension of the Chinese actions in Tibet, so that people such as American blacks, who are highly sensitized to these issues, can understand and identify with the Tibetan struggle. African students who studied in China in the 60s and 70s understand very well the culture of racism that exists there, and more recently, black Americans were in disbelief to learn that Beijing had banned black athletes from taverns and clubs during the Olympics. Here again, the ‘Free Press’, who had gathered in Beijing by the thousands, making a lot of noise about their need for greater freedom to cover the games and life in China, failed to comprehend or fully acknowledge an example of China’s gross racist tendency, right in front of their eyes.
    So perhaps the next Tibet support group to spring up should consider making race and racism in China and Tibet their area of focus, so that people of color around the world can begin to identify with Tibet on a whole different level.

  2. Bhuchung says :

    Thank you for your Gyatso la. I guess there is the need for the Tibet movement to be more focused on some of the issues, as you say.

    On racism itself there have been attempts in the past. Tibet groups, including representatives of CTA in Dharamsala participated in the World Conference against Racism in South Africa in 2001.

    But I agree that there needs to me more concerted effort.

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