Tuesday, September 9, 2008
On "Freeing Tibet"
A land populated by a people with thousands of years of history, thriving cultures and traditions is invaded by an occupying army. Through a brutal campaign of violence against an entire people - women, children, and the elderly - millions of people die, and the land is taken and occupied. The occupying government encourages its people to take over land that was previously populated by those they killed. The occupied population dwindles and is forced onto the worst land, where they deal with poverty, alcoholism, and depression. They are forced into new schools, their culture brutally stamped-out and tarnished.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Yeah - exactly, it's how the United States was colonized. It's how the Native Indian populations were subjugated, robbed, and destroyed. It's how the original occupants of the land I currently live on hardly exist, anymore. It's how the most successful colony in the world occupied its current territory and got away with it.
It's not too different from how businessmen - that's right, freaking BUSINESSMEN - overthrew the sovereign Queen of Hawaii and then handed the land over to the U.S. government to "annex," so they could make a people's homeland into a glorified theme park for non-native tourists.
Reminiscent of how the same government forcibly interned its own citizens - who happened to have Japanese blood - and stole their property with no real reparations (I don't count a lip-service "apology" and token money generations later as reparations).
Did I mention that they got away with it?
Because where are the international protests when WE host the Olympics? Why doesn't the world cry out in rage about OUR human rights injustices?
Is it because those that benefitted from the theft are the ones who generally protest against all the rest of the world's injustices? Is it because there's an expiration date on justice and what's wrong or right? Or is it just because that would be awfully inconvenient for a lot of people?
Now, don't get me wrong - I don't exactly think the whole current Tibet situation is all good. I don't. I don't think there's a problem with seeing wrong in the world and wanting to bring attention to it - or to try to do something about it. I'm all for it, really.
What I AM against is this ridiculous level of blind hypocrisy that so often goes hand in hand with protesting. If you are a United States citizen, then how can you spend time and energy protesting the situation in a foreign continent and not spend more time and energy trying to fix the injustices of the country in which you live? How can you be against foreign occupation by the Chinese, and then be okay with the fact that your house is built on land that your government lied, cheated, killed, and stole to get?
And the answers all seem to come the same way - "well, that was so many generations ago - I didn't do it." Right. So then shouldn't we all "stop living in the past" and worrying about what China did 50 years ago (before most of the current residents were born)? Of course not. So then the "past is the past" argument is B.S. People are still suffering and paying for it. Native Indian cultures are in greater danger of dying out than the Tibetan culture - so, if anything, it should be more pressing to do something NOW.
Oh, but right - that would be so very inconvenient.
Because the second response is the "what am I SUPPOSED to do about it?" To be honest - what the Hell are you really going to do about the Tibet situation? Right - build up media attention, get the information out, not give the government an excuse to ignore it, MAKE IT MATTER. Now imagine if it was the country's own residents doing it. Not just Indians, themselves, but the people who benefitted. What if there were tons of "Free the U.S." benefit concerts headlining the biggest American bands? What if there were thousands of volunteers and protesters doing their part every day? What if popular media personalities talked about it? Maybe something could actually happen. Probably not - but so far all that hasn't changed China's mind, either.
And the fact is - unless you're willing to give back your land to whichever tribe it originally belonged to (REALLY willing to do so), then you have no right to protest against all these foreign "occupiers." Want to know why they don't give up their occupations (this goes for Israel, to China, to Morrocco)? The same reason the people of this country aren't willing to give up their homes and land to make right for the ridiculous, horrifying injustices of this nation's past. And all these other countries didn't kill off a whole other race of people to make good on their occupations.
And it always gets flipped, right? The question - so what are YOU (meaning me) doing about it all? No, I don't hold protests. I'm not organizing a petition of people willing to give their land back (although, maybe I should get started on that). But I AM asking the questions. And I try to get people to think. It's not enough - and I'm enabling the injustice to continue, as well - but in none of that does it make it non-hypocritical for U.S. citizens to fight other people's battles while ignoring that of the occupied in their own country.
And that's the problem. That's white privilege. Or "upper-middle-class" privilege. Or "developed-nation" privilege. Or "superpower" privilege. Whatever you want to call it - the tendency to think that we know it all and have the right to tell other people how to do things. That we know better, and thus are "doing good" by getting mixed up in other people's problems, as we view them from our own narrow cultural world-view. Meanwhile, we let injustice happen on our own doorstep because "it's not my fault - I'm not directly responsible" or there's "nothing I can do." And then we re-convince ourselves that we're "making a difference."
Yeah - we ARE making a difference. But the direction in which that difference tends is up to more of a debate than we like to think.
* Pretty good of me to write this whole essay without even putting it on the current popularity of China-bashing (because they're starting to get some clout) while we ignore white countries' similar injustices (Ireland, for instance), isn't it?
** Oops - I guess we can ignore footnote number one.