Start Saying “White,” Stop Saying “Western”: Transforming the Dominant Vocabulary of Tibet Studies

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Abstract

This article employs a literature review and critical race analysis to explore the need for a renewed vocabulary in English-language scholarship on Tibet. Focusing on the popular use of the term “Western” as a stand-in for “white,” this article shows how whiteness is obscured behind non racialized signifiers, such as “scholar” or “author,” whereas racialized descriptions of Tibetans, Indians, and Han Chinese are ubiquitous. I argue that the obscuration of whiteness is linked with a privileged neutrality which is evident in the majority of English-language literature on Tibet, and which has wide-ranging implications for Tibetan and Chinese scholarship on Tibet. Considering the dominant presence of white people in Tibetology, I argue for a renewed vocabulary that allows for more honest and direct dialog about the meaning of whiteness in this particular area of scholarship and practice.

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