Always Too Much; Never Enough

Being excluded and marginalized carries a whole array of techniques of killing the body and spirit. The one being marginalized is always told that ‘they are too much and should be obedient and quiet.’ Or we are told that we’re just ‘not enough and we need to be or do more of something.’  What is this?  It keeps power and dominance in the majority’s or dominant’s hands, disempowering the other.

Let’s leave aside the direct genocidal tactic for now. Let’s look at so-called more ‘personal’ and interactive ways that this is done. It is largely hidden. In most nations today, the marginalized experience these things continually and forces the isolation of communities as people withdraw into fictions called ‘our own kind’ and ‘those like us’ and ‘like-minded people.’ Since time immemorial, there has been life together. Arabs, Jews, Kurds, Uighurs, Uzbeks, Romani, were living side-by-side. There were various relationships of like and dislike in various degrees; there were close friendships and inclusions and intimacies and laughs; there were honor killings and disagreements and attacks and exclusions as well. The illusion of ‘being with our own kind and you with yours’ is intensified and made legitimate and real in today’s nation-state mentality. It is wholly life-denying. It helps only those in positions that benefit from keeping communities and ideas separate. For one thing, it helps the tactic of spreading rumors and mistrust, to play one group against the other in order to gain something. One look at the histories of the divided communities today and you can see. Covert agents play a strong role, since no one knows who they are.

And then we come to the idea of being mixed race, or being a member of a diaspora, or one in exile. In another perspective, you can say that most of the world today, is nothing but a huge spectacle of exile. People are exiled from themselves. It kind of connects to what some cultural studies and social science thinkers, who think about life in the globalized era of the late 20th century to today, as one of living hybrid–as Homi Bhaba has spoken of There are many meanings to hybridity. It is as it is, a contradiction. We all have multiple realities we travel through daily. For example, one person may be a wife, mother, grandmother–perhaps, white, then working-class, depending on who that person is with. Each of those selves, require different things, and we adjust.

For mixed race and bi-racial people, this is a strong, palatable position. For the exiled, and the diaspora and the immigrant, these are very real as well. As someone who has led a life of travel and/or living in different places for long periods of time, upon returning to former places, I found that I–the self was now considered differently to the locals of their ‘former’ communities and regions. In most cases, it would feel that a person moves ‘further away’ from the community because they are not ‘purely’ what their earlier community was. In other cases, you’re just contaminated if you have different ancestries, tainted. This is usually done by peoples who have dominant privilege in a nation or region, and either have not allowed inter-marriage and too much inter-cultural socialization and/or forgotten their own histories of mixing or have not allowed that ‘mixing’ reality to show for certain political (then internalized as psychological or belonging to a group) reasons.

So when I lived in Long Beach, California in the 1970s, I was hungry for Japanese friends. There were two or three Japanese people at the college I went to and we spoke once in awhile but never got close. I heard, one day, of a Japanese-American club forming on the campus and that they were seeing if it could be done. So I was curious and wanted to go to the meeting. At that time, the group had met three or four times already, before I had been to their monthly meeting to see what it was about. I secretly hoped that I could be my Japanese self for a while, once in a while.

I got to know a few of the people there. Only two out of the ten people there, spoke any Japanese. Out of all of them, only one other person had even been to Japan. They were very ‘American’ in most ways, than Japanese. I was born and raised in Japan until I was six years old, then again from 13 to 16 years old, albeit mostly on a US military base, my mother and I lived summers at her brother’s house in Shakudo in the Kyoto area and my mother and I spent many days during the week visiting her friends and relatives outside of the base. All of our shopping was done off of the base as well. Japanese was my first speaking language.

So I had thought that perhaps it was good anyway, in that we could discuss being Japanese. After two more meetings, two of the men pulled me aside before one of their meetings began. One of them said to me: “you know, we’ve been discussing this and we thought that you wouldn’t be right for this group.” So I looked at the both of these guys in surprise and asked why. “You don’t really fit the criteria for a Japanese club.” Now I became very irritated. What do you mean? Japan is the criteria for a Japanese-American club isn’t it.” No response, just silence. Now that is pretty Japanese in this context.

“What is your criteria exactly?” I asked. “Well, you just aren’t Japanese enough.”

“What in the hell do you mean? I speak Japanese, I was raised there, I read and write some basic Japanese, I was born there and lived there…” then I stopped myself. Just then it came to me. I again looked at the people in the room as they started milling in, one or two at a time for the meeting. They were all very very traditionally monolithic Japanese-looking. Three of them were mixed-race with white fathers or mothers. I was dark. What other reason could there be?

I just silently left, knowing that the decision was made already. I had no consciousness, at that time in my life, of protesting. And if I did, I think I would’ve been alone, carrying the burden and trying to change how this played out and eventually change their ‘criteria’ of Japanese-ness. They couldn’t exclude me on being mixed, there were white-mixed Japanese Americans there. They couldn’t exclude on gender certainly. They knew nothing of who I had sex with. I didn’t have a Japanese or American-English accent. I wasn’t dressed funny.

You also have to remember, if you are a younger person reading this–there were no requirements and rules for clubs in most instances, to be more democratic. Today there are more of those, but always contested of course. But in the 70s, clubs could do more of what they wished. The road to bringing our the racism of their decisions about inclusion, would’ve most likely ended up on ‘deaf ears’–meaning not too many, if any, would listen or even understand. It may have ended with the typical American thing–linking freedom with escape and finding your own kind: “well, don’t stay there, go somewhere else.” I attend school there! I have to go off-campus for club? Oh well, I’m just conjecturing on a totally sad road.

Never enough. Even though it was merely a club at the college, I felt sad and again was reminded of the exclusion that dominates. Others would decide who I was and what my heritage was. Ugh! Remember, though. I am not sharing this to feel sad or for you to feel sorry. I’m opening a dialogue to ask questions on the processes that we live with that continue and to point to a fact of how an individual cannot resist alone. It’s structural.

At the same time, there are white-americans, who show up at african-american meetings and saying that they had a right to be there because they ‘felt’ black. Now that’s something else for another posting………..

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