Two Videos and a commentary
DaniG Productions – On Being Multiracial:
Abacus Productions – Multiracial Identity:
There is a growing awareness and ‘feel good’ mentality when it comes to mixed raced people in the United States. The mixed race and multiracial experience has been mostly relegated to the private life in the United States, Europe and Japan, as well as other regions around the world. It is almost as if mixed people are asking the dominant for acceptance. It is also, in the US, an act of being affirmed. Being accepted and affirmed places certain people among the dominant and that means we are supposedly free? I don’t think so.
I, being of Japanese, Chinese, Black-American, Cherokee, and Austrian blood, growing up in Japan and in Hawaii and Albuquerque, have a distinct flow of heritages. However, race and culture are not the same are they? Also, are heritages also the same? How about nationality? As you know, from many of my previous postings, nation-states and along with it–national identity, are a fairly new invention in human history. Some people I know have been one thing, then made to become another or forced to leave their country. For others, they were born into a nation and were ‘naturalized.’ Others became a national citizen later, but usually remembering their old homelands as a part of their reality and longings. Still, for others, they want to leave the ‘other’ identity and become the new. In these choices, the United States is an interesting location. It also depends on when you were born and what was happening in the specific places you, yourself, were born, and also in the United States and in world history. If you were not from the United States, it depends on when you came and why. This also stems from your family and clan and village and cities, and the relationships these have to the immigration laws in whatever nation/country we are talking about, reflecting on.
In the above two videos, it is interesting to note that most of the people speaking are under 40 years old. In fact, most are most likely in their twenties. In the United States, “identity talk” is usually done without history, without speaking of cultures, and without speaking of social-cultural-political dynamics. Many people speak about how they may ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ who they are. This, for much of the talk about multiracial heritage, is what matters: Whether I am or he or she is, ‘okay’ with themselves. Acceptance and affirmation. This is what solves the problems for Americans. It is very middle class. It is a very limited position from which to gaze at this issue.
The question of culture and race and nation, gender and sexuality, socio-economic class and assimilation have to all be included for a more intelligent dialogue. If we add in things such as historical change, laws, and the degree of militarism and assimilation existing in different places at different times, then we can have a better discussion. To top that? We need to talk about generational differences and power-relations.
When I was in my 30s, I wanted to begin discussions on race and oppression with other mixed race people. I found that for most Japanese mixed people and American mixed-race people at that time (in the 70s), the conversations were always around keeping it quiet or being loud, about self-acceptance. My issues around my cultural heritages were not about me accepting myself. I didn’t care if people liked me or not. But I wanted them to accept that our realities were different. Whether it’s okay or not wasn’t any of their business either, unless it was something that would affect others in adverse ways.
Even as a person who considers himself American-Japanese, I had to separate myself from many Japanese-Americans (not all, just many), because they had no experience of Japan, and their experiences connected strongly to the unhealed, un-mourned aspect of history: the Internment experience in the US. This is a social trauma that must be addressed by this country. In some cases, they kept their distance from Japanese from Japan. They wanted to prove they weren’t the traitor during the World War, and after, when there was tremendous racial prejudice against the JA community in the US. Until then, that experience will loom large in the Japanese-American experience. Many people think that as time goes, that memory will go away. I think that it should not be forgotten. It needs to be addressed.
Another aspect is that Japanese-American personalities and values are partly shaped by that experience. Many people want to think of the JA’s as a static group of people who act similarly and in this way or that way. But the Internment experience shows up in that living, in that speaking, in that listening, in that self. Social selves are the personal self. The social and personal selves are a mixture of many things that are culturally-socially experienced by a group of people. But there are many Japanese-Americans who did not experience internment in their history. I, born in Japan just after the official US/Allied Occupation of Japan, speaking Japanese as my first language, and experiencing the worst prejudices between Japanese and US Americans in both countries, then watching these ways of prejudice change over the decades, is another experience.
Another aspect of this was that many of the Japanese-American friends I had when I was a child, viewed themselves in the same vein that the dominant white people did in many ways. They took their turns at beating up black kids and calling me mutt. Their prejudices were intense because I feel they were trying to be ‘American.’ I blame them for their violent attitudes, but I do not blame those that used to beat me and their friends, for wanting to be included in their nation. Being treated as an ‘inferior’ plays a large part in longing and desire. It feeds internalized oppression. Anywhere. If this is the case, what are identities but a ball of social relations and constructs created by the culture that is around at the time. What creates changes in a person’s thoughts about themselves and others?
Are Japanese a race? Are they a culture? What makes ‘them’ different? Are differences and sameness what drives people to become prejudiced? Are people born prejudiced? Is it only what parents and teachers teach us? Aren’t there cultural mainstreams? dominant cultural norms at play? Aren’t these held in place by what is going on in larger forms? US prejudices against the Asians were largely created because some of the dominant people in governments used the media to disseminate prejudices because of the American labor issues of those times with related perceived immigration problems; or because of the need to defeat a country during war. Demonize ‘the other.’ Although the Germans were called ‘krauts,’ the racism against the Germans was not the same in intensity or amount of hatred as that against the Japanese. Just before the war, the Japanese were allies and pals. During war–enemies. Just afterward–pals. Why? There were and ARE POLITICAL REASONS. Our prejudices are largely constructed by larger forces. The more ignorance there is in a culture, the easier it is to create the social milieu. For me, nowadays, instead of scorn and rocks thrown and being called kurombo (nigger), I am now adored and fascinated over by the Japanese by-in-large when I have gone to Japan. When I was younger? No. And in the land of the free USA, I used to be called mutt and Jap and nigger and chink and all kinds of other names in this country. Now I’m someone who isn’t capitalizing enough on my mixed race heritage (oh well). In the future?
In the US, many mixed race children may have been mainly raised in the US. Perhaps some language and food may be a part of one of the parents’ cultural heritages and/or traditions. This is visited, perhaps during holidays. Even the feeling toward food may be different between JAs and Japanese being raised in post-war Japan, where rice was scarce and was coveted. It also relates to Japan’s history with China, where the elite ate rice, while the poorer Japanese had to eat barley and other grains and rice was a ‘special’ deal for families. This relates to how the Japanese and Chinese traded a few centuries ago. Also, my mother grew up in war-torn China and Japan. After the US bombings ended and her sister perished in the Atomic bomb, Japan was in a period of re-building while many people were starving and injured, sick and mourning. Hundreds of thousands walked the streets in a daze. Having rice was a blessing, from a cultural standpoint. I grew up with my mother making perfect pots of rice. She wanted me to eat every morsel, not to waste. I love rice even today. I’ll never give it up. It has a profound taste in its subtly. I even get mad when someone says it doesn’t have any flavor. This is proof that there’s no objectivity. Our experiences, perceptions, desires, and longings, are shaped by our histories.
So when someone says they are German, Indonesian, Dutch and English, with the European heritages Caucasian, what does this mean? How will this play out in relations and dialogue and questions with each other in life? For someone whose parents are culturally very German and English, the Indonesian recedes to perhaps a few Indonesian foods the father or mother could cook, and perhaps a certain visual look/feature that makes this person different. Perhaps, if there was prejudice in Germany against Indonesians during a certain time in Germany’s history, then maybe the Indonesian aspect is something a person would rather hide and can live their whole lives hiding behind their whiteness, with many privileges that this allows.
For someone else, the experience may be different. Perhaps this is a person who grew up in Indonesia during civil strife and violence, and practices Islam and speaks one of the main dialects of Indonesia. Perhaps as a teenager they move to the UK and this person learns to speak English perfectly. While there, this person falls in love with a person from Spain, marries this person and learns passable Spanish, and three languages are spoken in the house. How does German, English, Indonesian and Dutch play out? Dutch heritage may hardly come up. Dutch was something a grandmother whom that person never met, was, perhaps. And that is the end of ‘Dutch’ as a cultural repertoire and memory, perhaps, for that person.
I am not playing a competition of who is better or more authentic. That is precisely what I critique. I also say that not everything is valid. People cannot speak for an entire nation or culture or history. What is race? What is culture? What do national boundaries and identity do to cultures? Do we repeat the same dominations? Are racial categories just things we eat and dress like? Are languages trivial? How can prejudices begin unless they are a part of the culture in which we find ourselves?
Internalized oppressions (and domination practices) are very real. They are not just about being dominated. Many internalized oppressions come from so-called ‘positive’ things. In most of the global north countries, forgetting is a positive trait. The more you can say things like “I’m just me’ and ‘my racial heritages are not important’ or ‘all cultures are the same’ or ‘we are all human,’ the more we sink difference down and we are rewarded by not bringing up ‘difference’–being a trouble-maker in our respective countries. Many parents I’ve known, who thought of themselves as ‘good’ parents, would teach their children that ‘all people are good underneath. We’re all human.” This is another kind of violence. Does a person honestly think everyone is good? Underneath what? The cultural differences and the colors and the variety of tastes and uncomfortable differences in life, conflicts and irreconcilable differences? We are different and calling the things different from ourselves as subordinate to one’s own version of ‘human’ is arrogant and ethnocentric, to say the least. This is a form of internalized oppression. It is a great tool for social control by the elites. But we can see why, perhaps, forgetting is easier and rewarded. To melt in to the experimental melting pot, we don’t have to actually think of the genocides that visited our relatives back when……because they were who they were. We can’t be ‘happy’ with this. We must be happy by forgetting the sad and painful. it’s harder to see now because more of the people are assimilated into the idea of a ‘one humanity.’ People who have willfully forgotten the terrible past where our relatives perpetrated massacres, imprisonment, exclusions, expulsions, burnings, lynchings, humiliations, name-callings, death marches and displacement (think of the Irish, the Chinese, the Turks, the African slaves, the Native Americans etc.)–all without recourse to the laws or protection by police, or whose relations were victims of these assaults, are the dominant cultural norm. Not only nations practice this, as we know from our own cultural groups. For some, culture is just what our color and language and food are. There is no history there. For others, history is very important because there are histories of oppression that will not go away. They won’t go away precisely because the present joys and peacefulness and museums and buildings and shows and everything else, have been created through being exploited by the dominant.
We cannot pay lip service to honoring people’s cultures and heritages, while not understanding the meanings of each. How things fit together is the struggle and beauty of life itself. Healing goes a long way in beginning to create new, more ethical communities of justice.
In learning my cultural histories, and having the privilege of studying anthropological and sociological histories, I have a better grasp on who I am, and not just the sound-byte version, not the video game version, not the elitist or easy middle-class version (where things are made quiet by repression and a false peace that erases histories). To be present, is to know ourselves beyond labels and the dominant meanings of color and social position. With more inter-generational dialogue, with more radical discernments of the mainstream ways and how they have become mainstream, we will understand our heritages and all of the beauty and the fictions that have gone into making them real. At that moment, I think we will start thriving differently. I’m happy that I know more and people who live with this (culture, history, power-relations in history, and incommensurable difference) in mind, who walk with this.