Shanghai Express is an American film which came to the public in 1932, starring Marlena Dietrich. I remember myself, watching this movie which was replayed on televisions in the US over and over again , as I grew up in the 1960s in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Halawa, Hawaii after having moved from Japan in 1962.
I thank Kartina Richardson (her blog: http://www.mirrorfilm.org/) for this commentary on being mixed race and the ‘Eurasian’ (in this case White American/Chinese) character ‘Chang’ played by Orientalized Swedish actor Warner Oland. In the movie, the Eurasian character Chang was mysterious, trecherous, untrustable because he was not purely one nationality/race or the other. I remember those same accusations of me while I was a child in both Japan and in the United States. In this movie, Chang is presumed/assumed to be a traitor to American-ness and Chinese-ness and plays a shady revolutionary. I remember my friends asking all the time: ‘what are you??” I never thought that their curiosity was curiosity. I felt that behind the question, there was always a question of control and ‘goodness.’ In the beginning of this video clip below, there is one who characterizes the rotten-ness of both a white (European/American) soul and a yellow (pan-east Asian) soul as rotten in the case of two of the characters he refers to. His listener then questions the ‘locating of a soul’ and then supposing that this so-called ‘soul’ can be defined with a moral character.
Thus, the issue of assumptions of both an essential soul, un-changing ‘self’ within a body (a ‘soul’) or the absence of one, cover the fact of the dominance of others defining how an ‘other’ is live-able. Whether one attributes static and ‘original’ and essential markings of a person or people with or without the using of the soul, have both submerged and sought control over the bodies (including bodies of ideas) of difference. We create identities (of ourselves and others) through the identities that our cultural/institutional surroundings and education and families give us in order to show up as somehow having an unchanging essence and that others have these unchanging essences. Then we are able to control what happens in relation to this.
In the case of my statement on the maintenance of control and goodness–let us ask first: What do I mean by ‘goodness?’ Well, I think that there is the question of controlling the ‘other’–which in this case was me–the multiracial person or in the movie–Chang; and there was the control of the ‘self’ in order to be good. To be good, one must exercise control over one’s behavior for the kingdom of heaven or God. So saying something ‘wrong’ or ‘hurtful’ was not something a person ‘should’ do, so one carefully choreographs one’s behavior to ‘not hurt’ and ‘not say something stupid.’ Even saying something ‘uneducated’ or ignorant, could be ‘planned’ in the subconscious, in order to stack up the excuses one has learned in order to prove one’s non-intention to harm, even if in some ways, we wanted to maintain our superiority or privilege as far as the configuration of racial identity and color, nationality and domination/subordination positions. Being good also controls how one is responded to. We don’t want to deal with our own histories and views and impulses and shadows because we don’t want the responsibility of being attacked or accused or understanding that identities have been constructed an in fact, are not eternal and fixed. After all, we aren’t born with these things. We learn how to be ‘good.’ As much as we learn how to control the other through our knowledge of ‘their’ culture or nation. Controlling, then, our own knowledge in order to appear and present ourselves as ‘good’ and ‘knowledgeable’ is an important aspect of why racism persists. Racism is never dealt with, worked on, transformed, disfigured, and seen for what it is–a construction of the imperial/colonial enterprise of expansionism which excuses itself in the name of what it constructs for itself. So Christian ‘goodness’ and ‘progress’ conveniently covers over the racism of the past and brought into the acceptance category. However, it still hides in the subconscious. Ignored. Or for many people, un-healed. It is maintained as dormant but always alive and ready. It also corrodes in perhaps passive-aggressive ways. Many think that by ignoring it, it will go away or does not exist. It matches the nation-state’s forms of domination and control, and is criminalized for its rebelliousness whenever it is provoked and abused and begins to respond in ways that the dominant does not like. It is called ‘rebel’ and criminalized and pacified. Our ‘self’ does much of the same.
In the un-healed and the unexamined, it is either repressed and expressed later at times when the subconscious is pressured in some way (psychological-political), or it maintains an individualism (an ideology opposed to individuality) that keeps us from being able to understand and therefore be an ally to our friends and relations that are of ‘the other’ race/nationality, culture or color etc that undergo structural oppressions. It also leaves us blank in working with our own circumstances of oppression. It also forces a muteness, being silent/dead in situations that may want us not to be. In other words, the denial and submersion helps to maintain individualism (which serves capitalism and control) and also includes the repression of creativity that exists that allow for alliance-building with others–because it is never acknowledged. If we were to discuss individuality, instead of maintaining individualism, we would have to unpack our assimilation into becoming the morons the capitalist-elitist system wants us to be.
Being mixed-race has always been an affront to easy understanding. We are one thing or another, not two, three, seven, ten. How can that possibly be? In today’s overwhelm-society, with the culture-technologies of the digital age, complexity is still unaccepting. Perhaps it is even intensified. A single nano-part of a mechanism functions in one or two certain ways. That is that part’s distinctive form of being. Another part acts as another single or set of single actions. To make a whole, the parts come together. Each part can be defined in a bounded and specific way. Otherwise, it’s crazy!! How can that be? We have to get to the bottom of anything that is not acting the way it must or how we have created it? As there are hundreds or thousands or millions of parts, we can take things apart to form something. It is a very un-organic way of organizing thought and things. We have inherited this way of seeing and investigating, to look at people and cultures. Mixed-race-ness is seen in a similar way. We borrow from a self-understanding of a single race, or a single people or a single nation. We forget that these ways of seeing reality have been constructed in order to do violence, no matter how benevolent, to what is in the world in sacrifice and transform it into what is promised in a future not-yet-here. Progress and modernization have also re-inforced pre-colonial ways of looking at difference.
Mixed-race and multi-racial are much needed categories. How we use these categories and what is exactly changing or being prioritized and submerged is also an interesting question. I am one for not-forgetting. Forgetting the construction of our national and exploitative world in order for most of us to wind up with crumbs, is something I refuse. I am more than one culture and legacy. I sometimes will say ‘yes, I’m multiracial’ or ‘multi-national’ but do not define myself as such. They are constructs that restrict the reality of who we are. And on the other scale, if we are a conglomeration of multiple parts, then we’re all the same. We are *not* all the same. Nothing even within our own mind-hearts, if I can use this term like the Japanese ‘kokoro,’ is the ‘same.’ The efforts to reconcile and flatten worlds into something that doesn’t churn, contradict, challenge, shift, grow, change, transform–a one-ness, a singular object, is something I will die opposing. Nations, racial categories, cultures, are certain ways of seeing the world because this is what we have been taught. When someone takes these categories away, we become either anxious or more commonly, humanists who destroy diversity in the name of some ‘universal’ and/or ‘single’ humanity that erases differences and subsumes it under a human-ness that usually replicates white-dominance, or another national dominance that seeks to resist white-dominance.
So the mixed race person, a form of exotic beauty that is envied–begets violent resentments and self-hatreds. The mixed-race person, a form of something that contaminates simple, pure single cultures and nations and histories–begets violent resentments that seek assimilation and sameness. The mixed-race person, a form of something complicated–begets people simplifying worlds into questions learned and assumed from one’s own education or worldview (do you eat rice everyday? you must be confused! oh you’re so much more beautiful than most people, etc.). Do people know their own histories? Mixing is too fetishized? Yet I see that in our world of singularities and mainstream dominance, that it will have its advantages as well. I will use them to topple all the self-hatreds that visit selves that eventually want revenge and violence, dominance and submission. To drop the prioritizing of ‘goodness’ and to drop the prioritizing of ‘badness’ and to drop the fear of those ideas to be differently performed by different persons because of different cultural heritages and legacies, is to at-once begin the journey to alliance-building and creative new cultural formations and homes. As of now, we repeat over and over because we refuse the multiplicity and changing our priorities. Fearing a different good and bad, fearing the work of non-maintenance of those histories, leads the way to a forgone conclusion to be confirmed. And this confirmation, for many, is their self-congratulatory moment. For the rest of us, we wish that this confirmation were to be destroyed in the favor of new communities of justice which have existed and are fighting for survival. Fighting for survival because that reality is being repeated and managed by many of us and through our leaders. It is neither universal or natural.
The survival of the fittest has gone too far as a perpetuating series of actions, institutions, education and worldviews in the march of history. Perhaps this is where mixed-race people can truly work on our own forms of assimilating to easy cultural definitions or being happy being exotic–to truly really strongly resist the squeezing of definitions of any difference into dominant categories of perpetual war. Decolonize our self-rendering and the rendering of others. It isn’t enough to talk about identity and whether they should/could be ‘accepted’ or not. It is not about this incessant need to be accepted into the dominant which ‘allows’ acceptance–either psycho-culturally or nationally. It is important as a way to survive, yes. But this is also about legacies of perpetuation. Legacies of categories and worldviews that have long proven to be inadequate and failures. The legacies in this 1932 film are alive today, walking around, masquerading as enlightened selves and selves that know truths and ‘good’ people who are themselves but do not know how or even desiring alliance-building across identities. This bridge can and must be crossed.