‘Hong Konger is not a race; it’s a spirit’, claimed a group of ethnic minority advocates of protests against the now-shelved extradition bill and anti-mask law in Hong Kong. The dissociation of Hong Kong identity from race marks the blurring of cultural boundaries between those who are racially Chinese and those who are not. Hong Kong’s political climate appears to play a prominent role in forging a collective identity.
Such an identity claim reflects ethnic minorities’ fulfilled desire to be recognised as Hong Konger like the rest of local Chinese people. My co-authored Identities article with Sivanes Phillipson, 'Bordering on sociocultural boundaries and diversity: negotiating Filipino identities in a Hong Kong multi-ethnic school', presents a relevant scenario in an education setting that speaks to the identity tensions amongst minority groups.
Multi-ethnic schools in Hong Kong have been sites where young people from ethnic families negotiate their ethnic identities and belonging. These multi-ethnic schools have traditionally admitted Pakistani, Indian, Filipino and Nepalese students, due to a funding arrangement that aimed to provide focused support for Chinese language learning for ethnic students. The greater number of ethnic minority students that attended these schools, the greater financial support these schools would receive. However, the effects of these arrangements amounted to racialised segregation because of the limited intercultural contact with their Chinese counterparts (Shum et al. 2012).
Our study illustrates how ethnic identity negotiations of Filipino students foregrounded school ethos and expectations that explicitly valued cultural diversity, while hoping that students acquire the Chinese language to fit into Hong Kong’s wider society. There were, on the one hand, moments when the Filipino students felt very safe and respected in their multi-ethnic school because of their teachers’ commitment to teaching ethnic minority students. Thus, playing music and speaking Tagalog with peers were important conduits for them to make sense of who they were as Filipinos in their school. On the other hand, however, these students experienced challenges in learning Cantonese — the lingua franca in Hong Kong — including writing and reading Chinese, especially when this expectation was reinforced by the school and public examination.
Long-term residents in Hong Kong who are not ethnically Chinese are usually upfront about their status as Hong Kong locals, despite the occasional language barrier. These residents include Hong Kong-educated Filipino youngsters who were born and/or raised in Hong Kong. Parents of these Filipino youngsters typically migrate to Hong Kong as industry professionals, such as musicians, engineers and architects, among others. However, these youngsters constitute a small fraction of the Filipino population in Hong Kong, as the majority of Filipinos in Hong Kong work as domestic workers.
Yet, these youngsters often come to mind when talking about Filipinos in the city (at times in stereotypical ways) who constitute the largest and most visible ethnic population. As domestic workers’ occupational status does not enable them to acquire permanent residence in Hong Kong, these youngsters who reside in the city permanently express identities vastly differently from domestic workers who eventually go back to the Philippines for good.
Although the study was conducted before the 2019 Hong Kong protests, its implications invite new questions about the emerging identity politics in Hong Kong:
If being a Hong Konger is a spirit, then this would be an evolving intellectual pursuit of understanding the changing bounds of what constitutes ‘real’ Hong Kong people, and responding to such in ways that transcend limiting and binary identity expressions (e.g. Chinese vs. non-Chinese).
Shum, M., F. Gao & W. W. Ki. 2016. School desegregation in Hong Kong: non-Chinese linguistic minority students’ challenges to learning Chinese in mainstream schools. Asia Paciﬁc Journal of Education 36: 533–544.
Blog post by Jan Gube, The Education University of Hong Kong, China
Read the full article: Gube, Jan & Phillipson, Sivanes. Bordering on sociocultural boundaries and diversity: negotiating Filipino identities in a Hong Kong multi-ethnic school. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1671678
Seeing and being the visualised 'other': humanitarian representations and hybridity in African diaspora identities
If we are to assume the Shakespearean platitude that 'the eyes are the windows of the soul', then it is not beyond our comprehension that visual images used by NGOs (non-governmental organisations) in their advertisements are carefully curated ideas over who or what is ‘seen’, and more importantly ‘how’ it is seen, and for whom. In today’s progressively changing and competitive media and communications environment, humanitarianism is now a profitable enterprise in our visual-as-currency economy.
On our television screens, in our social media applications and unsolicited pop-up email advertisements, and even among the rumpled pile of outdated magazines in the doctor’s waiting room, the public faces of the international aid and relief industry are seldom out of sight. Whether it is malnourished pot-bellied toddlers wearing western football memorabilia of seasons past, a despondent refugee mother in a displacement camp, or a vast horde of shaven-headed, undifferentiated Black and Brown masses in conflict zones, these images are the aesthetic currencies of commercialised suffering employed by humanitarian organisations to brand themselves and their strategic ambitions, and imbue western audiences with a philanthropic disposition.
Visual representations are central to – and orbit around – the phenomenon and work of humanitarianism. When we think of humanitarian work, we often visualise much of the non-western, Black and Brown world. As image producers and disseminators, these organisations set the visual tone within which certain people and places are defined and comprehended – indeed, who (and what) they ‘are’, ‘aren’t’ and ‘ought to be’.
Much critical and mainstream international development literature has critiqued the different ways in which NGO representations affect audience’ perceptions, knowledge and dispositions of distant ‘others’. Yet, much of this literature presents white hegemonic interpretations of British audiences of NGO representations, including visions of a singular community of people who are assumed self-evidently white, and seemingly devoid of racial differentiation. These studies further assume audiences interpret and are impacted by such images in largely undifferentiated ways, i.e. audiences do not understand the perspectives of Black African audiences and how they interpret these images. What is it like for those who are ‘seeing’, while also ‘being’, the visualised ‘other’?
Using Nigerians as a case study, my research, as discussed in my Identities article, 'Seeing and Being the Visualised 'Other': Humanitarian Representations and hybridity in African Diaspora identities', reveals how Nigerian subject-making is relative to humanitarian representations. This is most pronounced in the paradoxical relationships that Nigerians have with these images, by their simultaneous resentment for and identification with humanitarian representations. These oxymoronic, 'harmoniously-conflicting' relationships are managed by Nigerians adopting and (re)appropriating new, alternative and preferential racialised identities, or ‘personae’, such as the ‘taking up’ of Afro-Caribbean identities that ‘downplay’ their Nigerian and/or African-ness. Others acquire ‘ambassadorial’ and self-celebratory identities, such as 'unapologetically Black' or 'fiercely Nigerian,' to emphasise their ethno-racial subjectivities.
These Nigerian self-iterations are strategically mobilised in their attempt to make ‘meaning’ legible amid racially-stereotyped and problematic portrayals of Africa(ns) that are mediated by white supremacy. These identities are also class-based: adopted to access and mimic the optics of middle-class statuses, while attempting to disassociate themselves from imagery of ‘the Black African poor’. Not only does this ventriloquise ideologies of whiteness, by appropriating its 'them/us' binary oppositions used to subjugate the non-white, but it also fuels anti-Black racialised sentiments and hierarchical divisions among Nigerians that are undergirded by whiteness.
Blog post by Edward Ademolu, The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
Read the full article: Ademolu, Edward. Seeing and Being the Visualised 'Other': Humanitarian Representations and hybridity in African Diaspora identities. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1686878
Henri Lefebvre and C.L.R. James were quintessential twentieth-century intellectuals. They were born within six months of each other in 1901. Both lived to within sight of the century’s end: James died in 1989 and Lefebvre in 1991. And, as I argue in my Identities article, 'Passing through difference: C.L.R. James and Henry Lefebvre', their grappling with the times in which they lived led them to articulate a comparable politics.
What kind of politics? One which valued human flourishing more than formal equality. One which considered creative freedom more significant than technological progress. And one which found hope in the way in which ordinary people fought against constraint in their day-to-day lives.
So, Lefebvre and James are good for us to think with. They gives us means of making sense of the world in which we find ourselves. For example, in different ways both men anticipated the rise of a populism focused on the defence of welfare and security. They saw how easily such ideas could be used to justify violence and exclusion against those who were seen as threatening ‘our’ possessions. This matters. It matters in a moment when politicians and other public figures (e.g. Hillary Clinton or former Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley) routinely blame migrants for political insecurities. It matters when academics do the same, endorsing the claim that there are ‘legitimate concerns’ about the extent to which migration threatens a ‘possible destruction of the national group’s historic identity and established ways of life’ (Goodwin & Eatwell 2018).
For both James and Lefebvre, the best response to this was to shift the political emphasis away from a politics rooted in the idea of defending ‘what is’. In its place, they emphasised something mundane but profound: the restless search for what ‘might be’. One doesn’t have to look far to find the evidence of that continuing search. It is there, playing out in front of us, every time someone struggles against the limitations of their lives at work or elsewhere.
But this isn’t all that there is to say. A comparison between these two thinkers is salutary for another reason. It illustrates the extent to which the shadow of empire falls across even some of the most radical of European intellectual contributions. For example, Lefebvre’s account of modern society relies, more than once, on a comparison with the image of a ‘primitive’ state of being. In this and other ways his writing tacitly accepts the idea of racialised human differences which European imperialism sustained. It implies that, in order to understand modernity, we need to be able to contrast it with something else, something outside of itself, something ‘other’.
This is where the contrast with James is so telling: for James, the histories of racism and empire – and the histories of struggle against both of these – were themselves central to the formation of modern society. They did not belong to some ‘other’ or ‘primitive’ place outside of modernity. James understood that racism was lodged in the heart of modernity, not just as a practice but also in the very idea of ‘modern society’ itself. If we want to think critically about that society, a first step is to think critically about the way racism shapes the very categories we have at hand.
Goodwin, M. & R. Eatwell. 2018. National populism: how liberal democracy was trumped. London: Penguin.
Blog post by Andrew Smith, University of Glasgow, UK
Read the full article: Smith, Andrew. Passing through difference: C.L.R. James and Henry Lefebvre. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1558880
‘And so it begins. India’s settler-colonial project has arrived’, reads the headline of The Medium on the 31st of October 2019. It must be noted that Indian setter-colonialism arrived through a longer colonial engagement, a brutal history of Indian denial of Kashmiri self-determination since October 1947.
On the 5th of August 2019, the Indian government executed a legally questionable constitutional annexation of the state of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir after placing Kashmiris under an unprecedented digital and physical lockdown, a military siege. Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status has long suffered what Duschinski and Ghosh have called a process of occupational constitutionalism. The Jammu and Kashmir Land Reorganisation Act 2019, enacted on the 5th of August, came into effect on the 31st of October 2019. Kashmiris, whose right to determine their political future has been denied for 72 years, will now no longer have the right to exclusive ownership in their land. The Indian government has been busily attracting domestic and foreign investment. A member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament has called for Indian settlers from the armed forces to move into Kashmir. These settler-colonial moves further militarise and destroy an already fragile ecology. Caged physically and digitally, Kashmiris face a demographic change. The Indian state’s record of widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual assault, enforced disappearances and mass graves over the last 30 years has been referenced by the Office of the United Nations’ High Commissioner reports of 2018 and 2019. The militarisation and the threat of demographic change have prompted the US-based Genocide Watch to issue a genocide alert for Kashmir.
My Identities article, 'Kashmir and Palestine: itineraries of (anti) colonial solidarity', maps the arrival of Indian settler-colonialism through India’s relationship with another settler-colonial state, Israel. The article argues that Indian leftist as well as state anti-colonial solidarity with Palestine since 1947 must take account of India’s covert and overt relationship and arms trade with the state of Israel since the 1950s. The arms trade alliance is significant as successive Indian governments have intermittently expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom with reference to India’s own anti-colonial struggle. In practice, these governments have been supporting the occupation of Palestine. Beyond this, India’s leftist solidarity with Palestine, concretely expressed through the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in India, needs to take account of India’s colonial engagement with Kashmir since 1947, rather than place the blame solely on the current Hindu-nationalist or Hindutva government’s overt celebration of its alliance with Israel.
Kashmir and Palestine are significant for the India-Israel relationship. In a post-9/11 context, the master narrative of counter-terrorism has been seized upon by governments around the world to crush dissent as well as liberation struggles. The India-Israel burgeoning arms trade, now worth billions of dollars, is based on this narrative and cites the need to attack Palestinian and Kashmiri liberation struggles in the name of ‘counter-terrorism’. The Israel-India partnership in arms involves the deployment of counter-insurgency forces, drones and arms against other populations in India as well. But Kashmiri and Palestinian anti-colonial struggles are distinct targets; India-Israel relations embody a partnership in mutual colonial occupation and state violence in Kashmir and Palestine. This violence is all the more galling as the Indian state doles out development aid for Palestine even as it banks on its anti-colonial capital in its relationship with Palestinians.
The Latin term ĭtĭnĕrārĭus arrived into middle English with the connotation of a reflection on a journey. When I first began writing my article, ‘Kashmir and Palestine: itineraries of (anti) colonial solidarity’, I was not aware of this connotation. I am now struck by how appropriate the term is. In the article, I reflect upon my itinerary of learning about Indian colonialism and brutality in Kashmir, understanding the itineraries of kinship between networks of colonialisms, and learning of the resistance itineraries of solidarities between Kashmir and Palestine. This article is thus an invitation to reflect on the significance of Kashmiri anti-colonial struggle in developing a ‘shared vocabulary of struggle’, dreaming ‘freedom dreams’, as Professor Angela Davis argues, against settler-colonialism and state violence.
Blog post by Goldie Osuri, University of Warwick, UK
Read the full article: Osuri, Goldie. Kashmir and Palestine: itineraries of (anti) colonial solidarity. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1675334
Read related Identities blog articles:
Decolonial solidarity in Palestine-Israel by Teodora Todorova
Everyday dilemmas of walking under curfew in Kashmir by Mohamad Junaid
The 20th century has witnessed many ethnic and religious conflicts, civil wars, massacres and humanitarian crises all over the world from Southeast Europe to Sudan, and from Rwanda to Northern Ireland. Although negative peace  is achieved by signed peace agreements or newly-drawn borders in many cases, this does not necessarily bring about reconciliation and harmonious relations between societies. The violent acts of 1915 -- one of the most catastrophic events in the early 20th century -- deeply damaged Turkish–Armenian relations and still has been affecting new generations. Although some peaceful steps have been taken on a diplomatic level to normalise relations, the intractability of the conflict remains.
Past theory on competitive victimhood demonstrates that contested narratives over being ‘the main victim’ of a conflict are significant obstacles in processes of reconciliation. When victimhood becomes a component of a broader collective identity, it can increase the perception of social prejudice, distrust and hatred towards out-groups. Competitive victimhood refers to a situation in which each side in a conflict claims to be the main victim or legitimise its own crimes on the basis of past victimhood (Noor et al. 2008). Moreover, while in-group crimes are downplayed by moral excuses in such situations, out-group crimes are exaggerated by demonising the enemy (Andrighetto et al. 2012). This leads to competition over who has suffered more and who has more right to resort to violence. Although all members of a community have not experienced violence and harm, victimisation becomes a component of collective identity and gets passed down to subsequent generations.
Moving beyond the diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey , my Identities article, 'Competitive victimhood and reconciliation: the case of Turkish–Armenian relations', focuses on reconciliation between two communities which have very limited interaction due to a closed border, poor diplomatic relations between states, and mutual distrust and prejudices between communities. Drawing upon two separate nation-wide public opinion polls conducted in Turkey and Armenia, and personal interviews, the article explores how narratives of competitive victimhood reveal in the Turkish and Armenian communities.
Furthermore, a theoretical discussion revolves around the relationship between competitive victimhood and reconciliation pyramid, which moves from becoming acquittances with each other’s narratives to a shared narrative and understanding of the past (Auerbach 2009). The empirical analysis displays that Turks seek moral acceptance while Armenians seek recognition. Studying relations between Turks and Armenians on a people to people reconciliation level also demonstrates that the likelihood of reconciliation increases when parties meet and get to know each other’s narratives on a personal level. However, a lack of interaction between the two communities prevents mutual understanding and both groups tend to deny the other’s narratives by supporting official narratives. The analysis also illustrates that Turkish society remembers the massacres and develops empathy on a personal level.
Finally, if the conflicting communities are divided by time and space as in the case of Turkish–Armenian relations, competing victimhood narratives may become even more rooted by decreasing the likelihood of reconciliation. Thus, interaction and acquaintance with competing narratives expose as significant steps to overcome this obstacle and achieve reconciliation between Turkish and Armenian communities. Accordingly, a question unfolds regarding the reconciliation process in general. If interaction and acquaintance with competing narratives may increase the likelihood of reconciliation, why cannot it still be achieved in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina where communities live side by side with a relatively higher level of interaction and acquittance of each other’s narratives?
Auerbach, Y. 2009. The reconciliation pyramid -- a narrative-based framework for analyzing identity conflicts. Political Psychology 30: 291–317.
Andrighetto, L., S. Mari, C. Volpato & B. Behluli. 2012. Reducing competitive victimhood in Kosovo: the role of extended contact and common ingroup identity. Political Psychology 33: 513–529.
Galtung, J. 1969. Violence, peace and peace research. Journal of Peace Research 6: 167-191.
Noor, M., R. Brown & G. Prentice. 2008. Precursors and mediators of inter-group reconciliation in Northern Ireland: a new model. British Journal of Social Psychology 47: 481–495.
 Galtung (1969) defines negative peace as 'the absence of violence', which can be achieved by signed peace agreements between conflicting parties, and differentiates it from social justice and reconciliation, namely positive peace.
 Preconditions for peaceful steps, namely the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh for Turkey and recognition of the Armenian genocide for Armenia, pose intractable obstacles to interstate relations.
Blog post by Cagla Demirel, Södertörn University, Sweden
Read the full article: Demirel, Cagla & Eriksson, Johan. Competitive victimhood and reconciliation: the case of Turkish–Armenian relations. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611073