Canada and the United States are touted as multicultural societies, both formally through multiculturalism policies and informally through cultural narratives and metaphors such as the 'melting pot.' Still, these policies, narratives and metaphors can actually mask persistent inequalities that immigrant populations must navigate through, even for populations that already appear well-equipped to adapt to the host culture.
This is the case for Filipina/os. In my Identities article, 'The centrality of neoliberalism in Filipina/o perceptions of multiculturalism in Canada and the United States', Filipina/o university students in Toronto and Los Angeles discuss their views regarding ethnic identity maintenance and inclusion in their respective environments. The results were a bit counter-intuitive.
Since Canada promotes formal multiculturalism through federally-funded events and support for community-building within various ethnic communities, one might expect Filipina/os in Toronto to have a greater sense of ethnic identity and sense of belonging in Toronto compared to their counterparts in California, mostly because of the absence of multiculturalism policies in the United States.
Instead, it appears Filipina/os in both contexts experience stigma in very similar ways because of their racial and ethnic differences. This inhibits a full sense of belonging. For many Filipina/os, these negative responses to their racial and ethnic differences negate any advantages they experience coming from a country already accustomed to Western values, ideas, cultures, education and institutions — a legacy of former colonisation in the Philippines by Spain and the United States.
While Filipina/os in Toronto were aware of multiculturalism policy in Canada, they remained baffled by the everyday experiences of prejudice and discrimination and the lack of attention to stigma against them. The Toronto interviewees tended to adopt a 'blame the victim' approach that is associated with neoliberalism. Essentially, Filipina/os should be able to overcome any hardship in their lives if they just work harder. The problem with the neoliberal strategy of destigmatisation is that it puts no focus on institutions and social contexts, such as experiences of racism, classism, sexism, etc., as explanations for why some groups could be having a harder time fitting into the mainstream than other groups.
The interviewees in California, by contrast, are more likely to emphasise the role of social institutions in the status hierarchy of Filipina/os in respect to the mainstream. Although the United States has no federally-funded policies for ethnic groups, there is a level of political activism, particularly in higher education, that has led to social change. The Third World Liberation Front and student-led strikes in the Bay Area during the 1960s worked in tandem with many people power movements of the time, which contributed to the creation of a College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University and other ethnic studies programmes throughout the nation. This enables a history and vocabulary for the California students to critique nation-state relations between the United States and the Philippines, rather than say that Filipina/os simply must work harder.
The findings caution against an overreliance on policies to address the past effects of discrimination. This is a story from the voices of Filipina/os that there needs to be a constant reminder of why those policies were there in the first place, particularly through critical discussions of race and ethnic relations that happen in universities. This is more likely to happen in California, but Toronto is beginning to address this need, too — even in the absence of a Civil Rights Movement comparable to the United States — as a number of scholars critique racial hierarchies and establish spaces for Filipina/os to heal, such as performing arts venues. These efforts demonstrate the enormous work needed to help people truly feel included in their very diverse societies.
Blog post by Vincent Laus, California State University, USA
Read the full article: Laus, Vincent. The centrality of neoliberalism in Filipina/o perceptions of multiculturalism in Canada and the United States. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611071
Many Western expatriates are routinely exposed to being labelled laowai (老外 in Mandarin, literally ‘old foreigner’) in mainland China. According to a 2007 report in People’s Daily, Chinese users of the slang term laowai feel it shows their respect and intimacy for Westerners (‘Is 'Laowai' a Negative...' 2007). This Chinese interpretation was empirically verified by a 2015 research article (Mao 2015).
But some people on the receiving end feel that laowai is a stereotype-laden form of ‘othering’, defined as discourses that create a boundary between insiders and outsiders. Why are these interpretations so different? Why do Westerners feel resentful when they are addressed as laowai?
In order to address these questions, we focused on American expatriates living in mainland China, often regarded as prototypical ‘Westerners’ there. We conducted in-depth interviews with 35 American expatriates who ranged in age from 19 to 36 years, varied in sojourn length from six months to ten years, were in different occupations and of diverse racial categories (White/Chinese/Latino/African Americans). By inviting these Americans to reflect upon their intercultural experiences in mainland China, we explored their interpretation of the term laowai.
Our research, as discussed in the Identities article, 'Laowai as a discourse of Othering: unnoticed stereotyping of American expatriates in Mainland China', revealed that it was the ways that Chinese people employed laowai, instead of this label itself, that contributed to the discomfort of American expatriates.
First and foremost, our informants who were generally called laowai were those who did not look Chinese, so Chinese Americans and other Asian expatriates were not generally labelled in this way. Our interviewees who were called laowai felt this term conveyed a variety of negative ideas about Westerners.
For example, some said it assumed they were incapable of speaking Mandarin and understanding Chinese culture; as one interviewee put it, ‘You don’t understand it because you are laowai’. The term implied that Westerners are essentially different from the Chinese: ‘[They say]: “We Chinese people are physically not capable of drinking cold water; our DNA is different”’. Furthermore, interviewees told us Westerners were assumed to be morally corrupt and badly behaved, qualities one informant summed up thus: ‘[They think]: you must have five girlfriends, because laowai are very kaifang [sexually promiscuous]’.
From American expatriates’ perspective, these othering practices reflected Chinese users’ motivations, including constructing Chineseness as an identity based on bloodline descent, justifying their assumptions that the West and Westerners were essentially different from China and the Chinese, and attempting to maintain the superior and positive Chinese self by stigmatising Western others during intergroup encounters. Ultimately, these American expatriates experienced Chinese people’s habitual use of laowai as a way to separate them as permanent outsiders, a form of what some scholars have termed ‘Occidentalism’, involving non-Western individuals’ othering of the West in a reductive and misrepresentative way (Buruma & Margalit 2005).
Our research indicated that othering was deemed unacceptable by those subject to it, even when the specific term employed was seen as positive by users from the dominant group. We did not intend to make a value judgement on Chinese people’s habitual use of laowai, but hoped to arouse the attention of Chinese scholars, educators and institutions to the impact of othering of expatriates on the Chinese mainland, considering the increasing number of these migrants in this region.
Buruma, I. & A. Margalit. 2005. Occidentalism: the West in the eyes of its enemies. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
‘Is 'Laowai' a Negative Term?’ (2007). People's Daily Online, December 21 2007. Available at http://en.people.cn/90001/90780/91345/6325229.html.
Mao, Y. 2015. Who is a laowai? Chinese interpretations of laowai as a referring expression for non-Chinese. International Journal of Communication 9: 2119–2140.
Blog post by Yang Liu, Beijing Foreign Studies University, China; and Charles C. Self, University of Oklahoma, USA
Read the full article: Yang, Liu & Self, Charles C. Laowai as a discourse of Othering: unnoticed stereotyping of American expatriates in Mainland China. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1589158
When you see images of French daily life or French people in magazines, films, or other media, what do you see?
Usually, it’s white people, with perhaps a few visibly non-white people depicted. But this is odd for multiple reasons.
One, France has a long history of immigration, primarily from its overseas territories and former colonies. Due to years of colonialism, colonial slavery, and subsequent migration, ethnic minorities, or 'visible minorities' in French academic parlance, have long been part of French society.
Secondly, France does not acknowledge or measure race as a separate identity category. So while France is a multicultural society, it does not, as a facet of law, distinguish between these different cultures. One is either French or not. This is France’s Republican model.
Yet representations in popular culture or government reveal how this ideology does not quite play out this way as representations of Frenchness, whether it’d be French people, French identity, or French culture, are usually white, in terms of positions in government or images in French cinema and television.
In my Identities article, 'Are French people white?: Towards an understanding of whiteness in Republican France', I discuss how middle-class adult children of North African immigrants – individuals who were born in France and are descendants of France’s colonial empire in the Maghreb – navigate a French society that is supposedly colorblind where whiteness is the default.
How do they wrestle with definitions of French identity as white and full belonging in French society as centered on whiteness?
One way to understand this is as part of a racial project (Omi & Winant 1994) in which distinctions among individuals are marked without explicit categories.
David Theo Goldberg (2006) argues that our ideas of Europeans and European identity more generally are also based on whiteness as default. Just as French Republicanism denies the existence of race and racism, I argue that it simultaneously denies the existence of whiteness and white supremacy.
Part of France’s racial project is the continued production and reproduction of white as normal or default.
This is one reason why France is a fascinating place to examine white supremacy and everyday racism.
Goldberg, D. T. 2006. Racial Europeanization. Ethnic and Racial Studies 29: 331–364.
Omi, M. & H. Winant. 1994. Racial formation in the United States: from the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
Blog post by Jean Beaman, Purdue University, USA
Read the full article: Beaman, Jean. Are French people white?: Towards an understanding of whiteness in Republican France. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1543831
‘We know that they have sentiment [against] Chinese. The May 1998 fall is just ... an event that compounded whatever my mom ... whatever my parents say is really true.’ (Winarnita et al., 2018).
A recent interest in the growing Chinese-Indonesian diaspora has drawn attention to the powerful experiences of many women who were forced to leave Indonesia during the May 1998 riots. To avoid being raped, many Chinese-Indonesian families sent their daughters out of country to try and ensure their safety. Thousands of these women remain abroad, living as exiles in other countries.
Our research on Chinese-Indonesian women in Singapore and Australia, as discussed in the Identities article, 'Narratives of exile twenty years on: long-term impacts of Indonesia’s 1998 violence on transnational Chinese-Indonesian women', uncovered many stories of exile and suffering.
This was the case for Melbourne-based Teresia, now in her early thirties, whose experience of exile also made her delay marriage and childrearing. Teresia’s middle-class family had helped her flee Indonesia in early 1999 to be an international high school student in Australia, and she remained indebted to them, particularly as her parents’ business closed down.
After graduation, she enrolled in medical school, again with financial help from more affluent relatives and family friends. She framed her departure as partially due to education but mostly due to ‘fear for [her] safety’. 1998 was a ‘very tumultuous time’, which made her move necessary and ‘right’. Her family in Jakarta lived in fear and close proximity to the violence, as Teresia described: ‘It was all in front of us … the riot just went through in front of our real estate area’.
Two decades on, the conditions of her departure continued to impact her attitude towards marriage. Her medical career allowed her to sponsor the migration of her Indonesia-based family. Moving her family away permanently from racial tensions in Indonesia was more important than marriage and children, said Teresia.
For Singapore-based Michelle, the 1998 riots also ruptured her life history narrative; her family relocated from Jakarta to her father’s home on a rural island off of Java to protect Michelle from possible rape and assault. Her forced confinement as a teenager in her low-income family’s natal home led her to want to be an adventurous adult. She studied diligently and sought out opportunities for education and training, which led her to Jakarta and Taiwan before she got a serendipitous job offer in Singapore.
Nevertheless, the high mobility and instability in Michelle’s life that were set in motion in 1998 continued. Michelle and her Indonesian husband remain unsure if they will ever get permanent residency in Singapore. It also meant what Michelle calls a significant ‘sacrifice’ to delay childbirth well past the time she and her husband wanted to be having children together; this was due to their uncertain status with short-term work visas and delays in processing residency applications, along with lack of options around returning to Indonesia.
In-depth interviews conducted in 2016 with Chinese-Indonesian women currently living in Singapore and Australia uncovered the long-term effects on families of female members’ experiences of exile. In contrast to stereotypes of overseas Chinese-Indonesians as members of an affluent community, Chinese-Indonesian women’s experiences, as illustrated in Teresia’s and Michelle’s stories, are also that of exiles. Respondents describe how the events of 1998 restricted their choice of residence and possible return.
Moreover, the long-term effects of political violence include strained family ties, as well as difficulties in women’s marital, reproductive and childrearing practices. Interviewees described how they come to understand who they are and how to maintain family relations in their effort to overcome long-term difficulties in their lives.
Therefore, more discussion is needed towards understanding women’s specific political experiences of exile, and the long-term impacts of political violence on their family relations such as those of Chinese-Indonesian women and other women in exile.
Winarnita, M., C. Chan & L. Butt. (2018). Narratives of exile twenty years on: long-term impacts of Indonesia’s 1998 violence on transnational Chinese-Indonesian women. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1537639.
Blog post by Monika Winarnita, University of Victoria, Canada; Carol Chan; University of Victoria, Canada; and Leslie Butt, University of Victoria, Canada
Read the full article: Winarnita, Monika; Chan, Carol & Butt, Leslie. Narratives of exile twenty years on: long-term impacts of Indonesia’s 1998 violence on transnational Chinese-Indonesian women. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1537639
In times of rising nationalism, expressed through growing support for anti-migration and anti-globalisation political parties, the nation seems under question in its unifying thrust.
Historically, the nation has emerged in association with a given ‘people’, defined in terms of common myths, language and ethnicity (Smith 1986), who claims sole entitlement to a given territory (Gellner 1983). With the ongoing demographic transformation, spurred in great part by international migration, the question is whether and how the nation might change because its ‘people’ is changing.
In normative terms, civic, liberal and multicultural nationalism have tackled this issue, offering various ways of reconciling nation and diversity. Yet, the recent upsurge in the Western world of what can be called ‘white nationalism’, i.e. the (re)claiming of the nation as the privileged property of the white dominant group, openly challenges these normative projects.
In our Identities article, 'Ethno-cultural diversity and the limits of the inclusive nation', we explore specifically how nation and ethno-cultural and religious diversity are jointly mobilised in political discourses and policies in order to assess the possibilities and limits of the idea of an inclusive, plural nation.
We focus on the case of Italy, a country which since the 1980s has experienced a fast demographic change and which has remained till March 2017 a main destination of migratory flows from Sub-Saharian and Northern Africa.
Our content and discursive analysis of parliamentary debates and policies related to migration from 1986 until 2014, complemented with individual interviews with relevant civic officers and politicians, reveals a clear divide between an inclusive rhetoric and an exclusive legal framework.
By looking more closely at the Turco-Napolitano Law (1998), possibly the most progressive legislative attempt at incorporating migrants into the Italian nation, this divide is also clearly apparent.
On the one hand, the political left, which authored the Turco-Napolitano law, talked of remaking the Italian nation in civic terms, centred on citizenship’s universal rights.
On the other hand, the same political left decided to pass a law which framed immigration first and foremost as a security problem, thus casting an original doubt on the would-be ‘new Italians’, whose social status and moral standing would never be the same as the one of the Italians by descent.
The reasons for this short-circuit between rhetoric and legal provision are related to the international and domestic contexts. Internationally, Italy’s room for manoeuvring was and remains constrained by the EU legal framework, whose Schengen agreement prevents to make the national borders more permeable.
Domestically, as the political right successfully capitalizes on citizens’ fears towards migrants, the political left finds itself cornered and has to follow suit for electoral gains. In both cases, the end result is the reaffirmation of an ethno-cultural nation which makes conditional any national incorporation of migrants and their children.
As much as this is what happens at the national level, in our article we also suggest that in order to fully explore the possibilities for generating an inclusive nation is also important to look beyond the national scale (Jones and Fowler 2007). In other words, the possibilities for generating an inclusive nation should also be considered away from a centralised, normative discourse which aspires to evenly spread across the national space.
By adopting a multiscalar understanding of nation is for instance possible to attend to local initiatives where evidence of more inclusive and plural forms of nationhood has been highlighted (Rossetto 2015, Downing 2014).
This approach returns a more articulated and fragmented picture, but also a more realistic one which dispels the idea that a progressive, inclusive nation can homogenously apply across the national space.
Downing, J. 2014. Contesting and re-negotiating the national in French cities: examining policies of governance, Europeanisation and co-option in Marseille and Lyon. Fennia-International Journal of Geography 193: 185-197.
Gellner, E. 1983. Nations and nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
Jones, R. & C. Fowler. 2007. Placing and scaling the nation. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 25: 332-354.
Rossetto, T. 2015. Performing the nation between us: urban photographic sets with young migrants. Fennia-International Journal of Geography 193: 165-184.
Smith, A. D. 1986. The ethnic origins of nations. Oxford: Blackwell.
Blog post by Marco Antonsich, Loughborough University, UK; and Enza Roberta Petrillo, University of Rome 'La Sapienza', Italy
Read the full article: Antonsich, Marco & Petrillo, Enza Roberta. Ethno-cultural diversity and the limits of the inclusive nation. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2018.1494968