In June 1985, 331 people were killed in the bombings of two Air India flights, which investigators attributed to militant Sikh nationalist groups operating in Canada. Although the bombings are now regarded as the deadliest incident of terrorism in Canadian history, they continue to hold a complex, often contradictory place in Canada’s imaginary.
Much of the existing scholarship has attributed this complexity to systemic racism that limits how the bombings have been regarded and remembered as a ‘Canadian tragedy’ (Dean 2012, Failler 2009, Seshia 2012), even as the Canadian government devoted considerable resources to investigating and prosecuting the attacks. In 2006, the Government of Canada even commissioned a public inquiry to determine how state institutions failed to prevent and effectively prosecute the bombings.
Given that the inquiry received evidence that systemic racism shaped state responses to the bomb plot, it offers a unique vantage point to examine how state institutions reckon with their implication in racial violence.
My Identities article, ‘Racial inquiries: law and the political visibility of racism in the Air India inquiry’, suggests that this inquiry clung to liberal epistemologies that foreclosed recognition of how systemic racism affected the Canadian state’s responses to the bomb plot. These liberal epistemologies frame race as an effect of individual action and intent, disassociating race from its systemic conditions as a relation of power that affects how people are governed and rendered vulnerable to violence and death.
Before and after the bombings, these kinds of systemic conditions led to critical failures in intelligence gathering and analysis that rendered Canadian state institutions unable to prevent or prosecute the bombings. This institutional inaction engendered a distinctly racial field of political violence that has persisted beyond the bombings.
During the inquiry, a number of witnesses proffered evidence of the state’s racial inaction. Yet, this evidence was ultimately disregarded in the inquiry’s final report because of how the witnesses’ epistemic authority was devalued by its liberal epistemic practices. My Identities article shows how the inquiry was not fated to (re)affirm these epistemologies of racism; rather, by illustrating how legal forums are sites of epistemic and political contestation, my article shows that state institutions are shaped by contingent disputes over how certain concepts and issues are defined, understood and deemed relevant to their institutional proceedings.
Given that legal institutions are so frequently approached as avenues of redress against systemic racism, it is critical to determine exactly how race and racism are being operationalised to ensure state institutions are held accountable for their practices or risk extending racial relations of power and violence.
Dean, A. 2012. The importance of remembering in relation: juxtaposing the Air India and Komagata Maru disasters. TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Canadian Studies 27: 198–214.
Failler, A. 2009. Remembering the Air India disaster: memorial and counter-memorial. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 31: 150– 176.
Seshia, M. 2012. From foreign to Canadian: the case of Air India and the denial of racism. TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Canadian Studies 27: 215–231.
Blog post by Bonar Buffam, The University of British Columbia, Canada
Read the full article: Buffam, Bonar. Racial inquiries: law and the political visibility of racism in the Air India inquiry. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1600312
Pro-social identities and hospitality towards migrants: lessons from a small Southern Italian town that opened its doors to refugees
In the summer of 1998, 300 Kurdish refugees landed at the Ionian coast and received help from the local inhabitants of Riace, a small Calabrian town. Ever since, refugees have been hosted in houses that were abandoned by local emigrants looking for work abroad or elsewhere in Italy, and leaving behind an impoverished ‘ghost town’. Over time, local NGOs and the municipality have developed a comprehensive settlement programme for up to 400 refugees at a time. Refugees, in turn, bring new life into this once-dying town, and the settlement programme is combined with projects aimed at the socio-economic revival of the local community . Curious to find out whether the welcoming attitude towards refugees (Sasso 2012) was genuine and how the support for them was generated, the first author of the Identities article, 'Local identity and the reception of refugees: the example of Riace', decided to live in one of the abandoned houses for a period of 5 months.
Through the ethnographic fieldwork of the first author, we soon found out that there are various economic, demographic and political factors underpinning the success of Riace’s reception programme. The article being discussed aimed to examine how the people in Riace created and enact a local identity of hospitality. In the article, we analysed the type of ‘identity work’ that the Riace inhabitants and local leaders are involved in. Far-right politics and anti-immigration parties often present refugees as a threat to the local identity due to their different cultural or religious background, and a strong national identity regularly goes together with the rejection of newcomers (Bansak et al. 2016). Theoretically, social identities are often conceptualised in terms of group boundaries and processes of boundary drawing (‘who belongs to us’; Wimmer 2009), but they also deﬁne speciﬁc norms, values and beliefs of ‘who we are as a community’. The case of Riace shows that when the content of the local identity is pro-social and a community deﬁnes itself in terms of hospitality, community members are inclined to act, think and feel in that way (Reicher et al. 2010). In agreement with this ‘social identity perspective’, our research demonstrates that a strong local identity can go together with the inclusion, instead of the exclusion, of newcomers.
Historical narratives form the core of Riace’s pro-social identity. People explain their hospitality as a continuation of the town’s traditional welcoming attitude and emigration history, which would make them understand what it feels like to migrate and to receive newcomers within their community. Locals use such narratives as a rhetorical resource to further stimulate the enactment of the local identity of hospitality, for example through family tales, artwork and activities. Furthermore, the local leadership has played a decisive role in promoting and upholding the local identity. The mayor  also motivated locals to participate in the refugee integration programmes, which in turn promoted the idea amongst inhabitants that the programmes reflect local pro-social norms (Haslam et al. 2011). There are still some challenges to the future of Riace as a town of hospitality that relate to available ﬁnancial resources and competition over local opportunities.
The three periods of ﬁeldwork by the first author in 2015 (5 months), 2016 (2 months), 2017 and 2018 (2 months) made it possible to develop close relationships, which resulted in locals expressing not only the popular image of Riace but also being more critical regarding, for example, alleged corruption in the local refugee organisations. It was crucial to build rapport as the presence of a foreign researcher studying the ‘successful Riace-model’ can affect the responses of locals. A practical implication of this research is that policies aimed at developing a strong local identity can go together with the inclusion, rather than exclusion, of refugees.
Many (Western) governments currently face the challenge of accommodating refugees while preventing anti-refugee attitudes, racism and xenophobia. While they increasingly seem to opt for stricter immigration policies, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) statistics show that this has not stopped migrants from (illegally) moving to Europe (IOM 2018). Our analysis indicates that it is important to develop a pro-social community identity in which the reception of refugees is not perceived as an identity threat, but rather as a reflection and continuation of ‘who we are’. The successful appeals to a national identity of solidarity and tolerance in Bulgaria (Reicher 2006), Portugal (Vala et al. 2008) and the Netherlands (Smeekes et al. 2012) indicate that this strategy can also work in other settings. Moreover, refugees seem to feel more accepted in settings characterised by pro-social norms. The welcoming image of Riace did, for example, attract refugees living in other towns and asylum centres to move there independently after hearing positive stories within their (informal) social networks (Driel 2018).
 In the restoration and sustainability projects, refugees and Italians collaborate to improve the local infrastructure and architecture and to create well-functioning public services such as the garbage collection, all in environmental friendly ways. In the ‘Laboratorio’ or shops, traditional Calabrian handicrafts are produced by refugees and local Italians together. There are for example shops for dressmaking, joinery, pottery and glass-blowing. Finally, the solidarity tourism combines volunteering and tourism in order to stimulate the development of the local community.
 Between 2004-2018 Mayor Domenico Lucano was re-elected 3 times, the legal maximum period in Italy. In 2019, after the fieldwork period, a new local government was installed (https://elezioni.interno.gov.it/comunali/scrutini/20190526/scrutiniGI180670640).
Bansak, K., J. Hainmueller & D. Hangartner. 2016. How economic, humanitarian, and religious concerns shape European attitudes toward asylum seekers. Science 354: 217–222.
Driel, E. 2018. Refugee settlement and the revival of local communities: lessons from the Riace model. Manuscript submitted for publication (under review).
Haslam, S. A., S. Reicher & M. J. Platow. 2011. The new psychology of leadership: identity, influence and power. New York: Psychology Press.
International Organization for Migration (IOM). 2018. World Migration Report. October 8. https://www.iom.int/wmr/world-migra tion-report-2018.
Reicher, S., C. Cassidy, I. Wolpert, N. Hopkins & M. Levine. 2006. Saving Bulgaria’s Jews: an analysis of social identity and the mobilisation of social solidarity. European Journal of Social Psychology 36: 49–72.
Reicher, S., R. Spears & S. A. Haslam. 2010. The Social Identity Approach in Social Psychology. In: The Sage Handbook of Identities, edited by M. Wetherell & C. T. Mohanty. London: Sage ,45–62.
Sasso, C. 2012. Riace, terra di accoglienza. Turin: Edizioni Gruppo Abele.
Smeekes, A., M. Verkuyten, and E. Poppe. 2012. How a tolerant past aﬀects the present: historical tolerance and the acceptance of Muslim expressive rights. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38: 1410–1422.
Vala, J., D. Lopes & M. Lima. 2008. Black immigrants in Portugal: luso–tropicalism and prejudice. Journal of Social Issues 64: 287–302.
Wagner, U., O. Christ & W. Heitmeyer. 2010. Anti-Immigration Bias. In The Sage Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination, edited by J. F. Dovidio, M. Hewstone, P. Glick & V. M. Esses. London: Sage, 361–376.
Wimmer, A. 2009. Herder’s heritage and the boundary-making approach: studying ethnicity in immigrant societies. Sociological Theory 27: 244–270.
Blog post by Ester Driel and Maykel Verkuyten, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Read the full article: Driel, Ester & Verkuyten, Maykel. 2019. Local identity and the reception of refugees: the example of Riace. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611075
Interviewer: ‘What do you think it means to be British?’
Miriam: ‘It is a passport. To be British now, I’m sorry to say this, but it is a passport. That is it. That is what being British means to me… I have lost faith in the country which I used to call home. I have lost faith, I have lost trust. Every single bit of pride that I had to be calling myself a British citizen has almost gone out of the window. They have basically sucked every single bit of love for the UK out of me.’
Miriam’s husband had been in the UK from his teens but was recently forcibly removed from the country, after a traumatic period incarcerated in immigration detention. The authorities have advised Miriam that she should choose between staying in the UK alone or leave to be with him. She’s choosing the latter:
‘I just said stuff it, if England don’t want me to live here, I will live in any country in the world with him, and that is it.’
I interviewed Miriam in her almost empty flat, days before she left the UK. We talked amongst boxes as she packed her few remaining possessions. Miriam, a white British-born citizen, described the UK as ‘the country that I did love so much’. But her identity, national pride, civic relationship and understandings of citizenship had been dramatically reconfigured as a result of the authorities’ treatment of her foreign husband and the indifference shown to her relationship choices and citizenship rights.
Mixed-immigration status families
The recently published Identities article, ‘My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications', examines the impact of immigration enforcement on mixed-immigration status families in the UK. It draws on interviews conducted in 2015–2016 with the British female partners of ‘deportable’ migrant men.
The interviews show that the families of precarious migrants are also harmed by immigration policies, even if they are not themselves subject to immigration controls. They lose money and jobs, develop mental and physical health problems, and feel powerless and unable to envisage a future. Children experience damage to their wellbeing, behaviour and school attainment. Citizens describe this harm as extreme and state-sponsored, experiencing it as betrayal and rejection.
‘It is like your heart has been ripped out of your chest and thrown on the ﬂoor and stamped on by the British Government’.
Citizenship and belonging
Their partners’ (often lengthy, expensive and antagonistic) immigration battles also undermine citizens’ own sense of security and belonging in the UK. They feel unimportant to, and overlooked by, their government. Most of the women spoke of high levels of state intrusion, as well as being routinely disbelieved, judged and sometimes humiliated by immigration officials. People’s feelings of rights and security are especially shaken by being advised to leave the country.
The effect is an undermining of people’s trust in the state and feelings of estrangement from their citizenship. Interviewees spoke of being unable to ‘practice my citizenship’ and no longer ‘proud’ of being British.
‘I’ve lost all faith in my government, how they treat us. How can my government do this to me?’
Hierarchies of citizenship
These women’s experiences illustrate how immigration controls not only discipline migrants, but also the citizens close to them. And, as the Identities article argues, it does so in ways that expose the internal hierarchies and conditionalities of citizenship.
Equality may be central to the theory of citizenship, but in practice belonging and membership are contested and ambiguous. It remains the case that Britons’ ability to exercise their citizenship rights, such as marry and live with the person of their choice, is gendered, classed and racialised. As Miriam asks, ‘Why is my government doing this to me? Because I’m poor?’
Blog post by Melanie Griffiths, University of Birmingham, UK
Read the full article: Griffiths, Melanie. My passport is just my way out of here’. Mixed-immigration status families, immigration enforcement and the citizenship implications. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1625568
Haymarket/Chinatown is a precinct located in the southern end of Sydney’s Central Business District. The precinct has become part of the City of Villages initiative, promoted by the City of Sydney administration to inject dynamism in the local economy based on the belief that the city is made up of diverse marketable areas, each endowed with a unique identity. Unlike the other precincts in the Inner Sydney area, the point of differentiation chosen for Haymarket/Chinatown is ‘ethnicity’ — more precisely, an ambiguous multi-Asianness within which images of Chinese communitarian identity occasionally emerge to confer a sense of authenticity to the ethnic place brand.
In my Identities article, ‘Ethnic community in the time of urban branding’, I observe how these simplified images of ‘groupist’ (Brubaker 2002) Chinese identity emerge from the brand management strategy for the Haymarket/Chinatown precinct despite the diversity of the local business and resident community. I frame these instances as tensions inherent in the process of place branding, which is characterised by the need to essentialise for marketing purposes while grappling with increasing levels of cultural complexity of the most populous Australian city.
In order to highlight the redundancy of these simplified understandings of ethnic identity, data retrieved via longitudinal ethnographic observation of public events and participation in many activities in the precinct are used to analyse the ‘community’ as a provisional construct. The display of ‘authentic’ Chinese culture in Haymarket/Chinatown by a local Chinese community organisation becomes the focus of my Identities article, with its performative strategies of affiliation and identification nested under the main categories of convergence and alignment.
The first term refers to the backstage operations that contribute to the packaging of a wide range of elements related to Chinese culture into a consistent set of performances, symbols and activities proposed to the outsiders’ scrutiny. I look, for instance, at the organisation of a series of events and workshops characterised by an essentialised Chineseness and at the interchangeable strategic uses of Mandarin, Cantonese and English, depending on the various contexts in which the ‘community’ needs to be presented despite the cultural heterogeneity of its membership.
The second helps to show that this type of consensual ethnicity is also premised upon the ways in which the ‘community’ is made to work in conjunction with the operations of external stakeholders, whose interests intersect with the application of the place brand for the precinct. The collaborations between the community organisation and a local shopping centre become exemplary in this context: the latter provides the internal workings of the former a stage onto which perform authentic communitarian Chineseness during moments of intensified branding.
This analysis aims to destabilise the idea of ‘ethnic community’ as a given, and it taps into the anti-essentialist critique of ‘community’ as an organising principle of collective forms of identification; the aim here is to show the plasticity of this term, echoing Baumann’s idea that the discourse about ethnic minorities as communities ‘is conceptually simple, enjoys a communicative monopoly, offers enormous flexibility of application, encompasses great ideological plasticity, and is serviceable for established institutional purposes’ (Baumann 1996: 30).
Place branding operates in this context as an analytical filter to show that the ‘community’ is not a group of individuals defined by a shared, unchanging ‘ethnic culture’, but a malleable construction held together as a process of composition, and an active agent that partakes in a sophisticated process of value production based on the engineered association of culture and place.
Baumann, G. 1996. Contesting culture: discourses of identity in multi-ethnic London. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brubaker, R. 2002. Ethnicity without groups. European Journal of Sociology 43: 163–189.
Blog post by Andrea Del Bono, Western Sydney University, Australia
Read the full article: Del Bono, Andrea. Ethnic community in the time of urban branding. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1629191
2019 marks 25 years since Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president of South Africa. Finally, apartheid, the system of racial segregation institutionalised by the Afrikaans-led Nationalist Party in 1948, was a chapter closed. Since that time, South Africans of all backgrounds have been debating the extent to which the post-apartheid vision of ‘a rainbow nation’ -- a multicultural unity of people of many different nations -- is being realised.
This question is not only of interest and importance within South Africa. Against a context of rising populism and white nationalism across the Global North, are white people in South Africa really rejecting the privileges of white supremacism which they have enjoyed for so long?
My Identities article, 'Reimagining racism: understanding the whiteness and nationhood strategies of British-born South Africans', examines this question by looking at one group of South African Whites: those who were born in Britain and migrated to South Africa. Many did so in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, through a ‘Ten Pound Pom’ scheme which offered them cheap passage, good jobs and comfortable accommodation on arrival. Whereas, at home in Britain, there was rising rejection of the apartheid system in South Africa, this group chose to up sticks and move to a deeply segregated society. How do they explain this, to others and themselves? And how do they now talk about the situation in South Africa today?
Research on racism more generally reveals that ‘denial’ is a common white strategy. Studies across Australia, the Netherlands, Scotland and New Zealand show that, when white people talk about race, denial of racism is a pervasive tactic to avoid charges of being racist (van Dijk 1992; Augoustinos & Every 2007). My Identities article builds on this research but argues that the history of South Africa brings an additional, but significant, context. The overt segregation institutionalised through the apartheid system established a legacy of racism that means that outright denial is not an option open to white South Africans. However, through close examination of the talk of people I interviewed, I show how racialised systems, both past and present, may be reimagined, such that their forms and meanings are recast into alternative narratives.
I found four ‘discourses’, or ways of reimagining, are commonly used. First is temporal reimagination, which holds that racism in the past was not as bad as it was made out to be, in the British press in particular. As a result, in the present, a return to the ‘good old days’ is desired by both Blacks and Whites in South Africa. For example, Moira, in her 60s, explained:
'In some ways [the South African Government] were too good at communicating, because I don’t think that racialism was any worse here, but the mistake was giving it a name: ‘apartheid’. Rather than trying to shovel it under the carpet and say, 'Oh no, it doesn’t exist’, they were honest about it, upfront about it and said, ‘Yes it exists, we know it exists, we’re going to support it and we’re going to give it a name!'
Susan, now in her 70s, agreed, telling me that her helpers:
'Elijah and Christmas say they were a lot better off under the Brittos, the white guys, because then -- well there was law and order then you see. They knew where they stood.'
Second, boundary reimagination maintains that South African politics is ‘nothing to do with me, as I am British’. The racism of other groups (e.g. Afrikaners) was worse, and ongoing racialised systems are a consequence of their beliefs, not ours (the British). For example, Neil, an engineer in his 40s, told me over a beer:
'There’s a lot of corruption because there isn’t the money or resources to give to people. One time I was pulled over by a metro cop and he says 'I’m thinking I’m gonna have some beers tonight — do you have any money?', and it was like … police begging. When I go to the UK and I see the police pull someone over, I feel like that is how it should be done, you know, not like what you see in this country.'
Third, is open acceptance: Yes, racial segregation existed, and still exists. However, this is both accepted and acceptable as it delivers privileges to Whites. Richard, now in his 80s, whom I met at an exclusive country club in a leafy white neighbourhood in Johannesburg, admits:
'Let's be honest about it, I'm not one of those people who will shrink form that part of South Africa's history, it was brilliant! If you come to a country where you've got blue skies and you've got sea and you've got beaches and you've got a wonderful way of life with a maid and everything is quite a zillion times cheaper than the UK, you think this is paradise!!'
Finally, social reimagination holds that social change is both possible and desirable, and new opportunities are opening to white people. Laura, a young British teacher in her 30s was inspired by the following:
'There’s a sense that everybody’s invited to join in the history -- you’re very close to history being made here because it’s in the making. You can taste it in your -- that edge of meeting people. Everybody’s making an effort and moving forwards -- it’s an opportunity -- everyone says the opportunity is here to be grabbed and you’re quite close to the people who are trying to grab the opportunities.'
These different reimaginings of racism demonstrate diversity within British-born South Africans and it is important to recognise the plurality of white positions. However at the same time, a common feature was the lack of any real attempt to reimagine whiteness, and its privileges, and what it might mean to be a citizen of the ‘rainbow nation’.
Augoustinos, M. & D. Every. 2007. The language of ‘race’ and prejudice: a discourse of denial, reason, and liberal-practical politics. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 26: 123-141.
Van Dijk, T. 1992. Discourse and the denial of racism. Discourse and Society 3: 87-118.
Blog post by Pauline Leonard, University of Southampton, UK
Read the full article: Leonard, Pauline. Reimagining racism: understanding the whiteness and nationhood strategies of British-born South Africans. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1637624