UNESCO’s Atlas of Endangered Languages recognises over 2,500 endangered languages worldwide. Languages represent not just a form of communication, but also the cultural knowledge of that language. However, in his book Language Death, David Crystal estimates that the world is in danger of losing nearly half of all accumulated knowledge at the current rate of language loss. With language intrinsically tied to culture, many communities that experience a decline in the use of their native language perceive it as a sign that their culture is dying. The result is often that older generations look for ways to maintain, transmit and revitalise use of their language through younger generations.
The internet is intrinsically connected to issues of language and cultural identity. As language is the primary means for spreading cultural information, internet resources in minority languages can empower speakers of these languages by enabling them to display their own way of life and voice their concerns and issues in their mother tongue. In this way, they may revitalise their languages, reinforce cultural symbols and strengthen cultural identities.
‘What are you?’ When posed with this question in highly racialised societies, most people respond by sharing their racial identity. Although racial identity is a personal decision, the choice is often constrained by the recognised racial categories available within the racialised society.
For example, as written into law through the 1950 Population Registration Act – linchpin legislation that helped set in motion South Africa’s Apartheid system by defining race for its population – to be Coloured was to be ‘a person who is not a white person or a native’ Black/African. To be Coloured meant you were neither/nor.
We are now a quarter century into post-Apartheid South Africa and the state has undergone a massive sociopolitical transformation that operates under the ideal to be non-racist. Some changes include the repealing of Apartheid laws, including the Population Registration Act. So how has the transition from the white supremacist Apartheid state impacted Coloured racial identities in post-Apartheid South Africa? I explore how racial identities are created and recreated to adapt to state-level racial (re)formation processes in my recently published Identities article, ‘Able to identify with anything’: racial identity choices among ‘Coloureds’ as shaped by the South African racial state’.
The use of identity markers in sport has received considerable attention from scholars in a number of disciplines over a number of decades. This has been looked at in a variety of different sports and includes insightful studies published in Identities such as the works of Paul Campbell and Daniel Burdsey on football and Constancio Arnaldo on boxing.
In our Identities article, ‘Pretty fly for a white guy: The politics of race, nation and difference in professional boxing’, we look at the ways in which race and nation are (re)presented within the coverage of one particular fight. Boxing is a sport that relies heavily on binary divisions. In his book Boxing and Society, the sociologist John Sugden noted how success in the ring could ‘symbolise not only individual achievement, but also racial and national superiority’. For the promotion of many championship bouts the hype around the fight is constructed around binary oppositions. This paper looks at the bout between Joe Calzaghe (a white boxer from Wales) and Bernard Hopkins (a black boxer from the USA) as a case study to explore the representation of identities. In attempting to tease out some of the key themes to emerge in the intersection of race and nation, we tried to understand how identities are portrayed within boxing. This work also highlighted further differences around the understanding of social class and core/periphery relations within a particular sport.
'A radical Islamist terrorist targeted the nightclub (…) in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens, because of their sexual orientation. It’s a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation.'
- Donald Trump
PRR’s LGBT stances
The statement from then-Presidential nominee Donald Trump followed the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Later, in 2020, Trump referred to himself as 'the most pro-gay President in America'. Simultaneously, he appointed overtly anti-LGBT candidates to judicial positions and oversaw various policies legitimizing the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people.
Trump’s contradictory attitude towards LGBTQ+ minorities is emblematic of a broader Western trend in populist radical right (PRR) politics: PRR actors often adopt pro-LGBTQ+ stances whilst simultaneously propagating not only heteronormative family values and conservative religious moralities, but actively anti-LGBTQ+ policies.
On the 14th June 2017, a horrific fire swept through Grenfell Tower in west London, killing 72 people and leaving hundreds more homeless and traumatised. For those of us who witnessed the tragedy unfold, either directly or through media coverage, the images of the burning tower beyond the control of the firefighters will stay with us for a lifetime.
Situated within the wealthy borough of Kensington and Chelsea, with a 71% white demographic, the 24-storey tower block was home to mainly social housing tenants of many ethnicities and backgrounds. Much has been written about how social marginalisation had created a hostile and dangerous environment for residents of the tower. In the years preceding the fire, they were treated as expendable against the forces of gentrification, de-regulation and cuts, and their voiced concerns about the loss of green areas and fire safety in Grenfell Tower were repeatedly ignored. In 2019, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Report determined that the speed with which the fire spread was due to the combustibility of the substandard exterior cladding, an addition made largely to enhance the tower’s appearance to surrounding neighbourhoods.
The global Indigenous Rights movement emerged late in the twentieth century, with scholars tracing its origin to postwar international conventions and human rights activism. In my Identities article, ‘World War II and the development of global indigenous identities’, and in a forthcoming book (War at the Margins, University of Hawai’i Press, 2022), I examine how the war created conditions favouring the emergence of Indigenous identity as a form of global political action.
The Second World War mobilised human and natural resources on a massive scale; its aftermath dissolved empires and rearranged the international order. Indigenous men and women — those in small-scale, often tribal, societies at the fringes of national or imperial control — were drawn in as soldiers, scouts, laborers and victims. New Zealand’s Māori Battalion, Navajo codetalkers in the US Marines, Naga guides for the British Army, New Guinean carriers for Allies and Japanese — these and other Indigenous actors shaped the progress, and sometimes the outcome, of campaigns. Even where front lines did not cross Indigenous homelands, civilians suffered violence, displacement, military occupation, economic and social disruption and forced labour. War created a fluid context for change, highlighting the ambiguous legal position of Indigenous people and altering government and public views of them.
The fluid nature of rural ethnic identity: encounters between non-Roma and Roma people in a Central-Eastern European context
In the early 2010s, France repatriated a large number of Roma back to Romania, following a series of highly controversial reforms by Nicholas Sarkozy’s government (BBC, 2010). Campaigners for human rights, free movement, and workers’ rights hotly contested those harsh actions of forced repatriation, which were widely discussed in international media. A Romanian article called ‘Back to the life of Gypsy in Romania’ (Micu, 2010) suggested that most of the transnational worker Roma went back to their homelands in the rural part of southwestern Romania. Taking an insight into this particular Romanian area, our recent study in Identities: Global Studies on Culture and Power explores perceptions of Roma people amongst the non-Roma community and how the Roma people respond to these perceptions today (Creţan, Covaci and Jucu, 2021).
To understand the social position of the Roma community in Romania, it is necessary to take a step back in history. Following the fall of communism, Eastern and Central European passed through a series of massive social and economic transformations. The area we explored in our study is on the border of Romania and Serbia and has traditionally been multicultural and multi-ethnic. However, it is also the site of long-term marginalization for the Roma communities. The shift towards a capitalist economy has exacerbated their ‘othering’, since the new economy offers the Roma few possibilities. Consequently, many joined the new transnational labour force in Europe, working abroad as seasonal labourers (including those targeted by Sarkozy in France). Others chose to leave behind their traditional skills and assimilate into majority society. The loss of guaranteed work which the Roma had under the communist regime has tended to intensify the post-communist direct discrimination against Roma, since they are often stigmatized as unemployed and dependent on public welfare.
In the aftermath of the 2016 attempted coup against the Erdoğan government in Turkey, several hundred Turkish-Dutch citizens took to the streets in the Netherlands. Some protesters harassed a journalist documenting the protests. Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded by telling the demonstrators to ‘piss off to Turkey’. This statement exemplifies how Turkish-Dutch citizens, born and raised in the Netherlands, can be scrutinised and quizzed about their loyalty and the extent of their integration. When they express deviant behaviour or political views in the eyes of the majority, they are considered ‘Turks’ or ‘Muslims’ only, which is not reconcilable with being ‘Dutch’. Politicians often understand Dutchness in a culturalised way, in which progressive ideals such as gender equality, sexual liberty and democracy are considered to be important signifiers of Dutchness. This frame creates a contrast between progressive ‘natives’ and ethnic minority citizens, who are othered as backwards, not sharing these progressive values.
How do Turkish-Dutch Muslim young adults deal with such stigmatisation? This is the question we raise in our Identities article, ‘Claiming the right to belong: de-stigmatisation strategies among Turkish-Dutch Muslims’. Investigating de-stigmatisation strategies by Turkish-Dutch youngsters contributes to understanding processes of belonging, social inequality and ethnic boundary-making. Stigmatised individuals can contest and rephrase their position, bringing about social change and upsetting existing social categories. To explore de-stigmatisation, we interviewed 25 Turkish-Dutch, Muslim young adults and conducted ethnographic observations in two youth groups.
Due to the accessibility of the internet and the ability of online spaces to bring people together, platforms like social media sites and web forums have allowed globally dispersed communities to engage in conversations about identity and belonging. For my Identities article, ‘Connectivity, contestation and cultural production: an analysis of Dominican online identity formation’, I collected and analysed text data from a web forum that I call ‘DRLive’ to show the kinds of identity discourses that happen online. This site caters to all things Dominican Republic, with free and open forum pages where Dominicans and non-Dominicans participate in discussions covering numerous topics. Adding to work on diaspora, migration, and cultural production among Dominicans, I propose forums and other virtual spaces as additional sites where diasporic and non-diasporic Dominicans come together to talk about and challenge evolving interpretations of identity, history and cultural memory.
Cultural memory, which is defined as a collection of commonly shared historical moments and experiences, is passed on and shared over time by members of a nation. In the case of this forum, for example, I find that ‘the contrived historical narratives propagated in the Dominican Republic throughout the 19th and 20th centuries continue to inform how Dominicans in the country and in the diaspora interpret and construct Dominicanidad.’ Work on virtual spaces often seeks to address how migration might affect the maintenance of cultural memory, especially as second- and third-generation immigrant communities emerge far from their homeland.
Arab Americans have been categorised as White on official government forms for several decades, which grossly misrepresents this population. Advocacy groups unsuccessfully fought during both the Obama and Trump administrations to have the ethnicity category expanded in the 2020 Census. The ramifications of this community remaining uncounted include lack of funding for social, education, and health care services and less leverage in political issues. Along with negating the incredible diversity within this group, such categorisation excludes Arab Americans from affirmative action programmes.
The recognition of this ethnic group on government forms would allow for their inclusion in such programmes, which is crucial given the prominence of discrimination in the US. However, the irony lies in how mainstream society tends to change their view depending on current events. When there are no crises involving Arabs around the world, Arab Americans are seen as White. However, when a crisis does occur involving Arabs – as either transgressors or victims (i.e. 9/11, invasion of Iraq) – they will be gazed upon as ‘Other’ and enemies of America. The rise in hate crimes against Arab Americans – and anyone who fit into the public’s notions of what an Arab or Muslim looks like – following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is a prime example of this phenomenon.
Consequently, regardless of being labeled as White, Arab Americans have experienced discrimination similar to other racially visible minority groups. This begs the question: if they are recognised as White, then why are they treated as ‘Other’?
The recent visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh to attend celebrations marking 50 years since the birth of the country following the Liberation War in 1971 has drawn attention to the difficult task of building a nation on the back of a brutal and bloody civil war. At least four people were killed by police in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong during a demonstration against Modi’s visit. Protesters from Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, and counter protestors aligned with Bangladesh’s governing Awami League party, represent the central divide in Bangladeshi politics, between those who tie national identity to Islam and those who tie national identity to ethnicity and the Bengali language. This is a divide sometimes understood as one between those who ‘collaborated’ with the Pakistani military and those who participated in the independence struggle. On the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s birth, this divide continues to shape Bangladesh’s political landscape today.
Using the case of the ‘Urdu-speaking minority’ in Bangladesh, my Identities article, ‘Displacement, integration and identity in the postcolonial world’, considered what the experience of minorities displaced during the Liberation War tells us about the Bangladeshi national imagination today. Their own voices, and the narratives of identity and integration in which they are situated, are revealing of the nature and boundaries of the nation state fifty years on from the country’s birth. Although the country remains divided around the role or significance of religion versus culture, and between those who ‘collaborated’ with the Pakistani military and those who participated in the independence struggle, there are older divides at work here too. Some of those who ended up on the wrong side of the Liberation War are accepted into the nation today. Here colonial narratives of ‘population’ versus ‘people-nation’, ‘community’ versus ‘citizen’ structure exclusion not only through narratives of the country’s foundation myth (as commonly assumed) but also through poverty and social space.
Our identities reflect our relationships with places and spaces. The changing contexts of these relationships also impact, shift and mould our identities. In our Identities article, ‘Hybrid identities: juxtaposing multiple identities against the ‘authentic’ Moken,’ we explore Moken[i] communities living in coastal areas of Thailand, and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. We also spotlight ascriptions of Moken identities as vulnerable, overwhelmingly linked to the sea and with limited opportunities for agency over their livelihoods.
In challenging these ascriptions through our ethnographic research, we found myriad examples of agency with various beliefs, settlement patterns and usage of the sea. The communities we spoke to explained shifting identities, across and between physical spaces of settlement, but also among traditional practices and aspirations for younger generations.
That our identities shift and flux is a position made overwhelmingly clear during the past year when the spread of COVID-19 has significantly changed our capacity to relate to different places and spaces. Our experiences of this past year have been contingent on national contexts and structural inequalities, as well as long-held assumptions about certain cultural identities.
In a BBC interview in 2019, Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff, declared, to the bewilderment of journalist Emily Maitlis, that much of the turmoil over Brexit’s impact on Northern Ireland was driven by questions of identity – particularly national identity. Such concerns have always been central within party-political wrangling in the region. However, the UK’s departure from the EU has placed Northern Ireland’s ‘national question’ in focus globally. Britain’s divorce from its European membership includes the so-called ‘protocol’, which maintains significant alignment between Northern Ireland and the rest of the EU to avoid a physical border in Ireland itself. However, part of this ‘solution’ is instead the implementation of a trade border in the Irish Sea for goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This seeming economic detachment from the rest of the UK has angered those who view their Britishness as central, or at very least important, to their own identity. However, questions around national identity in the region are much more than a simple dichotomy of Britishness versus Irishness. Identification by individuals as Irish, British, Northern Irish, ‘other’, or a hybrid of all of these reflects more complicated realities. For some individuals, other identity matters, such as those relating to gender or sexuality, might take primacy in their own sense of self or community. Regardless, debates around Brexit and the protocol’s implementation have placed real focus on Northern Ireland’s future. In some quarters, debates on Irish unification are building momentum and generating discussion on how these complex cultural affiliation(s) sit within the wider constitutional question.
Becoming an adult is a momentous experience in the lives of young people. This period comes with a variety of exciting new responsibilities and an overall shift in one’s sense of identity within their communities. In recent times, scholars have indicated that increasingly, young people are understanding adulthood based on self-ascribed character traits and values, as opposed to external societal milestones. Yet, this process can be influenced by culture and context. For example, in certain ‘Western’ contexts, for some youth from migrant and refugee communities, this process of becoming an adult can be a complex negotiation of cultural norms, as they are both (a) making sense of their cultural identity in a new home country and (b) making sense of their cultural identity as young adults.
In our Identities article, ‘Eighteen just makes you a person with certain privileges’: the perspectives of Australian Sudanese and South Sudanese youths regarding the transition to adulthood’, we set out to better understand Australian Sudanese/South Sudanese youths’ views on becoming adults. The timing of our study was pertinent, because during this time these young people were receiving intense public and political attention in the media, which questioned their overall belonging in Australia. These media representations were in response to criminal events, allegedly involving youth from these communities, and were heavily racialised, framing these young people as dangerous ‘outsiders’.
The illusion of Britain as a post-racial society, or at least a multi-cultural society at ease with racial mixing and mixedness that the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle conjured up, has been wiped aside by the couple’s revelation of the racism they had faced within the royal family, including questioning about the potential skin colour of their first born. Britain may have around one in ten of couples in a mixed relationship, but clearly this does not signal antiracist progress. Meghan will have dealt with overt and covert racism all her life, but it must have been a steep learning curve for Harry. What will this mean for how he seeks to bring up his son and soon-to-be born daughter?
In my Identities article, ‘Partnered fathers bringing up their mixed-/multi-race children: an exploratory comparison of racial projects in Britain and New Zealand’, I took an in-depth look at how fathers of mixed-race children sought to equip them to deal with racism, and give their children a sense of identity and belonging. Drawing on racial formation theory, I explored the individual racial projects that they pursued for their children, interacting with historical, social and political nation state racial projects.
Undocumented youth, or those young people living in the United States without legal immigration status, encounter significant challenges at important moments in their life, such as looking for their first part-time job or securing a driver’s licence. When they apply for college, they find they are ineligible for many scholarships and all forms of federal financial aid. For many scholars, these significant challenges mean that being undocumented functions as a ‘master status’ – a key aspect of their identity that has a marked influence on their life experiences. Scholars such as Roberto Gonzales argue that for some undocumented youth, ‘learning to be illegal’ is synonymous with experiences of exclusion during the transition to adulthood.
Although legal status certainly shapes undocumented youths’ experiences in applying to and attending college, Laura Enriquez reminds us that other aspects of undocumented students’ identity, such as race or class, also play a significant role in persistent inequalities that shape undocumented college students’ experiences – particularly those feelings of not belonging on a college campus. Enriquez shows that being poor and a first-generation college student influences undocumented students’ likelihood of stopping out of school both earlier in the life course and to greater effect than legal status does. Consequently, she concludes that undocumented status does not function as a master status, but rather, serves as a ‘final straw’ that imparts feelings of not belonging rooted in exclusionary experiences, which tip the scale in the direction of withdrawing or dropping out of college. Her research questions whether undocumented status acts as a master status at all, choosing instead to underscore its affective and relational influence when combined with other master status identities such as race or class.
Migration, like all social issues, is an ever-evolving phenomenon. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of extreme right-wing politics worldwide and the economic and ecological crises, among others, further add to those identified in our Identities article, 'Interwoven migration narratives: identity and social representations in the Lusophone world', published a few years ago.
Surely, the field of Migration Studies demands a constant examination of social changes and, among other things, how they intersect with and influence migration flows and migrants’ life experiences. However, it is important to stress that, alongside new representations of the world and its power dynamics, there are long-standing ones. From the perspective of the Humanities and Social Sciences, it is crucial to understand the ruptures, continuities and accommodations of social representations and the effects these have in shifting or maintaining the status quo.
To this end, the argument of our article provides a useful framework to situate the analysis of migration narratives. Specifically, we present three elements of enduring discursive constructions and social representations of commonality among the Portuguese-speaking countries: the ideas of a shared past; a common language; and a sense of community, marked by hybridity and deep cultural ties. Aiming to contribute to the understanding of how deep-seated these ideas are, we explored the intersections, reverberations and clashes of these dominant ideas of Lusophony in migrants’ life narratives, understood as tools to explain, organise and frame the world as well as to make sense of one's self-identity.
The recent Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests offer a juncture for Britain to have a broad and sensible conversation on race and racism, similar to that headed by the Clinton administration in America 20 years ago. The recent re-appearance of the debate on terminology – the question of how to refer to racialised groups in Britain – may be the beginning of this. It is not a new question but is being posed by a new generation of Black Britons, who having been born in the UK should be unfamiliar with Hall’s sense of living ‘on the hinge between the colonial and post-colonial worlds’ (Hall & Schwarz 2017, 11).
In my Identities article, ‘The stigma of being Black in Britain’, I argued that despite more than 50 years since Britain adopted its first Race Relations Act (1965), colour remains a ‘visible feature of the urban landscape’ (Hall & Schwarz 2017, 184) in the UK. I described Brexit as an indication that, as Stuart Hall wrote many years ago, many of the ‘white underprivileged…believe that what they experienced was not because they were poor and exploited but ‘because the blacks are here' (Hall & Schwarz 2017, 185).
In our Identities article, 'Private empowerment and public isolation: power in the stories of migrant ‘Mother-Poles’, we seek to understand what kinds of empowerment and disempowerment narratives can be linked to migrant motherhood and mothering in the case of Polish women raising their children abroad.
By linking two perspectives of migrant mothers themselves, as well as at looking at stories of adult children brought up by Polish mothers outside of their country of origin, we investigate maternal power which may, on the one hand, ground women as managers of their households but, on the other hand, does not seem to alleviate the general isolation they face in regards to the broader society.
To gain a better understanding of the specific type of Polish migrant mothers we call ‘Mother-Poles’, it is vital to clarify that the particular Mother-Pole construct is a significant yet somewhat blurry notion of Polish motherhood. Moulded from both a religious inspiration of the Virgin Mary’s cult in Catholicism, and an experience of managerial matriarchy which described women’s resourcefulness during the time of State Socialism in the Central and Easter European block, the Mother-Pole figure is omnipresent in religious, social and political discourses, imbuing a reference point for the everyday life of many Polish women over 40.
An outward sign of an inward grace: how African diaspora religious identities shape their understandings of and engagement in international development
Scholarship on the different ways that international development is understood, accessed and engaged by various communities, is often contextualised by analyses of how these complex practices are communicated to (and received by) audiences. This includes established motifs of poverty and social deprivation in visual discourses of ‘charity’ and ‘need’ that abound literature, film, television and the social media of western democracies. Indeed, insights have also been drawn from quantitative and experimental measurements of people’s philanthropic propensities and attitudes towards ‘distant others’. While these are well established, less considered are the broader understandings of development that are informed by religion and faith subjectivities, especially for African diaspora communities engaged in international and local forms of development. Addressing this gulf in knowledge has important implications for the scholarly and programmatic application of development and attendant policy recommendations. This is especially true when recognising African diaspora identities as critical for engendering particular forms of cooperation and alliance with religious members of these communities. So too, how and to what extent their religious orientations shape and determine their different priorities, strategies and traditions of ‘help’ and ‘giving’ in and for their countries and communities of heritage.
As such, are we to assume that religion(s) and faith identifications are inconsequential or secondary to how diasporas participate in and negotiate understandings of international development? Or are they much more significant and constitutive than we think? Is there space for religiously informed interpretations of international development that move beyond its definitional and operational preoccupation with technocratic rationality to allow for new and extended conceptual possibilities? All these speculative questions and theoretical possibilities constitute the intellectual space within which my Identities article: '"An outward sign of an inward grace": how African diaspora religious identities shape their understandings of and engagement in international development’, is concerned.
Korea has been said to be one of the most racially and culturally homogenous countries in the world. Although many critics claim that this is a 'myth', it is true that the country has not suffered from the racial and religious conflicts that have troubled so many countries. This alleged racial homogeneity may make a different race the primary indicator of 'the stranger' in Korea.
Thus, I was somewhat surprised by the descriptive statistics from a nationally representative survey of the permanent and naturalised immigrants in Korea conducted in 2013. According to the survey, the majority of immigrants who experienced perceived discrimination believed that they were discriminated against because of their national backgrounds, and not race, religion or economic status. From the respondents’ perspective, Koreans seem to be very proud of their nationality. If, as the immigrants claim, Koreans are so proud of being Korean, what is the source of that national pride? Further, could it be the way they justify discrimination against immigrants?
My Identities article, 'Constructing Chineseness as other in the evolution of national identity in South Korea', addresses these questions. Drawing on scholarly publications, newspapers, policy reports, surveys and films, I compared two different Chinese immigrant groups who came to Korea in different eras. I traced the narratives of Chineseness used to construct Chinese immigrants as strangers and examined how these narratives are related to Koreans’ evolving self-perceptions. The country’s national goals and sources of pride – in particular, historical eras – constitute the national subjectivity. As the most immediate strangers, Chinese immigrants have been easy targets for Koreans to demonstrate and confirm the new national identities they desire.
When migrants move abroad and start their life in a different location, they may keep their loyalties and links to their place of origin and combine them with newly built connections to their new location. Such transnationalism, though it is a well-known phenomenon, is perceived as problematic from the state point of view as it is difficult to predict the loyalty of such migrants (if they are loyal to their new state or the state of origin).
However, it also brings many dilemmas for individual migrants. One of these dilemmas is how to answer to question, 'who am I'. New identities developed in a new place need to be combined with existing ones. This is extremely difficult in the case of national identities which are built on an opposition of ‘us’ and ‘them’. If I define myself as a member of particular nation in opposition to other nations, how do I develop a new identity related to a foreign land where a foreign national lives? How do I solve a conflict of loyalties between my old and new national identity? My Identities article, 'Game of labels: identification of highly skilled migrants', calls the process of building new hybrid identities ‘a game of labels’.
The education-migration nexus: unpacking the everyday lives of self-sponsored Cameroonian students in Flanders (Belgium)
As a young child watching most western soaps on the television, I thought that travelling to the West was the solution to all the problems of poverty. On arrival to Belgium, the imaginings of a stress-free life often do not align with the reality in the host country. As a Cameroonian, choosing to write on this topic stemmed from my observations and encounters when I just arrived in Belgium. Walking along the street on a fateful cold winter morning, I saw a familiar face, and I tried to greet and engage in a conversation as it’s the norm in Cameroon, but the friend was so busy that she did not notice me. On another occasion, our paths crossed again, but this time, after a class. In the course of our discussion, this friend expressed disdain that self-sponsored students were considered as economic migrants; meanwhile, they saw themselves as real students.
Among Cameroonians, the socio-cultural notion of 'bushfalling' is used to describe someone who has the intention to travel to the West, and a 'bushfaller' refers to someone who lives in the West. Travelling overseas or 'bushfalling' is an obsession for most young Cameroonians. Due to an increase in stringent migration policies as well as the rise in unemployment in Cameroon, the student route seems to be the most secure route to leave the country.
Official classification, affirmative action and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China
According to the 2000 census in China, 3.23 percent of married citizens are in an interethnic marriage, and 12 of the 56 officially recognised ethnic groups have an intermarriage rate higher than 50 percent, meaning more than half of married people in these 12 ethnic groups are in an interethnic marriage.
While these statistics suggest that the multiethnic population is not small in China, multiethnic identity options are not officially available in China. All Chinese citizens are registered at birth by their parents with only one official ethnic category, which must be the same as at least one of their parents. This exclusive ethnic identity is presented on the person’s ID card, largely influences their life chances in a wide range of domains, and can hardly be changed. How do people with mixed ethnic backgrounds deal with the limited and exclusive identity choices? Compared to the debates and social movements in western countries, why is the topic of multiethnic identity seldom brought up in China?
In my Identities article, 'Official classification, affirmative action, and self-identification: Hui-Han biethnic college students in China', I focus on a specific group of people in China who have multiethnic backgrounds – college students who have a Han parent and a Hui parent – and examine how they understand their ethnic identity. Han is the majority ethnic group that constitutes 91.5 percent of the national population. Hui is the fourth largest ethnic group, the largest Muslim group, and the most geographically dispersed minority ethnic group in China. Using interviews with 20 respondents, I investigate whether this group of people experience any discrepancy between their multiethnic backgrounds and their official, single ethnicity, and what their attitudes are towards institutionalising multiethnic identities.
A key scene in Danis Tanović’s Academy Award-winning film No Man’s Land (2001) features two soldiers, a Bosnian Muslim (a Bosniak) and a Bosnian Serb, who have gotten stuck in a trench during the 1990s Bosnian War. In their joint effort to escape from this unfortunate situation, they draw closer; they talk about their prewar lives and recognise that they have many things in common, even some common acquaintances. However, it comes as no surprise when, in the firestorm of bombshells, the question arises of who is responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, of their lives as they were before the murder and devastation. The two soldiers start to swap accusations until the armed Bosniak points his weapon at his opponent and asks one last time: ‘Who started the war?’
Around the world, conflicting parties engage in self-exculpation and self-victimisation – from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sri Lanka, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, not to mention the Middle East. Denying one’s own responsibility and guilt and the fight over one’s own victim status seems to be a constitutive part of many conflicts and postwar situations. As socio-psychological and sociological research show, self-victimisation is accompanied by several advantages. It not only contributes to a stabilisation of group boundaries by fostering internal cohesion and outward demarcation, but also promotes feelings of moral superiority. Hence, self-victimisation is politically beneficial and a suitable tool for protecting one’s own we-ideal and with it one’s own I-ideal in the context of collective violence. It is the chosen mean to restore those facets of identity, which have potentially been corrupted or injured by the collective violence. But what happens when people are confronted with conflicting perspectives of reality, with perspectives according to which the respective ethnic in-group is not to be considered only as victim of war but also – or even exclusively – as perpetrator?