Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Racialized Group Identities (Focus on Japanese in Hawai`i and Afrikaners)

Racial identity construction establishes a line which separates “us” from “them” by creating boundaries and assigning meaning to those boundaries and the people described by them. These boundaries and meanings can be asserted internally, by the group, or they may be assigned externally, by outsiders. They are created over time and are influenced by a mixture of historical, political, social and cultural factors which each affect identity construction by varying degrees and in different ways. Due to the influence of these factors, identity construction is an ongoing process; boundaries and meanings shift and change in light of new information, policies, norms and cultural ideals (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). In this post I will explain the importance of these historical, political, social and cultural factors to the development of racialized group identities by focusing on the racial identity formation of Japanese in Hawai`i and Afrikaners in South Africa. I will highlight the critical arenas in which construction occurred and use the examples to illustrate the importance of history to the creation of racial identity formation.
Racial identities are, in part, the products of interactions between social actors, and although construction may occur anywhere within the social realm, there are six arenas in which these interactions are critical to formation: politics, labor markets, residential space, social institutions, culture and daily experience (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007:170).  It is within these arenas that boundaries are created, defined, defended and broken down; it is also where meaning is ascribed, asserted and internalized—most often within several arenas at once.  It can be difficult to isolate the effect of one arena from another as they are often linked and overlap, as will be illustrated within the example of the Japanese in Hawai`i.
In order to discuss the construction of a group racial identity for Japanese Americans in Hawai`i, one must have an understanding of the history of the islands. The children of these white missionaries began sugar plantations, which would create a white oligarchy and change the racial and ethnic make-up of the islands forever. Due to the introduction of European diseases Native Hawaiians were unable to supply a large enough labor force, so plantation owners used their economic wealth and political power to bring in laborers from China, Japan and other Asian countries. Plantation owners segregated their housing by ethnic group because each group was given different wages and there was fear that these groups would unite and demand equal wages. In order to distinguish the various ethnic groups from one another, they instated a system of differently shaped identification badges (Kinzer, 2006; Okamura, 2008; Miyares, 2008).  Through their use of segregation and classification, plantation owners created two boundaries; the first was racial, between the Asian plantation workers and the white plantation owners which was reinforced by a large power differential, it drew a firm line between “us” and “them” (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007).  The second boundary was along ethnic lines and was reinforced by residential space; because ethnic groups were segregated in ethnically dense housing it reinforced ethnic divisions despite the small power differential between the groups (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007)
The first two generations of Asian laborers on the plantation maintained separate social institutions (often promoted by the plantation owners), such as houses of worship and very small amounts of outmarriage. By the third generation this began to change, the small power differential between the laborers resulted in the formation of a laborer culture, or “local” culture—although it would not totally erase the ethnic boundaries that had been established through segregation (Cornell and Hartman, 2007; Miyares, 2008). What resulted from this “local” awareness was a stronger understanding of the laborers’ position and status within the larger culture of Hawai`i, as well as the challenges and discrimination they faced (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).
By 1905 the Japanese population, with their large numbers (159,000 arrived between 1868 and 1907) had become had become competition for the resident white population (Okamura, 2000; Takaki, 1982). This resulted in an anti-Japanese sentiment that took hold of the islands in the early 1900s and remained in effect through World War II.  In the 1930s the question of “The Japanese Problem” was raised and concerns over Japanese loyalties flamed anti-Japanese sentiment.  This discrimination became part of the daily experience of the Japanese, reinforcing the boundary between not just powerful whites, but also other “local” groups (Cornell and Hartmann, 2007). Although there was discussion of deporting or interning Japanese Americans during World War II, the citizenry of Hawai`i was not behind the movement, and many local Japanese even enlisted and served overseas.
When they returned Japanese veterans refused to remain second-class citizens as their parents were. These veterans were largely responsible for the “Democratic Revolution” of 1954 when the Democratic Party gained control of both houses of the territorial legislature from the Republican white oligarchy for the first time since their overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy (Okamura, 2000). It was this entry into politics which ultimately paved their path to the middle class by placing decreasing the power differential between whites and the Japanese. Japanese Americans did not join the middle class en masse until the 1970s. Currently, Japanese, along with Chinese and Koreans are at the top of the SES ladder. These groups have a high rate of intermarriage and intermarriage with whites, their boundaries being blurred by the now small power differential between them.
 Through this discussion of identity formation one is able to identify how construction occurred within the critical areas and how these arenas have continued to influence formation. It is also possible to see how these arenas overlap in their affect on racial identity formation, such as the labor markets and residential space. It was not any arena in particular which formed Japanese racial identity, but rather the combination. This is also evident in Afrikaner identity.
The history of the Afrikaners begins with the colonization of the southern tip of South Africa , the Cape of Good Hope, by Dutch, German and French settlers who described themselves as “Boers”. These colonizers began to move inland in an attempt to expand, interacting with assorted African people and in the process created a racial boundary between themselves and Africans; a strong sense of “us” versus “them” (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).  One aspect which was central to this boundary was a judgment of worth—the idea that Europeans were “fundamentally different from” and superior to Africans, the Boers often enslaved Africans as well (Cornell and Hartman, 2007:137).
After the British gained control of the Cape and the political arena in 1806 they began to reorganize Boer political and social institutions. They forced schools to teach English rather than Afrikaans and used English proficiency tests to exclude the Boer population for full civic participation, which reinforced the boundaries between the English and Boer/Afrikaner groups. Animosity between the groups was furthered by the ideological divide between the British’s liberal policies toward black Africans and the racist ideology of the Boer/Afrikaners. These cultural and ideological differences would ultimately lead to exodus of 12,000 Afrikaners from the Cape seeking a life outside of British rule (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).
            This migration resulted in two violent interactions, the Battle of Blood and The Boer War, both of which contributed for the formation of the Republic of South Africa (Cornell and Hartman, 2007). Another result of The Boer War was a more unified and nationalistic Afrikaner racial identity and in 1948 the National Party was voted in, giving Afrikaners political power which they used to enact apartheid. Apartheid was a rigid government enforced system of racial separation based on the racial boundaries created by the Boer/Afrikaner colonizers and supported by their white supremacist ideology. It established segregated residential spaces, social institutions and maintained boundaries through maintained of a large power differential (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).  
            The fall of Apartheid has found the power differential has shifted. Although in a color based system one would think that the boundaries between whites in South Africa would have blended, but this has not been the case. The English still hold the majority economic wealth which allowed them to maintain power, while Afrikaners, now competing in a more integrated job market, have found the power differential to be increasing in comparison to other whites and decreasing in comparison to Africans, Coloreds and Indians (Cornell and Hartman, 2007).
            By viewing racial formation through a historical lens it is possible to see how combinations of critical arenas are involved in the construction of a group racial identity; allowing one to see exactly how multidimensional identity formation is. Although racial identity construction of Japanese in Hawai`i and Afrikaners in South Africa occurs within the same critical arenas of politics, labor markets, residential space, social institutions, culture and daily experience, one is able to see how the formation of the two groups has been distinct to each.

Cornell, Stephen and Douglas Hartmann. 2007. Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.
Kinzer, Stephen. 2006. Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawai`i to Iraq. New York: Times Books.
Miyares, I. 2008. “EXPRESSING LOCAL CULTURE IN HAWAI`I.” Geographical Review. 98(4), 513-531. 
Okamura, J. 1994. “Why There Are No Asian-Americans in Hawai`i: The Continuing Significance of Local Identity.” Social Process in Hawaii. 35:161-178. 
_____. 2000. “Race Relations in Hawai`i during World War II: The Non-internment of Japanese Americans.” Amerasia Journal. 26(2):117-141 
______. 2008. "Ethnicity and Inequality in Hawai'i." Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 
Takaki, Ronald. 1982. “An Entering Wedge: The origins of the sugar plantation and a multi-ethnic working class in Hawaii.” Labor History. 23(1):32-46.

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