Book notes: On not speaking Chinese

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This book is quite different from my usual reading, which is mostly fiction, science-fiction, and popular science. This book is categorically a humanities book. In fact, some chapters were previously published in humanities journal. Nevertheless, I persevered through, since the subject is close to my heart (and my identity). Also, Ien Ang’s writing is not boring academic prose. It is certainly not easy reading, but it is very readable and her personal stake in the subject also helps. The book is an academic, yet also personal, essay.

Introduction: between Asia and the West (in complicated entanglement)

I must warn the reader that the spirit of the diasporic intellectual’s tactical interventionism runs throughout this book: the space from which these chapters were written was precisely the space of hybridity, between Asia and the West. At the same time, I hope to contribute to a reappreciation of the politics of hybridity – and its emphasis on multiplicity, uncertainty and ambivalence – which always seems to be at the heart of criticisms of the diasporic intellectual’s discourse.

The idea of ‘Asia’ as a distinct, demarcatable region of the world originated in a very Eurocentric system of geographical classification. In their book The Myth of Continents, Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen (1997: 37) remark that ‘of all the so-called continents, Asia is not only the largest but also the most fantastically diversified, a vast region whose only commonalities – whether human or physical – are so general as to be trivial’. This is true, but it does not do away with the reality that in the contemporary world, ‘Asia’ and ‘Asians’ are powerful terms of identification for many cultures, societies and peoples who are somehow subsumed under these terms.

The fact that identification with being Asian – sometimes in hyphenated form such as ‘Asian-American’ – is so ubiquitous across Western nation–states reveals much about the tension that exists between the two categories. Paul Gilroy (1993: 1) once remarked that ‘striving to be both European and black requires some specific forms of double consciousness’, pointing to the presumably unnatural quality of such an identity. The same can be said about being both Western and Asian, even though no a priori similarity in the forms of double consciousness can be assumed between blacks of the African diaspora (of which Gilroy speaks) and Asians in the West, given the vastly different historical conditions under which Africans and Asians have entered Western space, in Europe, the Americas, and in Australasia (Chun 2001).

The title of this book, On Not Speaking Chinese, articulates the subjective position from which the chapters collected here have been written: it signals a somewhat awkward, oblique relationship to a socially assigned ‘identity’ in a time when both identity claims and identity impositions of the essentializing kind are the order of the day. If there is an overarching theme throughout this book, then, it revolves around the multiple disjunctures and tensions between large-scale, publicly reproduced categorical identities – ‘Chinese’, ‘Asian’ – and the concrete social subjectivities and experiences which are shaped and circumscribed by these identity categories but at the same time always exceed their reified boundaries. In other words, there can never be a perfect fit between fixed identity label and hybrid personal experience; indeed, while the rhetoric of identity politics generally emphasizes the liberating force of embracing a collective identity, especially if that identity was previously repressed or oppressed, that very identity is also the name of a potential prison-house. It is very hard to imagine and appreciate the compli- cated entanglement of our togetherness-in-difference from within the prison-house of identity.

Thus, while the transnationalism of diasporas is often taken as an implicit point of critique of the territorial boundedness and the internally homogenizing perspective of the nation–state, the limits of diaspora lie precisely in its own assumed boundedness, its inevitable tendency to stress its internal coherence and unity, logically set apart from ‘others’.6 Ultimately, diaspora is a concept of sameness-in-dispersal, not of togetherness-in-difference.

Thus we have the ‘multicultural nation’ or the ‘multicultural state’, in which differences are carefully classified and organized into a neat, virtual grid of distinct ‘ethnic communities’, each with their own ‘culture’. The problem with this conception of the multicultural society is that it does not respond to the dynamism that occurs when different groups come to live and interact together, ‘tumbled into endless connection’ as Geertz put it. It is an all too ordered and well-organized image of society as a unity-in-diversity – a convenient image from a bureaucratic- managerial point of view, but problematic because it does not take account of forces, rampant in any complex, postmodern society, which are in excess of or subvert the preferred multicultural order. In other words, multiculturalism is based on the fantasy that the social challenge of togetherness-in-difference can be addressed by reducing it to an image of living-apart-together. Acknowledging this is one way to understand why multiculturalism has not been able to do away with racism: as a concept, it depends on the fixing of mutually exclusive identities, and therefore also on the reproduction of potentially antagonistic, dominant and subordinate others.

Encapsulated here is the very paradox of hybridity: any identity can only be a temporary, partial closure, for there is always a ‘but’ nagging behind it, upsetting and interfering with the very construction of that identity.

In such a thoroughly postmodern context, what it means to be ‘Asian’ can no longer be defined or described in clear-cut, unambiguous terms despite the increased salience of the very term ‘Asian’ as a self-conscious marker of identity in the wake of identity politics.

PART I Beyond Asia: deconstructing diaspora

1 On not speaking Chinese: diasporic identifications and postmodern ethnicity

‘China’, of course, usually refers to the People’s Republic of China, or more generically, ‘mainland China’. This China continues to speak to the world’s imagination – for its sheer vastness, its huge population, its relative inaccessibility, its fascinating history and culture, its idiosyncratic embrace of communism, all of which amounts to its awesome difference. This China also irritates, precisely because its stubborn difference cannot be disregarded, if only because the forces of transnational capitalism are only too keen to finally exploit this enormous market of more than a billion people.

In this respect, I would like to consider autobiography as a more or less deliberate, rhetorical construction of a ‘self’ for public, not private purposes: the displayed self is a strategically fabricated performance, one which stages a useful identity, an identity which can be put to work. It is the quality of that usefulness which determines the politics of autobiographical discourse. In other words, what is the identity being put forward for?

Thus, what I hope to substantiate in staging my ‘Chineseness’ here – or better, my (troubled) relationship to Chineseness – is precisely the notion of precariousness of identity which has preoccupied cultural studies for some time now. As Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1990: 60) has noted, the practice of ‘speaking as’ (e.g. as a woman, an Indian, a Chinese) always involves a distancing from oneself, as one’s subjectivity is never fully steeped in the modality of the speaking position one inhabits at any one moment. My autobiographic tales of Chineseness are meant to illuminate the very difficulty of constructing a position from which I can speak as an (Overseas) Chinese, and therefore the indeterminacy of Chineseness as a signifier for identity.

What I would like to propose is that Chineseness is a category whose meanings are not fixed and pregiven, but constantly renegotiated and rearticulated, both inside and outside China.

As the editors of Public Culture have put it, ‘diasporas always leave a trail of collective memory about another place and time and create new maps of desire and of attachment’ (1989: 1). It is the myth of the (lost or idealized) homeland, the object of both collective memory and of desire and attachment, which is constitutive to diasporas, and which ultimately confines and constrains the nomadism of the diasporic subject.

However, so the history books tell me, even among the peranakans a sense of separateness prevailed throughout the centuries. A sense of ‘ethnic naturalism’ seems to have been at work here, for which I have not found a satisfactory explana- tion so far: why is it that these early Chinese traders and merchants still maintained their sense of Chineseness? This is something that the history books do nottell me. But it does seem clear that the construction of the peranakan Chinese as a separate ethnic group was reinforced considerably by the divide-and-rule policies of Dutch colonialism.

As Salman Rushdie (1991: 12) has remarked, those who have experienced cultural displacement are forced to accept the provisional nature of all truths, all certainties.

Thus, ‘Chinese’ identity becomes confined to essentialist and absolute notions of ‘Chineseness’, the source of which can only originate from ‘China’, to which the ethnicized ‘Chinese’ subject must adhere to acquire the stamp of ‘authenticity’. So it was one day that a self- assured, Dutch, white, middle-class, Marxist leftist, asked me, ‘Do you speak Chinese?’ I said no. ‘What a fake Chinese you are!’, was his only mildly kidding response, thereby unwittingly but aggressively adopting the disdainful position of judge to sift ‘real’ from ‘fake’ Chinese. In other words, in being defined and categorized diasporically, I was found wanting.

What is particular to the Chinese diaspora, however, is the extraordinarily strong originary pull of the ‘homeland’ as a result of the prominent place of ‘China’ in the Western imagination. The West’s fascination with China as a great, ‘other’ civilization began with Marco Polo and remains to this day (see e.g. MacKerras 1991). In the Western imagination China cannot be an ordinary country, as a consequence, everything happening in that country is invested with more than ‘normal’ significance, as testified by the intense and extreme dramatization of events such as the ‘Tiananmen massacre’ and the ‘Hong Kong handover’ in the Western media (Chow 1993; 1998a). There is, in other words, an excess of meaningfulness accorded to ‘China’; ‘China’ has often been useful for Western thinkers as a symbol, negative or positive, for that which the West was not. As Zhang Longxi (1988: 127) has noted, even Jacques Derrida, the great debunker of binary oppositions, was seduced into treating the non-phonetic character of the Chinese language as ‘testimony of a powerful movement of civilization developing outside of all logocentrism’, that is, as the sign of a culture totally different from what he conceives as Western culture. Worse still, this powerful othering is mirrored by an equally strong and persistent tendency within Chinese culture itself to consider itself as central to the world, what Song Xianlin and Gary Sigley (2000) call China’s ‘Middle Kingdom mentality’, exemplified by the age-old Chinese habit to designate all non-Chinese as ‘barbarians’, ‘foreign devils’ or ‘ghosts’.

…Today we are described by one English writer as belonging to ‘the sad band of English-educated who cannot speak their own language’. This seems rather unfair to me. Must we know the language of our forefathers when we have lived in another country (Malaysia) for many years? Are the descendants of German, Norwegian and Swedish emigrants to the USA, for instance, expected to know German or Norwegian or Swedish? Are the descendants of Italian and Greek emigrants to Australia expected to study Italian and Greek? Of course not, and yet overseas Chinese are always expected to know Chinese or else they are despised not only by their fellow Chinese but also by non- Chinese!…
(Ho 1975: 97–99)

Khachig Tölölyan (1991) is right to define diasporas as transnational formations which interrogate the privileged homogeneity of the nation–state. At the same time, however, the very fact that ethnic minorities within nation–states are defining themselves increasingly in diasporic terms, as Tölölyan indicates, raises some troubling questions about the state of intercultural relations in the world today.

But the productivity I am referring to precisely fills that space up with new forms of culture at the collision of the two: hybrid cultural forms born out of a productive, creative syncretism. This is a practice and spirit of turning necessity into oppor- tunity, the promise of which is perhaps most eloquently expressed by Salman Rushdie (1991: 17): ‘It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained.’

‘China’, the mythic homeland, will then stop being the absolute norm for ‘Chineseness’ against which all other Chinese cultures of the diaspora are measured. Instead, Chineseness becomes an open signifier, which acquires its peculiar form and content in dialectical junction with the diverse local conditions in which ethnic Chinese people, wherever they are, construct new, hybrid identities and communities.

In short, if I am inescapably Chinese by descent, I am only sometimes Chinese by consent.11 When and how is a matter of politics.

2 Can one say no to Chineseness?: Pushing the limits of the diasporic paradigm

‘Chineseness’ here is the marker of that status, imparting an externally imposed identity given meaning, literally, by a practice of discrimination. It is the dominant culture’s classificatory practice, operating as a territorializing power highly effective in marginalizing the other, which shapes the meaning of Chineseness here as a curse, as something to ‘get used to’.

Scholars have always been bewildered about China. The intricate empirical multifariousness and historical complexity of this enormous country are hardly containable in the sophisticated (inter)disciplinary apparatus and theoretical armoury of Western researchers. Language, culture, civilization, people, nation, polity – how does one describe, interpret, and understand ‘China’, that awesome other country which has never ceased to both fascinate and infuriate its dedicated scholar? The difficulty has grown exponentially with the emergence of a so-called diasporic paradigm in the study of ‘Chineseness’. The booming interest in what is loosely termed the Chinese diaspora has unsettled the very demarcation of ‘China’ as an immensely complex yet ontologically stable object of study. The diasporic paradigm has shattered the convenient certainty with which Chinese Studies has been equated, quite simply, with the study of China. ‘China’ can no longer be limited to the more or less fixed area of its official spatial and cultural boundaries, nor can it be held up as providing the authentic, authoritative, and uncontested standard for all things Chinese. Instead, how to determine what is and what is not Chinese has become the necessary preliminary question to ask, and an increasingly urgent one at that. This, at least, is one of the key outcomes of the emergent diasporic paradigm.

…central to the diasporic paradigm is the theoretical axiom that Chineseness is not a category with a fixed content – be it racial, cultural or geographical – but operates as an open and indeterminate signifier whose meanings are constantly renegotiated and rearticulated in different sections of the Chinese diaspora.

As Stuart Hall (1996b) has remarked, the fact that ‘race’ is not a valid scientific category does not undermine its symbolic and social effectuality. The same could be said about Chineseness.

…the diasporic paradigm is necessarily unstable. After all, the very spirit of the idea of diaspora, motivated as it is by notions of dispersal, mobility and disappearance, works against its consolida- tion as a ‘paradigm’ proper. Contained in the diasporic perspective itself, therefore, are the seeds of its own deconstruction, which provides us with an opportunity to interrogate, not just the different meanings Chineseness takes on in different local contexts – a limited anti-essentialism which still takes the category of Chinese itself for granted – but, more radically, the very significance and validity of Chineseness as such as a category of identification and analysis.

On the other hand, there is also the reverse question of how to sinicize modernity; how, that is, to create a modern world that is truly Chinese and not simply an imitation of the West.

According to Leo Ou-fan Lee (1994), who came from Taiwan to the United States as a graduate student more than thirty years ago and who describes himself as ‘a voluntary exile situated forever on the fringes of China’, the ‘excessive obsession with their homeland has deprived Chinese writers abroad of their rare privilege of being truly on the periphery’. For Lee, it is only by being truly on the periphery that one can create a distance ‘sufficiently removed from the center of the obsession’, allowing one to ‘subject the obsession itself to artistic treatment’ (1994: 226).

Race, in other words, provides a reductionist, essentializing discursive shortcut, in which, to paraphrase Stuart Hall, the signifier ‘Chinese’ is ‘torn from its historical, cultural and political embedding and lodged in a biologically constituted racial category’ (Hall 1996e: 472). In the imagining of ‘the Chinese race’, differences which have been constructed by heterogeneous diasporic conditions and experiences are suppressed in favour of illusory modes of bonding and belonging.

Recently I had a taxi ride in Sydney with a driver who was from mainland China. We mutually recognized each other as ‘Chinese’, but I had to tell him that, unfortunately, I couldn’t speak Chinese. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘it will be easy for you to learn. After all, you have Chinese blood.’ As if my imputed racial identity would automatically and naturally give me access to some enormous reservoir of cultural capital!

3 Indonesia on my mind: diaspora, the Internet and the struggle for hybridity

Let me put it clearly at the outset: coming from a family of Chinese descent, my relationship to Indonesia is necessarily a profoundly troubled one. Not having forgotten my early years of growing up in that mind-boggling country, it is still an ambivalent site of identification and disidentification for me. It is precisely this ambivalence that will point me towards the necessity for an intellectual and cultural politics of hybridity.

The Indonesian nation–state is not only postcolonial but also multi-ethnic – an ambitiously synthetic and syncretic, irrevocably modern and modernist project. Being constructed out of a complex and conflictive colonial history, Indonesia has to negotiate massive economic, political and cultural challenges and immense internal and external contradictions to keep the nation together.

In retrospect, I know that my own childhood dedication to the nation, my deep and heartfelt investment in national belonging and nationalist commitment, was doomed from the start: modern Indonesian nationalism has never managed to accommodate successfully the presence of the Chinese minority in its construction of an imagined community.3 While the Indonesian nation was from its inception imagined as a multi-ethnic entity – something which was necessary to unify the hundreds of ethnic and linguistic groupings making up the country whose spatial boundaries were determined by the imposition of Dutch colonialism – the place of those marked as ‘Chinese’ in this ‘unity-in-diversity’ has always been resolutely ambiguous and uncertain.4

In an attempt to control what came to be called ‘the Chinese problem’ in postcolonial Indonesia, the Suharto regime demanded that ethnic Chinese assimilate into mainstream Indonesian society through name-changing policies, bans on the public display of Chinese cultural expression such as the use of Chinese language and Chinese New Year celebrations, and so on. At the same time, those of Chinese descent were prevented from forgetting their categorical difference as the government continued to differentiate between indigenous and non-indigenous groups, for example, by using special identity cards for ethnic Chinese.

Thus, for those who call themselves ‘Chinese Indonesian’ or ‘Indonesian Chinese’: the interchangeable use of the two reveals the uncertainty and ambivalence many have in identifying themselves – the imaginary belonging to a vast and powerful ‘Chinese diaspora’ can never provide a satisfactory solution to the question of ‘home’.

It misses the point here to suggest, as more Marxist-inclined analysts would do, that the ‘Chinese problem’ in Indonesia is not one of ‘race’, but one of ‘class’. The problem is that in this context, ‘class’ is lived in the modality of ‘race’: Indonesia is an intensely racialized social formation, in which the Chinese/pribumi distinction is generally read in terms of economic advantage/disadvantage. In other words, ‘Chineseness’ in contemporary Indonesia does not connote primarily cultural identities, but economic identities. It is this real and perceived economic divide that determines, in the first instance, the manner in which real and perceived cultural differences are transformed into social incompatibilities and antagonisms, both ideologically and in practice.10

Chinese merchants and traders in South-East Asia have often been dubbed ‘the Jews of the Orient’, an antipathetic term of abuse first used by King Vajiravudth of Thailand in 1920s (Tejapira 1997). This designation refers to the crucial role the Chinese ‘enterpreneurial minority’ has for centuries played in the commercial practices throughout the region.

Indeed, as Ariel Heryanto has argued, the very emphasis on the need to assimilate the Chinese tends to reinforce ‘the active and conscious othering of the Chinese’ in ‘the reproduction of the native Self’ (1998a: 101).

In an important sense, hybridity is the politics of those ‘who do not have claims to territorial propriety or cultural centrality’ (Chow 1993: 25). This is particularly pertinent for groups such as Chinese Indonesians, who are ‘stuck’ in a country they have not been allowed to call their own despite the fact that they have lived there for generations.

As Garcia Canclini (2000: 48) rightly remarks, ‘hybridisation is not synonymous with reconciliation among ethnicities and nations, nor does it guarantee democratic interactions’. Hybridity is not a superior form of transformative resistance, nor the only mode of politics available, but, rather more humbly, a limited but crucial, life-sustaining tactic of everyday survival and practice in a world overwhelmingly dominated by large-scale historical forces whose effects are beyond the control of those affected by them.

Which leads me to conclude that if I am a diasporic intellectual – and I am certainly not always one – then my diasporic reference point, my imaginary ‘home’, cannot be ‘China’; it has to be ‘Indonesia’. But my position as an Indonesian diasporic intellectual is necessarily ambivalent and double-edged, always already steeped in hybridity.

4 Undoing diaspora: questioning global Chineseness in the era of globalization

It is clear, then, that the discourse of diaspora owes much of its contemporary currency to the economic, political and cultural erosion of the modern nation–state as a result of postmodern capitalist globalization – what Tölölyan calls ‘the transnational moment’. Tölölyan even nominates diasporas as the paradigmatic Others of the nation–state: the increasing assertiveness of diasporic groups in representing and organizing themselves as transnational communities forces nation–states to ‘confront the extent to which their boundaries are porous and their ostensible homogeneity a multicultural heterogeneity’ (1991: 5).

In many cases, as in Malaysia and Indonesia, the Chinese found themselves relegated to being second-class citizens, economically well-off but socially and politically discriminated against. ‘Being Chinese’, under all these circumstances, has meant being locked into an unenviable, paralysingly disempowered position vis-à-vis the dominant national culture and the state undergirding it.

I would contend that much of the current popularity of ‘Chinese diaspora’ among ethnic Chinese around the world is fuelled precisely by this emotive desire not just to belong, but to belong to a respectable imagined community, one that instils pride in one’s identity precisely because it is so much larger and more encompassing, in geographical terms at least, than any territorially bounded nation. Global diaspora, in this context, signifies deliverance and release from territorialized national identity, triumph over the shackles of the nation–state.

…a general reification of the very idea of Chinese identity as something fixed and indisputable. As Prasenjit Duara has argued, before the intervention of the Chinese nationalist activists, the majority of Chinese outside China lived with a flexible and ambiguous sense of Chineseness which had relatively open and soft, permeable boundaries. The activists, in Duara’s words, ‘sought to transform these multiple, mobile identifications into a Chineseness that eliminated or reduced internal boundaries, on the one hand, and hardened the boundaries between Chinese and non-Chinese, on the other’ (1997: 41).

the single word, Chinese, will be less and less able to convey a reality that continues to become more pluralistic. We need more words, each with the necessary adjectives to qualify and identify who exactly we are describing. We need them all to capture the richness and variety of the hundreds of Chinese communities that can now be found.
(Wang 1999: 16)

The hybridizing context of the global city brings out the intrinsic contradiction locked into the concept of diaspora, which, logically, depends on the maintenance of an apparently natural, essential identity to secure its imagined status as a coherent community. The global city is the space of diaspora’s undoing.

PART II Beyond the West: negotiating multiculturalism

5 Multiculturalism in crisis: the new politics of race and national identity in Australia / With Jon Stratton

In drawing the line of acceptable cultural difference by using the term ‘Asian’, however, she exemplifies what James Donald and Ali Rattansi (1992: 2), in discussing 1980s’ Britain, have called ‘a new racism, based not on ideas of innate biological superiority but on the supposed incompatibility of cultural traditions’.

6 Asians in Australia: a contradiction in terms?

As a geographical entity, ‘Asia’ is an artificial construct with uncertain boundaries, especially on its western front where its border with ‘Europe’ has never been firmly established by European geographers from whose meta-geographical imagination the very idea of ‘continents’ had sprung (Lewis and Wigen 1997).

7 Racial/spatial anxiety: ‘Asia’ in the psycho-geography of Australian whiteness

8 The curse of the smile: ambivalence and the ‘Asian’ woman in Australian multiculturalism

‘Where are you from?’
‘I was born in Indonesia.’
‘Oh, I really like it there; it’s such a spiritual country!’
This snippet of conversation reminds me of Ruth Frankenberg’s observation in White Women, Race Matters (1993) that while American white women mainly see nonwhite ‘cultures’ as lesser, deviant or pathological, they sometimes see these ‘cultures’ as somehow better than their own, for example, as more ‘interesting’, more ‘natural’, or indeed more ‘spiritual’. But these ‘positive’ evaluations, as Frankenberg (1993: 199) rightly notes, are still based on dualistic conceptions of self and other.

Trinh (1991) also enunciates the productivity of liminal in-betweenness as a place from where the minority subject can become an unsettling agent:

Not quite the Same, not quite the Other, she stands in that undetermined threshold place where she constantly drifts in and out. Undercutting the ‘inside/outside’ opposition, her intervention is necessarily that of both a deceptive insider and a deceptive outsider. She is this Inappropriate Other/Same who moves about with always at least two/four gestures: that of affirming ‘I am like you’ while persisting in her difference; and that of reminding ‘I am different’ while unsettling every definition of otherness arrived at.

9 Identity blues: rescuing cosmopolitanism in the era of globalization

What such mundane local interactions can contribute to, I believe, is the incremental and dialogic construction of lived identities which slowly dissolve the boundaries between the past and the future, between ‘where we come from’ and ‘what we might become’, between being and becoming. Being is enhanced by becoming, and becoming is never possible without a solid grounding in being. As subjects from multiple backgrounds negotiate their social co-existence and their mutual entanglement, the contradictory necessity and impossibility of identities are played out in the messiness of everyday life, as the global and the local interpenetrate each other.

PART III Beyond identity: living hybridities

10 Local/global negotiations: doing cultural studies at the crossroads

After all, as Gayatri Spivak (1990: 139) once pointedly remarked, ‘crisis management is [just] another name for life’ – an observation of particular resonance within the stressful societies of advanced postmodern capitalism.

Instead . . . of thinking of places as areas with boundaries around, they can be imagined as articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings, but where a large proportion of those relations, experiences and understandings are constructed on a far larger scale than what we happen to define for that moment as the place itself, whether that be a street, or a region, or even a continent.
(Massey 1994: 154)

In short, it is at moments when comprehending my local-specific narrative becomes problematic to you, my reader, when such comprehension seems muted because I do not seem to speak in familiar discourse, that the malleability of general theoretical concepts such as ‘race’, ‘nation’ and ‘identity’, not to mention metaphors such as the ‘borderlands’ and the ‘crossroads’, becomes evident. It is the ways in which we both do and do not share these (and many other) concepts and metaphors across local/particular/specific boundaries that we should begin to interrogate and highlight.

11 I’m a feminist but . . .: ‘other’ women and postnational identities

Some peoples have become white over time as their status and power have risen (such as the Irish and the Jews in the USA) (Ignatiev 1996; Brodkin 1999), while others have been known for their desire to be white or at least be treated as white (such as the Japanese in the early twentieth century, when they managed to be recognized by the European powers as ‘honorary whites’) (Tanaka 1993; Brawley 1995). These historical complexities suggest that we need to go beyond the generalizations of generic whiteness and undifferentiated Westernness if we are to understand the specific cultural dynamics in which these interrelation- ships are played out in any particular context.

12 Conclusion: together-in-difference (the uses and abuses of hybridity)

Can togetherness be more than a coincidental and involuntary aggregation of groups being thrust into the same time and space, an uneasy and reluctant juxtapositioning of different bodies and identities forced to share a single world even if their respective imaginative worlds are worlds apart?

In other words, by recognizing the inescapable impurity of all cultures and the porousness of all cultural boundaries in an irrevocably globalized, interconnected and interdependent world, we may be able to conceive of our living together in terms of complicated entanglement, not in terms of the apartheid of insurmount- able differences.

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