So, let’s talk about shifts towards whiteness, the phenomenon of groups “achieving” status as white. I’ve mentioned that Greeks and Italians in Australia have in recent years shifted from non-white to white status. Most of us here are probably familiar with the history of groups like the Irish in the United States and their shift to whiteness. Here and there, I’ve been picking up a thread in my reading from the United States discussing the assimilation of Asians, the “model minority”. This thread is one of Asian Americans being absorbed into whiteness, or not being as properly non-white as other non-white groups, which gave me quite a jolt. The underlying idea, as I’m reading it, is that a group achieving some degree of whiteness’ favour in a particular place and historical moment gets to be absorbed into whiteness. Difference and discrimination get to be done away with together.
That really disturbs me: I think non-white identities should be allowed to be sustained, and that acceptance as white shouldn’t be necessary to lessen discrimination or for a group to be accepted as people. (That’s not to say that discrimination is in actuality being done away with; it’s reminiscent of “postracialism” as a deeply racist substitute for anti-racism. The notion that absorption into whiteness – or at least white approval – represents the moment harmony, happiness and so forth starts should make that evident from the get go.) I’m not trying to take away anyone’s identity here: if you identify as white but have this kind of history of non-whiteness, that’s cool. I’m simply troubled by the idea that this particular shift towards whiteness supposedly must be necessary as a part of the evolution of racial relations, rather than a shift towards acceptance of all kinds of identities.
Growing more accepted seems to be contingent on shifts towards white cultures, constructions as white, assimilation. I don’t think a choice to assimilate into a dominant culture not one’s own is necessarily a bad thing, necessarily a mark of oppression. The expectation that everyone be a part of it, that everyone wishes for whiteness and white cultural acceptance, makes me feel really scared. I don’t think my Australianness should be contingent on my giving up my culture (or relating to it in majority-approved ways), my community identification, the kinds of things that make me me. Irrespective of whether someone wants to hold on to their ancestral culture(s), or participate in dominant ones, or live in a fusion such as suits them, I don’t think that their cultural identification or practice needs to be held up with reference to a white ideal.
I want to be accepted, but not at the cost of my identity as non-white. I think it’s perfectly possible to achieve acceptance and, dare I say it, harmony across racial difference without the elimination thereof.
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