When people use labels, they are used in certain ways. They have certain meanings, certain meanings, certain trajectories, certain assumptions.
Words point, group thoughts and images and emotions and logics together in minds and structures of institutions, laws and regulations, assumptions–into some coherence, yet never “it.”
When people use identity labels, they point to region, land, community, race, color, nation, perhaps gender, sexuality, role in the community, etc.
These also point to exclusions: what is NOT allowed, meant, correct, legal, okay. Then if we’re going to focus on social justice, the questions may beg: Why? How?
Now I am not interested in morals. There are no universal morals. Morality comes from certain histories, maintenance of these histories and legacies often come from dominance, not some sort of godly province. If people say that it is “eternal” or “the universal and absolute truth” or “The way it has always been,” then I think there is a huge fiction being perpetrated. However, this can also be contested and thought about through what position in society or societies (transnational) that a person/community is placed within and into, in a conversation or political/cultural hierarchy.
But arguments, including mine of course, are made from certain commitments, certain kinds of work for particular purposes.
In certain thinkers’ works, like Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice, or Denise Ferreira da Silva’s Toward a Global Idea of Race and then in Dylan Rodriguez’s Suspended Apocalypse: White supremacy, Genocide and the Filipino Condition, I place my own commitments in looking at how ideas such as “race” maintain themselves in certain ways and have an overall effect in uneven ways, transnationally, moving away from justice or toward justice. I do not think it possible, as two of the above three authors think, that a universal ideal of justice can be arrived at (this is an undergrid of their readings. Of course this may not be what the authors think, but their works read that way to me). This ideal of a universal justice would deny, or do violence to the idea that the world is diverse. Diversity is not about sameness or universality. But in contexts, through understanding and having justice as a goal, we can decide what is moving toward or away from what is ethical, beneficial, democratic. Deconstruction is one of the first steps. Not to reach some kind of ideal, but to demand it in the small spaces that ever-expand and link us with each other.
This is not to say that the ideas of practices of justice cannot circulate. But these things are not universal places to arrive into, but are contextually negotiated.
In Japan, I have never be considered Japanese, except by a very few number of people. I was born in Japan, my first language is Japanese. My consciousness was such. However, even today, Japanese would always consider me “foreign,” and “American.” Some could not even bring themselves to speak Japanese with me, even as I was speaking with them. They could only respond to struggle with their English. They SUBCONSCIOUSLY refused my Japanese-ness in relationship to them. I would understand that today because I am a U.S. citizen, and speak English fluently, and am more American in action and thought, than Japanese. However, even as American, I am not. I consider myself very Japanese in many ways. But I am the In-Between. I am the mixed-space/race. Transnational, borderland identity-action-being. I’m not parts of a whole, and no one else is “whole” either.
But in Japan, I would act and perhaps anger people, perplex most Japanese, by calling myself Black Nihon-jin or Nihon-jin Black ブラック日本人 or 日本人ブラック. This “Nippon-jin” means “Japanese” in the English. However, for Japanese people, this is a single ethnic look and national citizenship by law. Forever, it seems, people born to non-Japanese fathers are not considered Japanese, since Japanese citizenship is decided by BLOOD not land, as is the case of the U.S.
In addition, I was considered a U.S. citizen when I was born, even though I was born in Japan, because of the new laws of the U.S. military. But those whose fathers left them in Japan, were without citizenship. Even as they became citizens there in Japan, they were considered “foreign.” We were told to go to America or some Japanese could not bring themselves to speak Japanese with me, even though it was the only language I knew. To Japanese, I could not and would not be Japanese, even though I was, in front of them.
Yes it’s more complicated. And why should readers care about such things, right?
This is precisely the problem.
So to the Japanese, when asked the question “what are you?” or “what nationality are you?,” I would answer: I’m Black Nihon-jin. There are times when I am met with some violent reaction.
For Americans, it doesn’t matter, except as to decide how exotic I am or an anomaly, or to prove how “good” Americans are in accepting. For Americans, it’s only and always about race, or non-race (we’re all just human) and color-blindness or color-fullness. And color is different from race, and these are different from nationalities or communities within nations. But often these are collapsed. So when people say they accept “Blacks” or “Latinos” or “Asians” or “Muslims,” they may describe how “those people,” the “other,” but may act very similarly, usually from the same socio-economic class as the speaker uttering, for example, there is no thought of how their colored friends are somewhat alike. Simply put, the diversity is about a certain assimilated look, depending on the person’s socio-economic class, or school, or neighborhood, etc. It is not as diverse and accepting in radical ways. Divisions are then maintained.
Both race and non-race are ways that make invisible, a life. My life. Others like me.
Nippon-Jin, Japanese ethnic national, or foreign, the Japanese make invisible so many Japanese by way of insider-outsider mentality.
In the U.S., I used different answers to the question of what “object” I am, racially and nationally and ethnically. Sometimes I say I’m Black Asian. Other times I say Black Japanese, Blackanese. At other times Black Amerasian diasporic person, etc.
Both lands create their own systems of normalizing exclusion and abuse. Abuses by the national institutions are often hidden. The nations maintain their images. Japan is only recently working intensely with how to handle their new multicultural situations.
These oppressions are things I would like to wash away off my body-mind’s memory with a shower. But it won’t work.
What and who is maintaining these things that make me, and others like me invisible? What can we do?