Biculturalism, Self Identity and Societal Transformation: Volume 15


Table of contents

(15 chapters)

At times the self may be bicultural only in ideas and thought, for the individual lacks the opportunity to actual live biculturally. Very recent immigrants who are barely learning the language of the new country, and have yet to fully understand social cues and the deeper nuances of the language and social customs of the new country would fall into this category. Indeed, the chapter on becoming musically bicultural is an example of the bicultural self as ideas and thoughts, and we could extend Simmel's analogy to include, in this case, living musically in one world while socially restricted by segregation from living in some of the situations which provided the creative fuel for the world from which one is excluded. It is in this same sense that millions of teenagers in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America may experience Black American musical culture hip-hop and rap, and attempt to sing, dress, and act as if they are in an environment similar to the ones they have seen in American movies and videos. Their bicultural selves are rooted in images and are fed by their youthful imagination, but the social structural background where theses, at least some of them, middle class youth, play out the drama of rap and hip-hop reside in the bicultural self as idea and thought. In a Kantian mode, also may be Schopenhauerian, it might be suggested that the idea and thought always precede the actual doing or living.

The idea of biculturalism or multiculturalism has come into sharper focus due to changing intra-national and international demographic shifts, expanding global economic markets, and persistent ethnic and religious warfare across many continents. These global political, cultural, and economic dynamics have forced us to deal with two intensely reverberating, and conflicting, cultural themes and tradition that threaten to unravel many social and political units deemed heretofore strong and unbreakable. One tradition supports and justifies a monocultural view of the world. This perspective asserts that a nation-state functions best when it is defined and controlled by one dominate cultural framework. The logic and justification for such a view is mirrored in the history and philosophy of societies and nation states which have waged relentless wars of conquest; in such wars, victors have attained and often maintained both political power and cultural hegemony over the defeated. Whether the initial causes of warfare were grounded in disputes over religious differences, land disputes, control of the seas, or overseas colonies, the reality is the victory of one nation or society over another would result in the submergence and subservience of one culture over another, as reflected in the victor's religion, language, political system, etc. The laws and rules of conquest and defeat reverberate throughout human history and whether in Africa, Asia, Europe, or North and South America and are deeply rooted in human, tribal, and clan differences. The various religions have historically justified the conquest by their zealots over non-believers, but it is only in recent history that a new and devastating logic was proffered to justify the domination of one group over another. The combination of European colonialism and imperialism, aided by the scientism of Social Darwinism and the nationalistic ideas of Manifest Destiny gave support to the ideals of White supremacy. Despite subtle political and religious differences between Western nations what they held in common was the belief that they represented the destiny of world civilization, and thus had an obligation to conquer the “uncivilized” world in order to save and perpetuate Western values and ideals. Thus, the growth and evolution of European and American social, political, economic and religious history and thought was not one in which conquering countries and groups sought to “understand” the conquered, nor would it be predicated on any cultural equality, or cultural equivalency between the victors and the vanquished. For example, in the United States the colonial government and the young republic fought Native Americans, the French, Spain (twice), the British (twice), then Mexico, for cultural, political, economic, and social hegemony over what is currently the landmass of the United States.

How we become a part of group, identify with the group, and acquire a “we” feeling is both simple and complex. We may absorb groupness either because we were born into the group, or because we have made a decision to choose membership into the group. In this subsection the former will be our focus, and since we have already broached the African American theme we will explain collective identity matters from this perspective.

Haitian immigrants have settled primarily in several metropolitan areas of the Northeast region (New York and Boston, followed perhaps by Philadelphia), Southern Florida, and some areas of the Midwest (mainly Chicago). As indicated in a previous work (Zéphir, 2004, p. 90), New York City has the largest concentration of Haitians in the country as well as the oldest and most diverse established Haitian communities. Estimates of the New York population and its surrounding counties (Nassau, Rockland, and others) range from 200,000 to close to 500,000. This variation depends on whether one only takes into account figures given by the Census Bureau and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), or whether one also factors in the undocumented entrants and accepts estimates provided by Haitian community leaders themselves as being closer to reality. In more recent times, from the mid-1980s to the present, Southern Florida has been receiving the largest numbers of the new arrivals, particularly the cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, as well as their vicinities. The US Census Bureau (2000), places the legal Haitian population in the state of Florida at about 270,000; but when one considers the clandestine population that number obviously increases. Let us not forget that Florida is the destination of the most desperate Haitians, those who risk their lives navigating the Florida straits in rickety boats to reach “the promised land” that the United States symbolizes for them. In fact, as recently as March 28, 2007, a boatload of about 100 Haitians reached Hallandale Beach, Florida. These Haitians have been put in detention centers, pending reviews of their cases. The state of Massachusetts follows with a conservative estimate of 75,000 Haitians, of which the majority are Boston residents. The state of New Jersey is home to approximately 40,000 Haitian immigrants, concentrated mostly in the city of Newark. In addition, two other Northeast states, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, in particular) and Connecticut have sizeable Haitians communities. In the Midwest, another very conservative estimate of 30,000 Haitians have settled in Illinois, over half of them in the city of Chicago. Although the aforementioned states and cities have the most significant numbers of the total Haitian immigrant population, it is important to mention that Haitians have migrated all over the country, from Louisiana, the Carolinas, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, to California. For example, in the city of St. Louis, there are several well-established families who have been in residence there since the 1960s. Indeed, several years ago, I met a couple of physicians who explained that, when they came to the United States to do their medical residencies, few hospitals in the country at the time would accept Black residents. One exception was Omer Philip Hospital, which has long since closed. These first Haitians brought their families with them, who in turn sent for relatives. In time, a solid Haitian community developed and prospered in St. Louis. Moreover, as this chapter was being written in June of 2007, I received a phone call from a Haitian in Kansas City who was telling me about the emergence of a Haitian community there as well, which he estimated at about 2,000 people. This particular individual is the director of a community center that, he said, is called Glory House, affiliated with the Baptist Church. This center has been recently established to help working-class Haitians, by offering them English classes and other social services. Those examples attest to the fact that Haitians are mobile and moving to other areas of the country where they have not traditionally settled, in search of better economic, professional, vocational, and educational opportunities.

To study biculturalism in the United States is to look into how racial and ethnic boundaries are defined, maintained, and contested in this society. In everyday life in the United States, it is a pervasive tendency to classify individuals into existing cultural groupings according to their “lineage,” and to assume little or no variation within the categories. In the meantime, much academic research repeatedly points to racial and ethnic groups being socially constructed, and that therefore, racial and ethnic identities are contextual and multi-layered, and members within a group are far from monolithic. This chapter adds to this debate against the deceptively simplistic, yet prevailing, view that regards racial and ethnic groups as largely impermeable and static, by underlining the dynamism and multiplicity of cultural identities perceived by a group of transnational migrants.

Williams was a black feminist pragmatist who contributed to and drew on the ideas and practices of the “Hull-House school of race relations” (HHSRR). This American theory unites liberal values and a belief in a rational public with a co-operative, nurturing, and liberating model of the self, the other, and the community, based on the historical ideas and commitments of abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln. Education and democracy are emphasized as significant mechanisms to organize and improve society, especially the relations between black and white people. This school had a distinct institutional influence, structure, and status (Deegan, 2002b). As an African American women who wrote and spoke using feminist pragmatism as it applied to the black experience viewed from her lived standpoint, she developed black feminist pragmatism (Deegan, 2002a). I concentrate here on her writings on biculturalism, especially her (Williams, 1907) essay on the perils of “a White Negro.” She wrote about this anomalous racial category in a number of other pieces that I also analyze here.

This chapter considers a narrative attuned to the tensions of bicultural performativity (blackness and whiteness) and how that performance relates to the politics of dislocation within the context of pursuing an advanced degree at a prestigious university. It does so by providing moments from my own narrative of self that focuses on an interrupted and hybridized racial project. In this chapter, I attempt to engage the reader by communicating the subjectivity of such moments in a provocative, fragmented, and emotionally charged self-reflexive manner. My own narrative, its performative element, and its racialized nature, are then considered in relation to larger sociological contexts and forces that present bicultural racial formations and their boundary transgression as a regulatory mechanism. Out of these narrative examples, I emphasize the growing centrality of performance studies as a frame of analysis.

“Dora! Dora!” squealed my 18-month-old son from his stroller on the crowded subway platform. I scanned the crowd but could not locate the source of his excitement. Then a young girl turned her back to us and I saw on her purple backpack the face of “Dora the Explorer,” whose name had made its way into my son's small vocabulary. This scene could have easily taken place in any city or town in the US; young children of all ethnicities are familiar with Dora's animated television program. Worldwide, parents have spent over $3 billion on Dora the Explorer merchandise since 2001, and most products feature English and Spanish phrases (Jiménez, 2005). And Dora is not alone: her show was just the first in a recent wave of animated educational children's programs featuring Latino main characters and dialogue in Spanish.

This study is designed to explore the process of integration and ethnic identity among South Asian immigrants in Norway. In this study I examine the extent to which different factors such as, time since migration, receptiveness of the host society, position in the labor market, schools, social networks, and interaction with the host society, contribute to immigrants’ integration and the construction of their identity in a multicultural society like Norway. Based on ethnographic methods including unstructured interviews of first-generation South Asian immigrants and their children in Norway, three different levels of integration are explained. The first level involves high ethnic identity and low integration and relates to first-generation immigrants who have accepted that a permanent return to their home country is impossible. The second level of integration is related to high ethnic identity and high integration. The individuals in this category are second-generation immigrants who are integrated into Norwegian society, while maintaining a high ethnic identity by strong allegiance to their parental norms and values. The third level is low integration and low ethnic identity and explained in terms of identity crisis, which sometimes causes an internal turmoil and disorientation for many immigrants.

This chapter examines whether the racial identification of mixed-race adolescents can be understood through several theories: Status Maximization Theory, the rule of hypodescent, or social identity theory. Status Maximization theory posits that mixed-race adolescents will attempt to identify as the highest racial status group they possibly can. The rule of hypodescent or hypodescent theory, also known as the one-drop rule, is a legacy of the Plantation-era South and prescribes that mixed-race individuals identify as their lowest status racial identity. Social identity theory posits that the higher frequency or quality of contacts with parents or individuals in mixed-race adolescents’ peer networks affect the racial identification of mixed-race adolescents. Also, social identity contends that a mixed-race adolescent's intergroup dynamic (measured here as a child's level of self-esteem, whether there is prejudice at school, and a child's self-concept) dictates how he or she will racially identify. Through analyses of mixed-race adolescents in the National Longitudinal Adolescent Health (Add Health), I find that Asian-white and American-Indian-white adolescents do not status maximize nor abide by hypodescent, while black-white adolescents do not status maximize but do adhere to hypodescent when forced to choose one race. There is no tendency for the frequency or quality of contact with parents, romantic partners, or school composition to affect racial identity, as predicted by social identity theory. Yet, several of the aforementioned social-psychological variables are found to influence the racial identification of mixed-race adolescents. Specifically, whether they felt positively about school, if they experienced prejudice, whether they had higher levels of self-esteem, and if they felt socially accepted by their peers. Another key finding from this research suggests that racial identification for Asian-white and American-Indian-white adolescents are both fluid and optional; this is not the case for black-white adolescents. I conclude by offering the implications of these findings for black-white multiracial individuals.

I don’t remember exactly when I began to be interested in music, but my mother and godmother would laughingly recall when they knew I would be musically inclined. Though I was then in diapers, whenever Tommy Dorsey's recording of Boogie Woogie was played, I would immediately begin to pat my feet. My first conscious memory of reacting to music when I was very young were the times my father would sing little ditties and play his banjo. He could carry a tune, and he played the banjo quite well. His greatest musical feat, however, was as a whistler, and I would try to imitate his whistling style, without success as I grew older. Then too, my siblings and I would sing and recite little nursery rhymes before our parents, and I would compose songs for my sisters to sing. Before he died an early death at 37 my father gave me a mouth harp and a harmonica which I kept for many years; I later misplaced it while in college. I later bought another harmonica which I kept throughout my years in the U.S. Army, my travels throughout Europe, and throughout my years in graduate school. How and why we each possess the talents and skills we have are questions I’ve never fully understood. So I’ve concluded that we just have them, and we’ll never be able to explain it. Throughout this chapter four reference points will be used to explain my exposure to music and my music biculturality: schools, churches, home, and my neighborhood. If I make very few references to whites, it is simply because during my early life my contact with whites was minimal, and white individuals played a minor role in my life, as at home my world centered around my parents and godparents, siblings, and other family members, and neighborhood friends; at school my world was a completely black world. The first white I got to know outside of my early work experiences was the white Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church who visited St. John's Episcopal Church at least six or seven times a year.

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Research in Race and Ethnic Relations
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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