Monthly Archives: September 2013

“Incorporation”

Every one of us has an outward identity that defines us to out fellow humans as belonging to a certain race or ethnicity. What I found most interesting in Jung’s work on White supremacy is the idea that we are define in those races/ethnicities according to a white norm. While we may not acknowledge that fact in daily life, the grounds which we define our racial identities upon are strictly rooted in white identity, the way we are perceived, treated, understood and acknowledged are all based on a single deviation from what has been perceived as normal. Most people do not think of themselves as being a product of white normalcy, but as Jung shows us, the racial/ethnic identities or lack of identities that we posses have all been created from a sense of white being the standard from which people are compared to.

Jung in addition to a white standard deviation point, attached that to the concept of citizenship pertaining, obviously, to the United States.  Explaining that citizenship pertained(s) solely to those we perceive(d) as “incorporated” into the society, and “that the taken for granted certainty of white dominance was a necessary condition of possibility” (Jung 7) She gives us the example of Chinese immigrants not as citizens but with white privilege in comparison to black citizens who had no such privileges or access to white society at the time. While the Chinese immigrants were not American by nature they gained access to white citizenship privileges by being a lesser deviation from the standard than black Americans.

In further arguments she touches upon the conflict of bestowing citizenship on a territory, of which the United States still has several, although citizenship could be delayed and even with non-citizenship status their children would become natural born citizens of the United States and therefore be given all rights and privileges that come with it. I correlated this concept with the phenomena of anchor babies from Mexico to the United States, children of Mexican immigrants who come to the United States, whether legally or not, and have naturalized children. When said child comes of a certain age they have the right as a U.S. to bring family to the United States and with time they can become U.S. citizens as well. As American citizens anchor babies are “incorporated” into society and gain access to education, healthcare, language and culture, and can become extremely Americanized. To the most extreme they themselves are considered American of a certain heritage or race but have been accepted as simply a deviation from our standard. (With the advent of social media and “American” media displays this is becoming more and more common, speaking from personal experience with family in the U.S., having become citizens through their children)

The US Empirical Mind

The keyword “Empire” is introduced as a debated defining characteristic in modern United States international politics. The term is debated as it carries a connotation of fierce imperialism and past fallen empires. Politicians and pundits alike tended to avoid this term in the past in order to protect and defend the United States’ identity as one acting in the interests of democracy and the betterment of foreign nations. “The use of the concept of Manifest Destiny instead of ‘empire’ gave divine sanction to U.S. expansion and implied that it was a natural and nonviolent process” (Streeby, 97). A religious aspect derived from the early Puritanical belief system adopted throughout United States history by settlers to current politicians alike, Manifest Destiny ‘gave’ the United States a God-given right and responsibility to intervene in international affairs as a police force of democracy.

This concept of the United States as a police force is universally regarded in international politics. In the recent series of crises in Syria, the United States intended to act in its stereotypical empirical manner by intervening when chemical weapons were used against civilians reportedly by the Syrian government. Even as the UN voted against United States military action against Syria, the empirical mind of the nation still considered acting upon its “god given calling” to react in the face of international war crimes and repression of democracy. Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the US public through an article in the New York Times spelling out international opinion, albeit a Russian biased one, on the empirical actions of the United States. (see: A Plea for Caution From Russia) “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us” (Putin). Putin explains his personal opinion, shared by others in the international community, that the United States attempts to act as a model for democracy but our actions are perceived as aggressive and often times out of line with what is expected in international affairs.

There are undoubtably occurrences where US involvement in foreign countries have strayed from their original purposes and been considered out of line by the greater international community. However, in many of these cases the UN and other first world powers failed to intervene themselves. There have also been scenarios that called for foreign assistance and the United States failed to get involved, such as Rwanda where a lack of intervention allowed a genocide to occur. This raises the question if the United States does have a responsibility to intervene in affairs if no other power attempts to alleviate the issue at hand. Conversely, who is to say that democracy or the morals and values of the United States are the standard to which other nations must hold themselves to? Regardless, the past responses of the United States in foreign affairs can only be expected to repeat themselves in the face of actions against the value system of the US.

 

 

Normalization of Empire/White/American Imperialism

These readings evoke so many emotions and discomforts that it is hard to know where to begin. But I suppose that really, that is the place to begin coming from the perspective of someone who is “homegrown American.” I grew up in a tiny town in the middle of rural Kansas where “red” is the norm and “blue” is antagonistic moral degradation, where every family in town was White save one Black family, where people speak with disdain and blatant racism about Mexican immigrants (and non-immigrants, although they wouldn’t even take a moment to think that many of these people are probably second-generation and therefore just as “American” as they), and where patriotism and service in the military is paid the utmost respect.

Therefore, reading an academic analysis of these sentiments about American empire and “greatness,” whiteness, ideologies that poises America as the “Defender of Liberty”, and trends that show us leaning toward an US attitude of suspicion, hatred, and racism toward Other–all of this is somehow sickening. It’s mostly sickening because I can see the detrimental effects of all of these ideologies and the power dynamics they seek to enforce working quietly and insidiously and superbly well in the everyday lives and attitudes of so many people with whom I have spent almost my entire life.

What alarms me in the readings of the Keywords and especially Kaplan is this point that is made about the normalization of all of these attitudes. The scholarly work that is being done here to critically examine American ideologies and cultural attitudes is fantastic–and so essential at that–but I can’t shake the feeling that somehow, these voices are not being heard by the general public, nor will they be.

In a nation that is simply as huge as the US, how do we confront this problem of truth-telling? When the majority of the population will never pick up an academic article about critical American studies, how do we begin to change attitudes and effect these shifts in ideology that Kaplan so nobly calls for? When the nation is lucky to have barely a majority listening to the election speeches of US presidential candidates, and when those speeches are questionable at best as far as the promotion of American values, how do we change the attitude concerning the “American empire” as a people? When major magazines are publishing articles that prey on the American fear of losing its status as a world leader? How do we begin to stop accepting these norms?

The more I read about American cultural studies, the more I become aware that “American values” which seem to be so simple–freedom, human dignity, democracy, opportunity–are incomprehensibly laced with a powerfully “interested” (and by that I mean affected by myriad Interests with a capital “I”) vocabulary and rhetoric. And I am amazed by how effective this rhetoric truly is. I’ve seen the evidence my whole life. I couldn’t even begin a conversation with most of the people I know from home about this subject. It is so deeply ingrained–this belief in the American empire and its righteousness and its White and exclusionary identity–in these people, that it would be incomprehensible to try to deconstruct such a “Truth.” The question coming from across the table would be: why does something that is true and normal have to be questioned?

I see concepts of Empire and Whiteness and America as keywords being inexplicably connected by this normalization. Somehow the US “mind” has circumvented tricky ideological obstacles with a great amount of rhetoric and strategic positioning, and allowed itself to occupy a position of unquestioned power. Where do we even come across the idea that we can comfortably call ourselves an empire? That we can even throw the term around? That we can romanticize it and find ourselves “special” enough to give ourselves this label? This alone speaks to the danger in the vocabulary with which a group of people wields power. The power to name is not to be underestimated–as long as the US continues to define itself on its own terms and without opening its ears to other perspectives, especially in a globally conscious world, it will continue its ascent/descent (??) into a vortex of disillusionment.

Discomfort Regarding Mass Agreement of America as an Empire

When I read Amy Kaplan’s Presidential Address, I was shocked to hear that most scholars agree that America is an empire; from conservative writers across the political spectrum such as Charles Krauthammer, to liberal “reluctant imperialists,” America is accepted to have been formed as and to currently be an empire. Even public figures such as Dick Cheney are in on this semantic movement.
What are the repercussions of America accepting itself as empire? As some have hoped, “coming out” of the empire closet (Streeby 190) does not reduce the strength of the imperialism. “Empire,” as it applies to us, ceases to be the dirty word that it was when it was associated with former empires. When political leaders and pundits agree on what America is and has been, from a humanitarian, democratic, bottom-up vantage point, why should we want to be associated with imperialistic past empires? What do we have to gain by associating the American Empire with Roman, Spanish, and British empires?
I think our acceptance of our empire, accounting for both of Streeby’s narratives, is one framework through which our American Exceptionalism manifests itself in material, harmful ways. Because we see ourselves as morally superior, as champions of “universally-accepted” ideals such as freedom and democracy, we go as far as to wage modern holy wars, violently deciding who is on which side of humanity (a la Bush at Guantanamo). On the side, we yield our “soft power” to maintain our powerful status.
This summer, I worked at a camp named “American Village,” which was located in France. I spent July as a skit-making, ESL-teaching tendril in the machine of supporting our empire by means of soft power. Because of our continued Manifest Destiny, we feel just in spreading at the international level, and truly believing, “America, God Shed His Grace on Thee.”
On a more speculative standpoint, I end with this assertion: the prevailing sentiment willingly aligns us with the Roman Empire’s might because we want to secure our place in history as working tendrils of the American Empire. Both the conservatives and “reluctant imperialists” Kaplan identifies are proud to be theorizing from within American borders because they believe this will be the “right” side of history.

Identity / Narratives

Kaplan traces the origins of empire building through particular narratives that have sustained and legitimized a violent and imperial “manifest destiny” within a global setting. These narratives include, but are not limited to, a coming-out narrative, a “reluctant imperialist” narrative, and a narrative of race (4-5). The discourses surrounding these narratives, and especially the specific language employed, are paramount to the ways the American empire-state is understood and mobilized for political gains. Kaplan suggests, for example, that the term homeland implies an ahistorical solidified entity that doesn’t take into account immigrant national identities or their conceptions of what a homeland might look like(8). Language is crucial in working through these rather abstract concepts, and Kaplan urges American Studies scholars to be especially attuned to this, for language has the potential in disrupting the narratives surrounding American imperialism (not only by dissecting the often contradictory and vacant characteristics of words such as democracy, freedom, and homeland, but Kaplan also discusses the politically subversive nature of translation/translating and the potential this has for mobilizing particular narratives surrounding Guantanamo Bay, pg 9 ). I found the portion about Guantanamo Bay fascinating in the way Kaplan describes the rather “ambiguous” space that it hovers within, and within this ambiguity lies a “ground zero”, she suggests, for further empire-building endeavors. It complicates, in a very necessary way, the spaces across the country (and I’m thinking in particular army/naval bases: How would an “American” feel if there were Chinese army bases in Wyoming?”) in which empire-building inhabits carefully constructed zones caught in messy diplomatic webs of entanglement that prevent interference or transparency.

The way I probe a conversation between the Kaplan piece and the Moon-Kie Jung piece on White Supremacy is through this idea of the relational America that Kaplan brings up. In other words, she argues that we must see “America” as “a comparative concept” that “changes shape in relation to competing claims to that name and by creating demonic others (11). In expanding on this racialized Other narrative, Jung puts forth a rather compelling argument of the ways in which America has always been an empire-state built on a “web of crisscrossing discursive and practical ties” along a white supremacist field. Jung uses legal court cases to demonstrate the ways in which “racial subjection of one was related to the racial subjection of the other (13)” and how the web of white supremacy leads to “imbrications of colonial and noncolonial imperial subjection. (17). Both the Dred Scott decision and the outcome of Chae Chan Ping v. United States required the court to review/reexamine/construct new ways of identifying and dealing with ethnicities outside the specific details of the decisions. This underscores the interconnectedness of minority groups that both Kaplan and Jung bring light to. In drawing on these legal cases, Jung illustrating the active definitions and constructions of the Other and what it meant to constantly reinforce the us/them divide in regards to citizenship, land ownership, and constitutional liberty.

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Here is a link to a page featuring sketches of the tribunals at Guantanamo Bay by Janet Hamlin (which, given the incredible amount of security, “her artwork is the primary visual record of the proceedings.”

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/9/16/an-artist-at-guantanamobay.html

Empire at the Core

This past week I’ve been thinking a lot about the convergence of slavery and American independence, and especially trying to figure out the extent to which the institution of slavery actually made democracy possible in the United States. For a long time I was taught—and tacitly prescribed to—the conventional decree that slavery was the nation’s “original sin,” or a “birth defect” of American democracy. These narratives insinuate that slavery is something of a historical anomaly in American history, some spilled ink on an otherwise divinely pristine landscape. The truth is that the stark racial and economic inequalities that slavery produced were instrumental to the broad appeal of a national identity among an ascendant white aristocracy during the mid- to late-18th century. As both Benedict Anderson and Gloria Anzaldúa have outlined, the provenance of nation-building and border construction emerged out of an imagined fraternity, and were used as a tool of exclusion and domination. Nikhil Pal Singh centers this idea in the context of American citizenship in “Rethinking Race and Nation”:

“If whiteness became the privileged grounding and metaphor for the empty abstraction of US citizenship, blackness presented an apparent contradiction and a fixed limit against which it was enacted and staged…blacks presented the anomaly of an exclusion that was at once foundational to and located within the polity.” (10)

This week, Moon-Kie Jung’s piece, “Constituting the U.S. Empire-State and White Supremacy,” offers a convincing argument regarding how, in addition to being a nation that materialized directly because of a racial hierarchy, the United States has been, since even before its inception, an “empire-state,” rather than simply a “nation-state.” Jung frames a distinction between a nation-state, which implies “politically uniform populations of citizens, or state members” (3), and an empire-state, which is “not horizontally uniform but hierarchically differentiated,” offering selective access to rights and privileges to its peoples. The structures of the empire-state had been established well before U.S. independence, as Jung points out that during colonial rule,

“A royal proclamation in 1763 had drawn a line along the Appalachian Mountains to keep Indians and white settlers apart, prohibiting, if futilely, the latter from the western portion, which extended to the Mississippi River and was designated Indian territory…The very formation of the U.S. state hinged on lands occupied by Indians but over which it asserted ultimate sovereignty.” (5)

Jung goes on to detail how territorial domination and claims to land were codified in the U.S. constitution (6) and subsequently engineered much of the United States’ acquisitions of former colonies like Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico in the latter half of the 19th century.

Today, debates about the United States’ imperialist practices around the globe percolate every so often, but the dialogue frequently reverts to Manichean “good” vs. “bad” terminology, excising much of the important history that Jung incorporates. It would behoove our “nation”—be it a state or an empire—to read and reflect on the prevailing conditions and ideologies presented by Jung and others in order to understand and square with the deeply troubling foundation of our country.

The Power of Language

I found the amount of power held within language fascinating in Moon-Kie Jung’s article and Shelley Streeby’s definition of “empire”. Both pieces illustrated how the personal with the loudest voice is the one who gets heard, and that has lead to countless problems within our country and the world. A man of power could speak gibberish and still have the following of his people, as long as the gibberish sounds convincing. This overwhelming power hidden behind something as pedestrian as language cannot be ignored. Articles such as these are important because they serve as a reminder to everyone that the powerful are not the only ones who can have a loud voice, despite what history shows.

Our choice of words proves interesting when we look at how the United States defines itself: as a nation-state versus an empire-state. The two words may seem similar at first, but being labeled as one or the other has the ability to make or break a country. The problem with empires, as seen by the United States, is that they ultimately fall, as history has shown. Because of the seeming inevitability of the downfall of empires, as well as other reasons, the United States has proudly labeled itself a nation-state. As Jung discusses, being a nation-state involves “a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Jung 2), meaning members of a nation-state enjoy equal access to all aspects of the nation-state. In contrast, an empire-state is “not horizontally uniform but hierarchically differentiated” (Jung 3). By looking at these two definitions, there is no question on how to define the United States. It is almost laughable to think that the U.S. is perceived as a nation-state, but this belief is so widely spread that there has to be some truth behind it.

As the articles suggest, the United States has spent a lot of time working on her reputation as a wonderful nation-state, a place where all are welcome, a protector of the marginalized people of the world. However, a quick look at our history suggests completely otherwise. I bet that if I asked the 30 people in the room with me right now if any of them or their ancestors had been oppressed by the United States, more than half of them would respond affirmatively. With this in mind, I find it absurd that our country as a whole so widely believes that we are the perfect country that escaped the ruins of colonialism, racism, genocide, and all the other ailments we see in other “Third-World” countries. We are far from being a perfect nation-state where every voice is heard and accounted for, as the people of Puerto Rico and Guam would argue, as well as the Native American populations that have so long been oppressed. The widespread belief of U.S. exceptionalism amazes me more when I think about how untrue it really is. There has to be an extreme force behind the idea that continues to make it believed in our society, and I believe that force is language.

For as long as the United States has been a country, our mentality has always been to promote ourselves as the greatest of the great. This has fostered an attitude in our country that we can do no wrong. Even if we perform the exact same action as another country, they did it maliciously, whereas the Perfect United States did it in the better interest of the world. This is because our government has always used a language that puts our actions into a positive light, and since our voices are usually the loudest, those are the ideas that become most widespread. This use of language is exhibited, for instance, in our taking of western territory and thereby colonizing the Native America lands, but calling it “westward movement” rather than colonization. Westward movement sounds like a great thing that does not marginalize any people but instead betters the lives of Americans. Because it is framed in such light, most Americans saw no problem with stripping the Natives of their lands. Similar tactics were used during the Spanish-American War when the government portrayed the U.S. forces as liberators rather than conquerors. Obviously, the Spanish were doing wrong, therefore we had full rights to walk into their lands, kill people, take over, and implement our cultural norms. Something as simple as using positive language as opposed to negative language has fundamentally shaped our country, how we as citizens think about it, and how the world thinks about us.

After examining this overwhelming power of language, I am left thinking of how we can use the power of the loudest voice for our own good. The media in this day and age plays such a huge role in the nation’s thinking as a whole, and I believe we must begin to call the United States what it is: an empire-state. We must take pieces such as Moon-Kie Jung’s, spread them across the country, and counteract the power of the government by using their own weapon: language. Perhaps if the notion of U.S. exceptionalism is eradicated, our country will no longer feel the need to constantly intervene in foreign affairs as ultimate protector of the world. Perhaps we will begin to recognize the unequal standings between citizens and also between non-citizens, and we can then address the huge issues within our own country that many want to ignore.

whiteness, empire and the future of our nation

In State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States, Moon-Kie Jung criticizes the United States’s national rhetoric, suggesting that it is empire, not nation, that has dictated the American order. While the US claims to be descendant of a tradition of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the reality of this mantra has only largely been true for whites.

As explored in the “Whiteness as Normal” post, the construction of race is central to the issue of white supremacy in the United States. Whereas in previous centuries, racial constructions were largely class and origin based, the American frontier required a more simplified, colorized system in order to better secure and maintain white privilege. Within this understanding, Jung’s position on empire becomes more clear.

Whereas nation is synonymous with country, state, and sovereign, empire is synonymous with power, supremacy, domain, organization. Given that the United States was founded on the backs of slaves and by the slaughter of natives, it is difficult to conceive of the United States as sovereign when it systematically created subjugated and marginalized peoples. This reading made me think back to the 1790 Naturalization Act which enabled any white person with “good moral character” to gain citizenship after two years of residence in the States. It appears that since the founding of our nation, whiteness has been a precursor for citizenship and in many respects humanity.

How does one view these sentiments of empire within the modern post-apartheid American state? As race becomes more ambiguous, what are the new standards of whiteness? How are these standards of whiteness upheld? To what extent do debates regarding institutionalized racism alienate or aid people’s understandings? Given that many “minorities” are active service members, how does the US’s white empire play into our construction of patriotism? Can one truly be patriotic of a legal entity that so blatantly and repeatedly discriminates under the premise of freedom and justice? How will the increasing diversity of the United States upset our understandings of whiteness?

But more importantly, given this understanding, how will we educate the children of the United States in the future? Will the recent Arizona ruling become the norm, or will comprehensive “ethnic studies” allow for the de-centering of whiteness and a reconstruction of our history? Will we be able to construct a healthy national narrative from our imperial past? Or is our empire still growing?

 

 

 

 

 

The American Empire

Amazingly, prior to the 9/11 events and 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the word “empire” usually had a negative connotation. It is my belief (with the help of Keywords) that America was essentially an “empire in denial” prior to that. As Amy Kaplan says, “I have argued that the denial and disavowal of empire has long served as the idealogical cornerstone of U.S. imperialism and a key component of American exceptionalism.” America may not be an empire in the traditional sense, like those that came before them and had colonies, but certainly are in terms of how they advance their ideas and concepts throughout the world.  From consumer culture, to intervention in foreign conflict, and the entire Middle East saga, these are just a few examples.

America has always acted imperialistic, but rather than call themselves an empire from the start, it was referred to as “Manifest Destiny.”  Manifest Destiny gave divine sanction to U.S. expansion and implied that it was a natural and nonviolent process (Keywords, 97).  Noted conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, “The fact is no country has been as dominant culturally, economically, technologically and militarily in the history of the world since the Roman Empire.”

America, The Empire, has a nice ring to it.  Being an empire means the nation can continue to do these actions which they seemingly enjoy and have an interest in.  I believe with their imperialistic practices that the hegemonic power that likes to play “World Cop” is absolutely an empire.  Concluding these readings, two questions I had: Why was there so much fear and stigma attached with being referred to as an empire, and what can America do next to further themselves as a global superpower?

Whiteness as Normal

In State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States, Moon-Kie Jung discusses the idea of the “American empire” and argues that, “the United States has never been a nation-state; the United States has always been an empire-state; [and] the United States has always been a racial state, a state of white supremacy” (Jung, 1).  Jung breaks down the origins and development of the United States and analyzes how this deconstruction of the United States has led to racial constructions and racial formations, and in particular, the formation of white supremacy.

I especially liked Jung’s analysis of the reconceptualization of the U.S. state, and how he proves how the United States has never been a nation-state, but rather, has always been an empire-state, because of the societal hierarchy in place, and the resulting conversation of whiteness as dominant.  For instance, Jung sates how, “the United States has not been a nation-state in a fundamental, square-peg-in-a-round-hole sense…By virtue of the assumed internal horizontality of nations, nation-states imply politically uniform populations of citizens, of state members,” and that, “The United States has never come close to achieving these political ‘ideals’ and, in all probability, is constitutionally, both literally and figuratively, incapable of doing so” (Jung, 3).

As a result, our nation embraces the empire-state because our system is hierarchically differentiated and “In terms of belonging or membership, the peoples of an empire-state effectively, through de jure and de facto practices, have differential access to rights and privileges” (Jung, 3).  Consequently, this “access to rights and privileges,” speaks to the underwritten nature of white supremacy and “the taken-for-granted certainty of white dominance” in our society (Jung, 3 & 7).  And unfortunately, the fact that white dominance so often goes unrecognized or unacknowledged also makes that access to rights and privileges also go unacknowledged, which leads the continuation of oppressive structures in our society that perpetuate racial inequality.

Jung’s conversation ties extremely well with Pamela Perry’s definition of “‘white’ as a socially and historically constructed identity, a cluster of racialized norms and performances, and a set of privileges” (Perry, 243).  Just as Jung discusses, Perry argues that whiteness allows for certain privileges and therefore, sets up an automatic hierarchy based on race.  In addition, because “‘white power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular,’” and is often defined by what it is not instead of defined by what it actually is, whiteness is extremely exclusionary because it has no concrete definition and it has no set standard, despite the fact that whiteness is considered the “norm” or “normal” (Perry 243-245).  Therefore, because there is never a set definition for whiteness and is therefore always exclusionary by principle, whiteness continues to remain a construct in our society that racially excludes and is perpetually an oppressive force in our social hierarchies.

Therefore, in Perry’s words, what further can we do to continue to “destabilize white cultural and political hegemonies in the United States and abroad” (Perry, 246)?  How far back do these hegemonies go, with respect to the history of the United States, and how long will it take for these hegemonic beliefs to be completely dismantled?