No, Where Are You Really From? The Impact of Categorizing Others

This month we are publishing Becoming Diasporically Moroccan by Lauren Wagner. In this post the author discusses the themes of microaggression and othering that are explored in her book.

© Kiyun Kim – from Racial Microaggressions, December 2013

Contrary to the typical imagination of discriminatory speech being direct and obvious, othering or categorizing statements often happen more subtly through microaggression. It can be understood as the ways underlying stereotypes about race, class, gender, and other social attributes are reproduced in casual encounters – like the experience of the woman in the picture on the right, from photographer Kiyun Kim’s project on microaggressions in a NYC university (For more testimonies, see the Microaggressions Tumblr or this nice video at Quartz with examples from film and TV). Microaggressions can be found anywhere, and experienced by anyone who might find their own sense of identity and belonging inadvertently or purposefully stereotyped by someone else. As they are becoming more widely researched and recognized as fostering social divisions, universities around the US are mandating that incoming students learn about the negative impacts of microaggression on their peers.

Yet, the existence of ‘microaggression’ is coming under attack by media and researchers, who question many of the claims made about potentially negative impacts of subtle speech. In Becoming Diasporically Moroccan, I try to show how the very subtle communicative and embodied modes for categorizing others do have an impact – not necessarily a direct and immediate one, but a cumulative and collective impact, as whole communities can come to feel ‘othered’ by the repetition, across members and over time, of small speech acts that create distinctions between us and them. This book doesn’t concentrate on how ‘othered’ groups feel harmed; rather, I try to focus on how othering contributes to evolving ideas of membership, participation, and a sense of belonging in an emerging group.

Let me take the example from the photograph above to illustrate how categorization happens in ordinary conversation.

No, where are you really from?

This is a question I hear quoted all the time by my research participants as one of the most troublesome ones they receive. While they are Moroccan-origin individuals who grew up in Europe, they share the problem of many migrant-origin individuals around the world of somehow not being allowed to be ‘from’ the place where they grew up.

The person asking this question may be on a genuine quest for information, but this includes layered, embedded assumptions that make it microaggressive. It is, firstly, context-specific, and depends on local knowledges and shared assumptions about what is ‘normal’; what should a person who is from somewhere look, sound, or be like? That leads to a second factor: that statement takes into account some kind of visible embodiment as categorizable in a combination of place (e.g. the somewhere she is from) and descent (or, the family lineage she comes from). This statement makes an assumption that place and descent map onto each other following a ‘normal’ category. Asking where she is really from implies that her claim to be from that somewhere is impossible. When these assumptions work together, they perpetuate this kind of (maybe unintentional…) microaggression, where this woman may feel like she has to justify being from the somewhere she feels she is from.

No wonder she is rolling her eyes…

Categorization at ‘home’

In Becoming Diasporically Moroccan, I pick apart face-to-face interactions where similar kinds of categorizing talk takes place, but in a different kind of context. Instead of looking at how Moroccan-origins manage their categorization in their European homelands – which might be compared to how lots of other minorities and migrant-origin groups have to deal with microaggression within a dominant (often ‘white’) group – this book looks at how these categorizations take place between Moroccans who live in Morocco and Moroccan-origin adults who visit Morocco from Europe. Like some other communities that develop in one place and can trace their familial descent to another place, Moroccans have a chance to regularly visit ‘home’. When they do, however, they often feel ‘othered’, in the opposite way to how many feel ‘othered’ in Europe.

By looking at individual examples of interactions in marketplaces, between resident Moroccan vendors and Moroccans-from-Europe, I show the subtle conversational details of how this ‘othering’ works. My conclusion, however, is not about how one or the other party may be doing wrong… Instead, I advocate that we start to think about how individuals like this – who grow up connected by descent and place to multiple homelands – together create new categories that help us evolve our thinking about where anyone might ‘belong’.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Local Languaging, Literacy and Multilingualism in a West African Society by Kasper Juffermans.

Exploring the identities of female English teachers in Japan

This week we published Diane Nagatomo’s latest book Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan. In this post, Diane explains the issues faced by Western English teachers in Japan and how they form both their personal and professional identities.

Identity, Gender and Teaching English in JapanIn a nutshell, my research interests generally lie in trying to find out what makes EFL teachers tick. In other words, what makes them do the things that they do in the classroom and their beliefs on how they should go about doing them.

For Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan, I focused on the personal and professional identity development of one group of language teachers: foreign women who are married to Japanese men. The ten women portrayed in this book range in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties, and they teach in formal and in informal educational contexts. As wives and mothers of Japanese citizens, they have established deep roots in their local communities throughout Japan. And yet, as non-Japanese, they are not entirely insiders either. In addition, expectations that they should conform to Japanese gendered norms that place priority on the home and the family have shaped nearly every aspect of their lives. Nonetheless, all of the women in my study have demonstrated extraordinary resourcefulness, resilience and resistance in constructing their English language teaching careers.

My goal in writing this book was to let the women tell their own stories: how they operate English conversation school businesses; how they juggle numerous classes in multiple teaching contexts; and how they assimilate into their workplaces as full-time teachers. But I first wanted to situate their stories within the broader sociopolitical context of Japan in the introductory chapters.

So in Chapter 2, I discussed the historical background of language teaching and language learning in some detail, starting with the appearance of the first Europeans in the 1600s and moving to the economic miracle of the 1980s. In Chapter 3, I described the different educational contexts (conversation schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions) that foreigners generally work in, and I discussed how ideologies toward the teaching and the learning of English in Japan have shaped, and continue to shape the careers of foreign and Japanese teachers. In Chapter 4, I looked at interracial relationships from a historical perspective and from a current one. Attitudes that consider Western men to be ideal romantic partners for Japanese women, but on the other hand, do not consider Japanese men to be ideal romantic partners for Western women, have influenced the experiences of all Westerners with Japanese spouses. In addition, I write about how these gendered attitudes have carried over into the classroom and how they shape the learning experiences of the students as well as those of the teachers.

The stories that are told by my participants in this book are uniquely their own. However, as a foreign woman with a Japanese spouse who has been teaching in Japan since 1979, they strongly resonated with me, and I believe that they will resonate with other expatriate teachers, male and female, who teach English abroad as long-term and/or permanent migrants as well.

Dr. Diane Hawley Nagatomo, Ochanomizu University, Hawley.diane.edla@ocha.ac.jp

Exploring Japanese University English Teachers'€™ Professional IdentityFor more information please see our website or contact Diane at the address above. You may also be interested in Diane’s previous book Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’€™ Professional Identity.

Banned from the beach?

With Tourism and Australian Beach Cultures published this week one of the authors, Christine Metusela, tells us about the restrictions that bathers were subject to in Australia.

Can you imagine being banned from bathing in the sea? This was the case in New South Wales, Australia, from the 1830s to 1903. At this time the state government banned bathing in the sea in public view between 6 am and 8 pm. Our book, Tourism and Australian Beach Cultures, explores why bathing was banned and the political and cultural processes that subsequently transformed the beach. We begin by exploring the dominant moral values of the British colonial gentry that led to the ban on daylight bathing in public view, even at beach resorts in New South Wales. The focus of the book then traces the emergence of the bathing reserve, bathing ordinances and beach inspectors as mechanisms given to municipal authorities to restore respectability to a growing number of middle-class people that bathed, swam or sunbathed at the beach. The transformation of beach cultures is examined in terms of the implications of new forms of mobility like the train and car, along with the emergence of swimming clubs and surf clubs among the middle-classes that changed understandings of ‘race’, masculinity and healthy bodies. These ideas are illustrated drawing on examples form the Illawarra, some 80 kilometres south of Sydney.

‘Seaside Holiday… Sunburn and laughter and a dipping sea’ (The Australian Women’s Weekly 1933, 25 November)

When this front cover of The Australian Women’s Weekly was released in November 1933, bathing ordinances provided a set of rules governing the bathing costumes of both men and women. Until the mid1930s, men and women could be fined for not wearing a costume that measured three inches in the leg. Bathing ordinances also required men to cover their chests, and conceal their penis behind a skirted trunk. Yet, as this illustration from The Australian Women’s Weekly suggests (along with photographs in our book of bathers at the beaches of the Illawarra), these rules were difficult to enforce.

Under African Skies

Multilingual Matters author Allyson Jule shares her experiences of visiting Cameroon to talk about her research on gender roles.

I had been to Cameroon before – about twenty years ago. I married a man whose Canadian parents raised him in Cameroon’s Northwest Province. When I first saw Africa as a young woman, it was to see the place my husband calls home. It was exotic and thrilling but ultimately remote from my own life. However, last year an opportunity arose for me to lead a travel study for ten of my university students to Cameroon. When I told my husband, he jumped at the chance to join me – and he did, along with our children.

Allyson visiting children in Cameroon

I had come across the University of Buea when researching gender roles in Africa more generally. As a feminist scholar, I was happy to discover a rich community of scholars housed at the University of Buea (UB) who were writing about gender issues in Africa. After I read a collection of articles compiled by scholars at UB, I tucked away the idea of visiting the campus one day.

The university was originally established in 1977 as a college for language translation. By 1993, UB had transformed into a fully-fledged university with the Women and Gender Studies department a part of this re-organization. Now with a student population of 14,000 students, the University of Buea is a vibrant centre of innovative scholarship in central Africa, and its Women and Gender Studies programme is a prime example of this. The department offers three degrees: a B.Sc. Double Major, a M.Sc. and a Ph.D. The courses on offer display a rich diversity of topics, ranging from feminist theory to women in agriculture and rural development.

Before setting off on the trip, I studied the university’s website and found faculty research in journals acquired through my own university library. In particular, I came across the work of UB’s Head of Women and Gender Studies and UB’s Director of Academic Affairs, Professor Joyce Endeley, as well as that of her colleague Nalova Lyonga, one of UB’s Deputy vice Chancellors. I contacted Professor Joyce Endeley telling her of my upcoming travel plans and asking if we could meet. It was arranged that I would visit the campus for two days and give two lectures – one to undergraduates and one to graduate students and faculty.

When the day arrived, my husband and children piled into a borrowed jeep and drove me from Limbe to the town of Buea. A bright well-manicured campus of big beautiful trees and flowering bushes stands out on the hill above Buea town and it is within sight of Mount Cameroon, Central Africa’s highest peak.

Much of what I shared came from my book, A Beginner’s Guide to Language and Gender, which I wrote in 2008. My ideas on gendered use of linguistic space caused the most discussion and I was thrilled to have such deep conversations with African scholars who had varying contexts of their own upon which to draw. My idea that teachers in classrooms  ‘gender’ the space by engaging more with their male students was quite-rightly challenged as context specific and reliant on cultural norms. Also, surely the variety of teaching methods would alter this pattern. Perhaps explorations could be done in African contexts concerning gender in classrooms. I was thrilled with the connection and felt like I had met new friends and that more contact would be very possible.

Academics meet up quite regularly for conferences in many countries around the world and I am no exception. I’ve enjoyed plenty of discussions on the issue of gender in the classroom with a variety of scholars around the world, but I have had never had opportunity for such discussions with African scholars.  The professors and students at the University of Buea made me feel so very welcome. I was thrilled with the two day visit. When my husband and children came to collect me at the end of the second day, Prof. Endeley and her colleagues were there to see me off – with hugs!

People listening to Allyson's lecture

Certainly, a highlight of my trip to Cameroon was meeting the students and faculty at the University of Buea. That thirty of them requested copies of my book was also deeply touching, and that Multilingual Matters have now donated these books to the university solidified a sense of relationship across the globe. Cameroon struggles with poverty and a weak infrastructure; I understand this. But spending time with Cameroonians made such realities evaporate. We are all connected and not so far apart. For me, twenty years after first visiting Cameroon, I feel a growing sense of home. What had once felt like an exotic place, too foreign to connect with, had blossomed into a real place, filled with warm, generous, and friendly people.

For additional information on the University of Buea, see http://ubuea.net/. For more information about Allyson and her research please see her website www.allysonjule.com.