Naming and Erasing

An image of a news headline on USA Today regarding Justin Trudeau

By Stacie Swain

The framing of tragedies by government officials and state actors in the USA and Canada this past week raise questions regarding the boundaries around “victims” and related categories – “perpetrators” or often in modern times, “terrorists” – and how such shifting boundaries are constructed and contested through strategies of naming and erasing. Continue reading “Naming and Erasing”

Immigration and Two Forms of Identification

An image of signs at an immigration protest in BaltimoreRecognizing identifications as narrative constructs or fixed identities organizes the world in particular ways that inform the debate over the immigration order that Trump issued last Friday, shutting down admission of refugees for 120 days and banning citizens of 7 predominately Muslim countries from entering the US for 90 days. Certainly, one aspect of the debate hinges on a person’s willingness to generalize an entire nationality as a threat, as some have asserted that everyone from those countries hates the United States, but these two models of identification also serve different functions in different settings.

Continue reading “Immigration and Two Forms of Identification”

Miss Japan and the Structures We Inhabit

An image of Michelle and Barack Obama holding handsThe recent selection of Miss World Japan has created a stir. The BBC headline “Miss Japan Won By Half-Indian Priyanka Yoshikawa” forefronted only the aspect of her heritage that some found problematic because they do not see Yoshikawa as “pure” Japanese. Last year’s crowning of Ariana Miyamoto as Miss Japan (in the Miss Universe franchise) faced similar responses, as Miyamoto’s parents are Japanese and African-American. While it is easy to see these controversies as signs of the insularity and even xenophobia of some Japanese (which ironically reinforces particular stereotypes of Japan as foreign), that designation is unfair in two ways. First, these two Japanese women and their supporters have challenged such attitudes in Japan, thus refuting the generalizability of the stereotype. Second, such preferences for ethnic purity among some in Japan are not as different from common attitudes in the United States. Continue reading “Miss Japan and the Structures We Inhabit”

Home Is Where We’re Not

A cover of a book called

One of our department’s former students just published a collection of her poems and, reading it the other night, one in particular caught my attention for the way it so nicely, so succinctly, captured the role alienation and nostalgia play in acts of identification.

A poem about Geography

I don’t think I need much commentary here, other than to say that distance brings things into a new perspective, helping us to edit, select, focus, and, yes, overlook and even forget…, such that our idea of home is the result of finding ourselves elsewhere and identity is the product of discovering what we’re not.

Dorothy tapping her heels together told us as much.

Who Gets Thrown Under the Bus

A picture of Sikh getting Starbucks

The Daily Show’s recent sketch about Waris Ahluwalia and the problematic assumptions that those who wear turbans and identify as Sikhs continually face illustrates quite well the challenge of describing various communities. The segment highlights the efforts of some self-identified Sikhs to engage the broader public with information about their community and practices. Continue reading “Who Gets Thrown Under the Bus”

Now You Have Taken It Too Far

A statue of HerodotusThis semester I’m teaching an introductory course on the Study of Religion, that is, looking at scholarly definitions and scholarly approaches to the study of religion. We’re exploring among other things, together with my students, questions like what is the study of religion? What is at stake in naming/defining/classifying things in this or that way? Although this early in the semester one question that prevails is: Continue reading “Now You Have Taken It Too Far”

Fighting Exclusion with Exclusion

A truck driving down a sand duneDonald Trump’s position statement last week excluding Muslims from entering the United States generated a round of bipartisan condemnation, as the White House spokesperson asserted that the statement disqualified Trump from the Presidency and Dick Cheney, among others, argued that the position “goes against everything we stand for and believe in.” While I certainly agree that Trump’s discriminatory approach should be rejected, the effort to exclude the excluder invites reflection on acts of identification. Continue reading “Fighting Exclusion with Exclusion”

Is Your Group Oppressed?

Ten Commandments in Austin State Capitol“A war against Christianity,” a friend on Facebook asserted, as he pointed to examples in the United States and around the world. The shooting at Umpqua Community College recently and the various occasions when ISIS has executed people identified as Christians provided prime examples. Others making similar claims point to shifts in US policy, including the removal of the Ten Commandments from schools and courthouses, restrictions on official prayer at public schools, and movements to remove “God” from the Pledge and US money. Continue reading “Is Your Group Oppressed?”

Love, Community, and Cow Urine

Garba danceConstructing and maintaining a group, a community, requires significant effort, and at times that effort generates disagreements. In India, an organization announced this week that they were restricting admission to Garba, a traditional dance that is a major component of Navratri, a nine-night festival honoring the goddess. Only people recognized as Hindus can participate, banning specifically those identified as Muslim. A local leader of the VHP, an organization associated with Hindu nationalism, asserted, “Incidents of love jihad where Muslim boys lure and marry our Hindu girls happen at Garba. Our only aim is to protect our girls.” Continue reading “Love, Community, and Cow Urine”