Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Identity; or, Identification (Cont’d.)

September 12th, 2009 · No Comments

     This post is in response to the excerpt that Professor Qualls shared with us from his upcoming book. In this introductory chapter, he raises several key points which translate into our discussions about race, ethnicity and identification in London.

     First, he uses the term “identification” rather than “identity.” I feel that this terminology is much more appropriate – even somehow liberating – in that it implies a choice and agency whereas the term “identity” connotes a sense of inescapability.  

     Second, Professor Qualls claims that “[a]s with memory, urban identifications are both internally and externally manufactured.” This can be seen in London, especially. The language barrier and cultural difference that immigrants inevitably experience coming to a foreign country certainly play a role in this “process of identification.” It is reasonable that immigrant communities would identify much more readily with a community that theirs their cultural, religious and linguistic traditions. It is the external forces, then, that cause problems.

     Indeed, Qualls mentions that “[i]dentification can be either categorical or relational.” When outsiders (external forces) categorize or imagine relationships between immigrant groups where none might exist at all*, they are essentially “othering” those populations, isolating them from the rest of society and making it virtually impossible for any foreigner to feel comfortable here, let alone the possibility of “assimilation” – which I think is a completely ethnocentric idea to begin with.

     It is not the responsibility of immigrant populations to adapt to the country in which they are residing, so long as they learn to respect that country. But this is a two-way-street. Locals must also learn to respect those immigrant populations which whom they share their space.

     Particularly in London, these unique immigrant communities are what makes the city uniquely “London.” Or, to, yet again, quote Qualls: “maintaining past traditions was essential to the stability and happiness of the population, which in turn would reflect well on the central regime.”


*Some of you may remember the story Andrew Fitzgerald, Andrew Barron and I shared with you at the beginning of the course: At our market in Elephant and Castle, we witnessed an altercation between a darker-skinned customer and a white, cockney fruit and veg vendor. The vendor called the customer a “Paki” and obviously had no legitimate basis for determining this man’s ethnicity. Just because the customer had darker skin, the cockney vendor “related” him to a Pakistani. This is a dangerous comparison which only serves to fuel racism.

Tags: Anya

Identity and Immigration

September 7th, 2009 · 4 Comments

     Over my one-pound-fifty take-out lunch that I brought back to the garden, Megan and I discussed last week’s blog topic: identity and immigration. “I just have no idea where I’m going to take this,” I said. “We’ve done so much reading about this already, I just feel like I have nothing new to say.” Megan agreed, saying that she felt as though she had done all the research, knew all the background information, and was just struggling to “find a conclusion.” I think we both really had valid points here.

     It is impossible to form any sort of thesis about identity and immigration in London because of the essence of London. It is, according to one of our Guardian readings on race, “a city with immigrants” rather than “a city of immigrants,” like New York. London is definied by its ever-shifting immigrant populations. If one were to establish some sort of grasp on what immigration means to London today, and what London means to immigrants today, it would shift within a matter of years and become obsolete. Immigration is part of what makes London London, and therefore, there is nothing new to say about it because it has always been this way, and will continue to be.

     Perhaps this blog is too short, perhaps some of you will think it was ill-structured, poorly thought-out or had no new ideas to introduce to the reader. Well, you may be right. However, over-analyzing immigrant populations – identifying where the Afro-Caribbean communites or the Polish communities or the Jewish, Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani communities are located – only serves to further isolate these populations from one another and from the rest of British culture. We’ve discussed the topic to death. What we need to do now is look at the issue from a new vantage point, or even better, from no vantage point at all. If we accept immigrants as Londoners, and cease to discuss these populations as separate entities, then the possibility of a new London would be possible.

Tags: Anya