Racism and Nationalism

Over at The Asia Pages Jodi talks about the differentiation of racism and nationalism, and Bluejives follows up with some quotes about nationalism (and thoughts on nationalism and war, plus a link to a funny comic).

I find, as one commenter noted, that racism and nationalism are, of course, different, but that in largely homogenous nations, it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.

The comments I sometimes catch bits of when Lime and I walk down the street, about her, or directed at her: are those examples of racism or nationalism?

When I hear a Korean go off about how bad the Japanese are, because of what “they” did to Korea, is it racism or nationalism?

It’s instructive to look at some of the nationalism and racism in more heterogenous countries, I suppose. In North America, one sees that racism is often decorated with the rhetoric of patriotism—”Those ____s are stealing all our jobs,” for example. Sometimes it’s expressed as a concern for the protection of local traditional culture—this seems to be the arguments behind the opposing of the right to publicly wear Muslim apparel in several European countries. Sometimes, it’s just delivered as simple racism.

And sometimes nationalism is expressed in ways that seem racist. After 9-11, I heard people talk of “bombing them back to the Stone Age”, where “them” couldn’t possibly mean Al-Qaeda… and had to mean either Muslims, or Arabs, or, I suspect, some imaginary conflation of the two.

Sometimes, the difference between nationalism and racism is obvious, and you know it when you see it. When people take pride in things that they have nothing to do with except through the place of their birth, then it seems to me nationalism. I don’t find it offensive, really… no more than any offense against reasonable thinking offends me. We humans will have our passions, choose seemingly silly things to take pride in. I once proudly noted that I’d never heard of an SF writer committing suicide the way so many “literary” writers seem to do. (I may be mistaken in this, of course.)

Racism, though, that gets to me. Racism, it seems to me, tends to manifest in more personal ways, it tends to come up between individuals more often, and tends to sting more, be used more for justifying cruel or nasty actions, and so on.

As for what we sometimes (or often?) see in Korea, perhaps the line seems blurred because it is in fact blurred? Nationalism in a homogenous society is a component of racism, and racism a component of nationalism.

In the future, if Korea homogenizes (which I imagine it will, to some extent, need to do in order to keep its economy running), it will need to move away from a racialised definition of its nation, just as more homogenous nations have already had to do (and are still doing, as it’s an incomplete process in most places). It’s not easy, it’ll bring on growing pains. But you know, it’s really for the best.

C. Douglas Lummis once wrote movingly about societies becoming “democratic versions of themselves”, about how a culture can change without losing some essential quality. For what it’s worth, I would tender that this racism is just as far from the core of what it means to be Korean as racism is from the core of what it means to be, say, a small-town Anglo-Canadian. (I’m speaking from my own limited experience, and yes, racism of course exists in Canada, but it’s not as if it’s commonly understood to be a major part of national identity-building in Canada. There are racists, plenty of then, but even most of them have a hard time convincing themselves that they are racist on nationalist grounds… and racist forms of nationalism are just less endemic there, if you ask me. [I haven’t heard otherwise from the Koreans I’ve know who traveled there.])

Anyway, I’m trying to be positive and believe that it will happen here, as it has begun to happen (and largely progressed well, I think) elsewhere.

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