The following is a sample paper I made for an ESL project-based class using real, but very limited, research – hence the somewhat simplified writing style and dearth of citations. Still, I think it comes to a legitimate conclusion that is somewhat supported by the data, and the research is on a worthwhile topic.
Gerry thought she was white. She didn’t understand why her teacher always grouped her with Black kids in her recently integrated class. As a biracial, part Japanese and part White, she was not always identified as a member of a minority group, but institutions, including her school, sometimes forced a minority identity on her (“Beyond the Binary”).
Japanese biracials and the communities around them seem to have conflicting opinions on their ethnic identity (Morrison). Some see them (or themselves) as simply Japanese, particularly if they were raised in Japan. Others see their Japanese side as a kind of decoration on their basic Whiteness, something that adds to their basic White identity instead of conflicting with it. Others still see biracial Japanese, and sometimes other Asian ethnicities, as a unique identity of its own. Among these, “haafu” has emerged as a popular descriptor. Unlike the Hawaiian “hapa”, “haafu” refers specifically to Japanese biracials, as it originates from the Japanese word for these people (which originates in the English word “half”).
Like other identities, “haafu” identity can be formed and recognized in many different ways. The psychologist James Paul Gee has divided identities into four categories: Nature, Institution, Discourse, and Affinity. All of these categories share a basic definition of identity. As Gee describes, “When any human being acts and interacts in a given context, others recognize that person as acting and interacting as a certain ‘kind of person’ or even as several different ‘kinds’ at once” (99). I.e., being recognized, not simply being, is an essential part of an identity. The basis for this recognition creates the four categories. For instance, if one is recognized as being a certain “kind of person” because of circumstances of one’s birth, then that identity is called a Nature identity, or N-identity (Gee 102). On the other hand, people can come to have a Discourse identity (or D-identity) “through discourse and dialogue (D-Identities) without the overt sanction and support of ‘official’ institutions that come, in some sense, to ‘own’ those identities” (Gee 103). That is, a D-identity is not sanctioned by an institution (which is an I-identity) or seen as natural (which would be an N-identity). Last, an A-identity is one “shared in the practice of ‘affinity groups’” (Gee 100). Gee gives being a member of a fan club as an example to illustrate that an A-identity is not seen as natural or given by a formal institution, but is formed in practices that one participates in with other people voluntarily. It may seem obvious that a racial identity like “haafu” is an N-identity, but as we shall see, not everyone views “haafu” identity as strictly a matter of nature.
In order to study what kind of identity “haafu” is, I conducted research on people who identify as “haafu”. The methods of this research will be covered in the following section.
In order to study the definition of “haafu” identity, I was faced with several issues. Among them were how to reach a large enough number of people, which questions to ask, how to reduce bias, and whether to focus on quantitative or qualitative data.
To reach a large enough number of people, I decided to reach out to people on the Internet with a simple, short survey. To find people who identify as “haafu”, I joined several groups on Facebook that had “haafu” or “hapa” in the title. I then posted the link to my survey with a short explanation, and hoped that I would gather enough participants that way. I also reached out informally to a small number of people known to me, and told them that they may also pass the survey to anyone they know who might be interested in completing it. In this way, I was able to gather 11 surveyees. I kept the survey short because I did not want people to be afraid to spend the time to answer every question.
I wrote the survey itself to give equal attention to each of Gee’s categories of identity. The reason for this was simply that I did not want to bias the answers by appearing to favor a particular interpretation of “haafu” identity. I assigned two questions to each of the four categories. The reason for the two separate questions was that, as Gee points out, identities are sometimes assigned despite the will of the individual, meaning that people may have different views of their own identities than the people around them. As Gee states, some identities “can be placed on a continuum in terms of how active or passive one is in ‘recruiting’ them” (104). In other words, identities can be given and they can be earned, or sometimes both. I wanted to assess how much people’s own views of their identities matched how other people saw them, so there were one question about self-identity (what one thinks of oneself) and one about other-identity (what one thinks that others think of oneself) for each category. For example, the questions about N-identity said, “People around me see ‘haafu’ identity as a matter of birth” and “I see my ‘haafu’ identity as a matter of birth.” These questions served to find whether there was a difference in whether the individual saw his or her identity as an N-identity and whether he or she thought that other people saw it that way.
Each question had an optional “comments” section as well, which was intended for open-ended elaboration. This means that I mostly focused on quantitative data in order to calculate statistics, but I allowed for qualitative data as well. The reason that I focused on quantitative data was that I suspected that people would rate the different categories of identity differently, and I wanted to be able to find that difference easily and display it in numbers. For that reason, almost all of the questions in the survey were on a scale of 1-5 (a Likert scale). The results of this survey will be given in the next section.
The survey results show that people who identify as “haafu” overwhelmingly consider it an N-identity. They consider their own “haafu” status as coming from natural forces, and believe that others around them also consider it natural. Full results can be seen in Appendix A.
To go into more detail, the mean responses on a scale from 1-5 for the N-identity questions were 4.4 (whether others see “haafu” as an N-identity) and 4.6 (whether the surveyee sees it as an N-identity). No other question had an average higher than 3. The lowest averages were for I-identity. This indicates that people see “haafu” status as similar to the way Gee describes being a twin: “Being an identical twin is a state that I am in, not anything that I have done or accomplished. The source of this state-the ‘power’ that determines it or to which I am ‘subject’-is a force (in this case, genes) over which I had no control” (Gee 101). It seems that the surveyees agreed that “haafu” status fits this description, as a result of nature.
Qualitative comments after the N-identity survey questions confirm surveyees’ opinions that “haafu” status was a result of genes. Two surveyees responded unambiguously that “haafu” (and also “Japanese” and “non-Japanese”) were natural, immutable identities. In their words:
The definition of hafu only depends on whether a person is born from one parent who is non-Japanese, and another who is Japanese.
Haafu means ‘half-Japanese’, or having one Japanese parent, and one non-Japanese parent.
One respondent acknowledged the complications inherent in the topic:
I believe that to be ‘haafu’ you need to be born as such. But identity is complicated, and individuals who fall into this category may not identify as ‘haafu’.
Another surveyee put it quite bluntly in a comment after the D-identity survey items:
Haafu is an absolute circumstance of birth, not a particular experience. There are no degrees of haafu.
In sum, most of the comments reify the status of “haafu” as an N-identity.
Moreover, people who felt that “haafu” was an N-identity were especially unlikely to consider it a D-identity. Gee defines a D-identity against N-identity specifically, using his friend’s “charismatic” identity as an example: “It is not something that one just ‘is’ (‘born with’; note that one cannot be charismatic all alone by oneself on an island)” (103). Appendix B holds a correlation table for each of the quantitative answers. The N-identity questions (#1 and #2) are correlated with the D-identity questions for others (#5) more negatively than any other set of items in the table. In simpler language, people who believe “haafu” is an N-identity (according to themselves or according to others) tend not to think of “haafu” as a personal characteristic like “stubborn”, “charismatic”, or “friendly”, and those who do think of it as a personal characteristic are less likely to consider it natural, genetic, or a matter of birth (and again, most respondents thought it was a matter of birth).
The qualitative comments bring a bit more nuance to the apparent difference between those who view “haafu” as an N-identity and those who view it as a D-identity. One key distinction that surveyees made is in the audience; specifically, among a Japanese audience, “foreign” behavior is more associated with “haafu” identity than “Japanese” behavior is. One surveyee responded:
People will always see me as Haafu no matter how Japanese I act, or even if I get better grades than the rest of the class in [Japanese national language], the assumption is that English will be my ‘thing’. Being able to behave according to Japanese norms is important to me but doesn’t change others’ views. It must be hard for Haafu who were never raised with the second language, foreign parent, or experience of ever living abroad to be viewed with these assumptions when in reality their experience is 100% Japanese.
“Hafu behavior” does seem to get pushed by the media in Japan … As a result, many people are given information from various sources on expected behavior of hafu in Japan…
Other surveyees responded that language skills might identify them more with Japan or with an English-speaking culture, but not with “haafu” in particular.
I tend to not really define myself as “haafu” since that feels kind of vague. Instead I’m more likely to think about myself in relation to the “wholes” (Japaneseness or Americanness, Whiteness) which my behavior feels like it appeals to. So speaking better Japanese makes me feel more Japanese but not more “haafu”.
I am not sure how others view this. I have heard myself being described as “more Japanese” because of behavior but never as more or less haafu.
In other words, “haafu” does not seem to have a set of behaviors associated with it; rather, the two societies that a person identified as “haafu” is presumed to inherit do. Instead of a person identified as “haafu” exhibiting “haafu” behavior, that behavior is instead attributed to Japan or the other country.
One surveyee pointed out the difficulty in measuring identity according to Gee’s definition (recall that Gee’s definition explicitly depends on other people’s thoughts):
It seems extremely nebulous to have people comment on what other people think. People thinking about what others are thinking. Better to ask people for their own views? Otherwise just very foggy.
This may be an inherent difficulty of studying social identity. If, at least in Gee’s conception, an identity is a view of the individual by the people surrounding them, then determining an identity for that person should involve asking many other people rather than the person himself or herself. A researcher would do well to remember that any individual has at best indirect information about their own identities and can only make partially educated guesses about what the “others” that “recognize” them are thinking. A future version of this research should probably rely less on self-assessment for determining identity under Gee’s definition.
The N-identity definition of “haafu” includes reference to at least two other identities typically thought of as N-identities, although the one which provides a salient difference to the majority population depends on the host culture. To illustrate, in Japan, in which the majority identify as Japanese, it is the “foreign” heritage which seems to provide most of the content of a “haafu” identity. Conversely, in a society where Japanese are not the majority, it is Japanese heritage that sets “haafu” apart from other racial identities. Perhaps because most of the characteristics which might be used to identify “haafu” behaviorally are already associated with a larger, more culturally salient group (“foreign” in Japan and “Japanese” elsewhere), it is difficult to describe people as acting “haafu”; instead they act foreign or act Japanese. Characteristics that might be attributed to “haafu” identity are therefore subsumed by these larger groups. Even as an N-identity, “haafu” status is defined only by its relationships to the larger groups and is not thought to constitute an original group itself (notice that even those respondents who insisted that “haafu” was an N-identity defined it with reference to Japaneseness and non-Japaneseness).
It may be that “haafu” does not constitute a “kind of person” to many people at all, much the same way “100 pounds of bananas” is not as much a “kind of thing” as “a banana” or “a bunch of bananas”. Being derived from a combination of the rules of logic and components that are themselves natural classes does not make the result also a natural class. It seems that although people view “haafu” status as the combination of the “kinds of person” that are “Japanese” and “non-Japanese” (which is definitely a “kind of person” in Japanese society), it may not be a “kind of person” itself.
A larger point implied especially by the qualitative responses is that “Japanese” and “non-Japanese” are considered “kinds of person” in ways that “haafu” is not. Notice that no respondent felt the need to define “Japanese” in terms of its component parts. One may object that “non-Japanese” is defined by its component parts (or rather the lack of a particular part), but it must be remembered that Japanese culture tends to treat the foreign world as comprising a homogeneous group of English speakers (Tsuneyoshi). What constitutes a “kind of person” that can be accepted as-is is beyond the scope of this paper, but it seems that where identity is concerned, 1+1 may only equal 1+1, as 2 has no definition of its own.
|People around me see “haafu” identity as a matter of birth.||4.4|
|I see my “haafu” identity as a matter of birth.||4.6|
|People around me consider “haafu” identity to be derived from an institution that grants that status (e.g. a government document or school record).||1.9|
|I regard the official institutional status of my “haafu” identity as important.||2.7|
|People around me see “haafu” identity as a matter of behavior (e.g. “acting Japanese”) or achievement (e.g. bilingual skills).||2.6|
|I see myself as more “haafu” or less “haafu” depending on my behavior and/or achievements.||2.3|
|People around me regard “haafu” identity as a matter of shared appreciation and/or experience.||2.7|
|I regard myself as more “haafu” when I have shared experiences or participate in activities with other people who identify as “haafu”.||2.5|
|People around me see “haafu” identity as a matter of birth.||I see my “haafu” identity as a matter of birth.||People around me consider “haafu” identity to be derived from an institution that grants that status (e.g. a government document or school record).||I regard the official institutional status of my “haafu” identity as important.||People around me see “haafu” identity as a matter of behavior (e.g. “acting Japanese”) or achievement (e.g. bilingual skills).||I see myself as more “haafu” or less “haafu” depending on my behavior and/or achievements.||People around me regard “haafu” identity as a matter of shared appreciation and/or experience.||I regard myself as more “haafu” when I have shared experiences or participate in activities with other people who identify as “haafu”.|
“Beyond the Binary: An Interview with JALT2014 Plenary Speaker Gerry Yokota”. Journal and Proceedings of the Gender Awareness in Language Education Special Interest Group, Vol. 8, 2015, pp. 58-71.
Gee, James Paul. “Chapter 3: Identity as an analytic lens for research in education.” Review of research in education 25.1 (2000), pp. 99-125.
Morrison, Hanna. “Value of ‘haafu’ as a Category in Education Research.” International Journal of Japanese Sociology 28.1 (2019), pp. 170-182.
Tsuneyoshi, Ryoko. “8. Communicative English in Japan and ‘Native Speakers of English’.” Native-speakerism in Japan, edited by Stephanie Ann Houghton and Damian Rivers, Multilingual Matters, 2013, pp. 119-131.