Haafu, pt. 3: lifeboats

I have to say, this topic gets me more views than almost any other, and while it’s not as if I’m not interested in it I do need some time to get my thoughts in order and reread a few times to check my blind spots.  Therefore I can’t post on it that often, but I just happen to have something I think people might want to read today.  Or more honestly, I have something that I want to write.

Ein volk.


Minority identities are sometimes a bit like lifeboats for those kicked off the leviathan barges of majority identities.  The majority can only see these smaller boats in the water around them, as their own feels more like a permanent geographic location than a moving thing, and wonder why all these people think they’re so special that they need a boat all their own.  To them, minorities are selfishly and wantonly segregating themselves on clearly inferior watercraft. They must really love themselves and hate the barge, which is crazy because the barge is the sturdiest, most equipped and best furnished vessel in these waters.

Barge passengers don’t usually see how other barge passengers keep tossing those people overboard, and how the lifeboat of a minority identity is an alternative to drowning, because it takes a lot of effort and good fortune to climb back aboard the majority identity barge. Even then people will look at your wet clothes and act like they’re doing you a favor by letting you sleep in the engine room.

In short, the majority underestimates how hostile the atmosphere can be within their walls and assumes the only reason minorities would seek to label themselves something other than majority is because they think they’re better because of their difference (i.e., they’re “dividers”).  Actually, individuals may feel that minority status is forced on them and a minority identity is the only thing keeping them from disappearing.

What this has to do with the haafu thing is that I don’t like the term haafu or most of its connotations (worldliness, automatic bilingualism, straddling cultures, fashionableness, etc.).  What I dislike even more than that though is majority Japanese assuming that haafu only take up that identity because they think they’re too good to be normal Japanese or that they’re willfully trying to break down the cultural cohesion of Japanese society.  Like majorities everywhere, the atmosphere that minorities find poisonous has no effect on them and is all but invisible.  So I understand why haafu feel like they need a word for themselves on the same scale of, but different from, Japanese.

You might be thinking individualism is the answer to all this talk about identities, and that labels are for people too weak to stand on their own.  I would have agreed with you a few years ago.  But remember what these boats are for – to feel like you’re a part of something that will outlive you, and as a platform to interact with other boats, because you can be sure that even if you insist on standing alone other people won’t. Group identities meet a fundamental human need and cannot be done away with any more than other social needs. It’s unrealistic to expect people to willingly step away from the vessels they’ve considered home, and it’s especially unfair to demand this only of minorities who are already outnumbered.

So minority assertions of identity, even if that identity seems new and is still struggling for definition, deserve a bit of deference.  The majority has been excused for far worse things than claiming a uniquely good fashion sense or that their lives matter.

4 thoughts on “Haafu, pt. 3: lifeboats

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