Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The (In)Visibility of Race

Three months. Around three months i have been abandoning this blog. Of course, there should be millions things to say during that time. Yet, life has been pretty hectic as i was preparing for my last semester. I've done most part of it. How do i feel? Relief of course but I didn't relish every moment of it. The pressure was far too big to handle. Fear of failure was haunting me and made it even harder to complete a simple thing. I used to be able to write an essay in a week without any problem or finished 4 different essays in a month. But last year, there was a moment where i could not write anything. I didn't even go through beyond my readings. They felt like unpenetrable. Finally, I've done it. It took me nearly 9 years to finish my undergraduate degree but now i am officially graduated. But i am not yet finish in dealing with uni. I am taking up a challenge to do honours this year. I believe this could be the final.

Speaking of uni, there is one thing that always bewilders me. Often i saw students with 'coloured skin' playing around with computers in the study room. They were checking their facebook profile, chatting in YM or MSN or browsing anything that is entirely not for the study purposes. I asked myself, is it always like this? Do they know that these computers are provided for academic purposes? Soon i was aware that there is a racial undertone in my thought. No doubt, students with dominant colour, which is white, were also pissfarting around with computers. But why did i pick up the coloured ones?

After pondering this issue, i came to the conclusion that the more dominant a certain race is, the more invisible it becomes. As opposed to the invisibility of white skin, the coloured skin becomes so visible. Whatever these coloured skin people do, it is always noticeable. Every time i see them doing something 'unusual', i began to be annoyed. Of course, i also complain if there are people with white skin doing something similar to the coloured ones. But what fascinates me more is the fact that i am not white but i am picking up more coloured skin. This is perhaps because i perceive the whole whiteness including culture and colour as something unquestionably dominant. So i am passing as white: acting and thinking like them as a way of accepting the 'truth' of white power, more importantly, in order to be seen invisible.

But taking this further, this is not all about who is right and who is wrong. Coloured skin people is also contributing to the invisibility of white. For instance, coloured skin people are proud of having such exotic cultures and to large extent believe that white has no culture. However their ideas of uniqueness and exoticness of their cultures are built upon the perception that white has no culture. By accepting this, the invisibility of white becomes more pronounced as much as the visibility of skin colour.

Of course, it is absolutely bollocks if we say that white has no culture. White has cultures as much as others races do. But in the past, there was an exoticisation of other races and cultures through colonisation which made non-whiteness exotic and different. Wacko scientists such as anthropologists travelled across the continent from the metropole and went back home, bringing stories of these exotic people. When in the end, people moved from the colonies to the metropole, to large extent, people are seeing other cultures with the exotic paradigm deriving from colonial construct. Meanwhile, these 'exotic people' soon start to enjoy being the object of gaze but at the same time begin to act like white and learn the advantage of being invisible.


Katadia said...

Welcome back and congratulations. I hated my honours year. I started one semester, deferred and escaped for 18 months in an exchange, and then came back to finish it (or rather to lose all the 10 kilos I piled up during my exchange). All the best for this year.

Interesting point on the invisibility of "whites" and how non-whites, such as myself, and you, would somewhat see ourselves as part of the dominant culture as to distant ourselves to the 'other'.

If someone asked me how to identify myslef, I'd prolly say, Indonesian. I know ppl who are somewhat embarrassed of their "otherness" that they go all out to embrace all things 'white' all of a sudden, like refusing to have rice for breakfast and have a sandwich with cold meat for lunch (X:How could you eat rice this early????? Y: Dude, jangan sok deh lo, baru tinggal di ostrali bentar aja udah lupa bahwa elo sarapan nasi goreng in the past 25 years!). So I guess, in a way, I can be a bit of a prick and say that I'd like to see me as being "fluid" in between cultures. LOL

At this point, you might also want to note that a large chunk of students of couloured skins are international students. They come here to study and make friends bla bla, but undoubtedly a large part of their network/riends/families/ would be overseas. Hence their seemingly over the top obsession with friendster, YMing, facebook etc, relative to the 'local' students who can hang out at the uni bar and chat with their mates.

Race segregation at my uni was pretty visible. By places of hang out, as well as by study majors. Business, commerce and the like are flooded with o/s students. You're arts/humanities major right? If so, it'll be so easy to think that you're part of the "invisible".

Have you had any chance to check out my sister's band? :)

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Although in here it is more of the opposite. Because 'the whites' are the minority in my office, or anywhere in Jakarta, they get more exposed. How many articles are there about expats and their doings? And mostly they refer to white expats. While the Japanese, Korean, Indian are probably the same, but they are more invisible.

Same happens to gender. My world is in the oil business and as a geologist I remember I often get more attention when I was in school and earlier years in my career. The attention was not necessary negative, but also more personal, i.e. she is like this because of that, etc. The thing is, they never think that women's approach at work place is different than men.

Interesting post, and welcome back. Will be waiting for your other posts! And good luck with your studies.

johnorford said...

just read this now. i like the idea, never thought of it in that way b4...

Steph said...

so you're taking a bloggy break?
Interesting post to go out on, I would have thought people of colour would stand out MORE rather than becoming invisible.

Anonymous said...

Good mind, good find........................................