It is my pleasure and honor in sharing knowledge with the esteemed readers of the Global New Light of Myanmar on “Nation Building”, and that my earlier article was “Nation Building and Education”.
In this context, some issues on “National Identity” and “Ethnic Groups” are the vital ingredients in the Nation Building, and therefore, I would like to share two themes in a single article with the esteemed readers.
National Identity is one’s identity or sense of belonging to one state or to one nation. The term Nation comprises people, tribe, kin, genus, class, flock, and it is a social concept with no uncontroversial definition. However, it is most commonly used to designate larger groups or collectives of people with common characteristics attributed to them. They include language, traditions, customs, habits, and ethnicity. A nation, by comparison, is more impersonal, abstract, and overtly political than an ethnic group. It is a cultural-political community that has become conscious of its autonomy, unity, and particular interests.
The expression of one’s national identity seen in a positive light is patriotism which is characterized by national pride and positive emotion of love for one’s country. The extreme expression of national identity is chauvinism, which refers to the firm belief in the country’s superiority and extreme loyalty toward one’s country.
Formation of National Identity
National identity is not an inborn trait and it is in essence socially constructed. A person’s national identity results directly from the presence of elements from the “common points” in people’s daily lives such as national symbols, language, colors, nation’s history, blood ties, culture, music, cuisine, radio, television, and so on. Under various social influences, people incorporate national identity into their personal identities by adopting beliefs, values, assumptions and expectations which align with one’s national identity. People with identification of their nation view national beliefs and values as personally meaningful, and translate these beliefs and values into daily practices.
Race and ethnicity in the United States
The United States has a racially and ethnically diverse population. The census officially recognizes six ethnic and racial categories namely (1) White American, (2) Black or African American, (3) Native American and Alaska Native, (4) Asian American, (5) Native Hawaiian and (6) Other Pacific Islander. Interesting point is that people of two or more races is being termed as a race called “Some other race”. It is also used in the census and other surveys, but is not official. The United States Census Bureau also classifies Americans as “Hispanic or Latino” and “Not Hispanic or Latino”, which identifies Hispanic and Latino Americans as a racially diverse ethnicity that composes the largest minority group in the nation.
National identity can be salient and significant when the nation confronts external or internal enemy and natural disasters. An example of this phenomenon is the rise in patriotism and national identity in the U.S after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. The 9/11 attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terrorist group Al-Qaeda on the United States on the morning of Tuesday, 11 September 2001.
The identity of being an American are prominent after the terrorist attacks and American national identity are evoked with patriotism. Having a common threat or having a common goal unite people in a nation and enhance national identity.
Anthony D. Smith (born 1939) is a British historical sociologist who is Professor Emeritus of Nationalism and Ethnicity at the London School of Economics. Anthony Smith argues that national identity has the feature of continuity that can transmit and persist through generations. By expressing the myths of having common descent and common destiny, people’s sense of belonging to nation is enhanced. However, national identities can disappear over time as more people live in foreign countries for a longer time, and can be challenged by involving in more than one country such as supranational identities. In other words, it refers to identifying with a more inclusive, larger group that includes people from multiple nations.
An ethnic group or ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural or national experience. Unlike most other social groups, ethnicity is primarily an inherited status. Membership of an ethnic group tends to be defined by a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, origin myth, history, homeland, language or dialect, symbolic systems such as religion, mythology and ritual, cuisine, dressing style, art, and physical appearance.
Ethnic groups, derived from the same historical founder population, often continue to speak related languages and share a similar gene pool. By way of language shift, acculturation, to learn to live successfully in a different culture, adoption and religious conversion, it is possible for some individuals or groups to leave one ethnic group and become part of another ethnic group. Ethnicity is often used synonymously with ambiguous and unclear terms such as nation or people.
Among many cases—for instance, the sense of Jewish Ethnicity — it has more than one aspect to determine membership. The exact world Jewish population, however, is difficult to measure.
The largest ethnic groups in modern times comprise hundreds of millions of individuals namely Han Chinese. Han is being the largest, while the smallest are limited to a few dozen individuals with numerous indigenous peoples worldwide.
Larger ethnic groups may be subdivided into smaller sub-groups known variously as tribes or clans, which over time may become separate ethnic groups themselves due to endogamy, the custom of marrying only people from own local community, or physical isolation from the parent group.
Conversely, formerly separate ethnicities can merge to form a pan-ethnicity, and may eventually merge into one single ethnicity. Whether through division or amalgamation, the formation of a separate ethnic identity is referred to as ethno genesis. In simple term, it defines as a process in which a group of people acquire an ethnicity, or a group identity that identifies them as a cultural group. This can originate through a process of self-identification as well as come about as the result of outside identification.
Rupert Emerson (20 August 1899 – 9 February 1979) was a professor of political science and international relations. He served on the faculty of Harvard University for forty-three years and served in various U.S government positions. Political scientist Rupert Emerson defined national identity as “a body of people who feel that they are a nation”. This definition of national identity was endorsed by social psychologist, Henri Tajfel, who formulated social identity theory together with John Turner.
Henri Tajfel (formerly Hersz Mordche) (22 June 1919 Włocławek, Poland – 3 May 1982 in Oxford, United Kingdom) was a British social psychologist, best known for his pioneering work on the cognitive aspects of prejudice and social identity theory, as well as being one of the founders of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology.
John Napier Wyndham Turner, (born 7 June 1929) is an English born Canadian lawyer and politician, who served as the 17th Prime Minister of Canada from 30 June to 17 September 1984.
Affect of National Identity
National identity, like other social identities, engenders positive emotions such as pride and love to one’s nation, and feeling of obligations toward other citizens. The socialization of national identity, such as socializing national pride and a sense of the country’s exception idea contributes to harmony among ethnic groups. For example, in the U.S, by integrating diverse ethnic groups in an overarching identity of being an American, people are united by a shared emotion of national pride and the feeling of belonging to the U.S, tend to mitigate and tone down ethnic conflicts.
Nation, Tribe and Ethnic Group in Africa
Some progressive Africans argue that tribalism is one of the most disruptive influences confronting newly independent sub-Saharan African states. Tribalism, they argue, is the basis for hatred between peoples within a country as well as between countries. If African states are to take their rightful place in the world, progressive Africans believe, tribalism must be destroyed. There is little evidence; however, that tribal identity is on the wane, even among the most progressive elements within the newly created states. Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that post-independence efforts to eliminate tribal identities may have contributed significantly to Africa’s catastrophic problems.
State versus Nation
In Africa, “state” is the least politically correct or politically charged, and therefore, the best term to describe is “countries”, the largest political unit that people recognize. Even “state,” however, is not a term that all peoples of Africa would use to describe accurately the political system of which they find themselves as a part.
Members of numerous, culturally distinct groups in Ethiopia, for example, insist that they were conquered and never allowed to choose to join the country. Ethiopia is a multilingual nation with around 80 ethno-linguistic groups. Among them, the three largest groups are the Tigray, Oromo and Amhara.
Many of these ethnic groups do not even officially recognize Ethiopia as a legitimate political entity. Therefore, they insist, until they have equal representation in the central government and the freedom to choose their political affiliation, Ethiopia is more accurately referred to as an “empire.”
Conquered groups in Ethiopia prefer to be called “nations” following the original meaning of the term which meant persons closely associated with each other by common descent, language or history. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, such groups “form a race or people, usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory.”
In countries that have multiple ethnic groups, the ethnic identity and the national identity may be in conflict. These conflicts are usually referred to as ethno-national conflict. One of the famous ethno-national conflicts is the struggle between the Australian government and aboriginal population in Australia.
The Australian government and majority culture imposed policies and framework that supported the majority, European-based cultural values and a national language as English. The aboriginal cultures and languages were not supported by the state, and were nearly eradicated by the state during the 20th century. Because of these conflicts, aboriginal population identifies less or do not identify with the national identity of being an Australian, but their ethnic identities are salient and significant.
As immigration increases, many countries face the challenges of constructing national identity and accommodating immigrants. Some countries are more inclusive in terms of encouraging immigrants to develop a sense of belonging to their host country. For example, Canada has the highest permanent immigration rates in the world. The Canadian government encourages immigrants to build a sense of belonging to Canada, and has fostered a more inclusive concept of national identity which includes both people born in Canada and immigrants.
Some countries are less inclusive. For example, Russia has experienced two major waves of immigration influx, one in the 1990s, and the other one after 1998. Immigrants were perceived negatively by Russian population and were viewed as “unwelcome and abusive guests.” Immigrants were considered outsiders and were excluded from sharing the national identity of belonging to Russia.
As the world becomes increasingly globalized, international tourism, communication and business collaboration had increased. People around the world cross national boarders more frequently to seek cultural exchange, education, business, and different lifestyles. Globalization promotes common values and experiences, and it also encourages the identification with the global community.
People may adapt cosmopolitanism and view themselves as global beings, or world citizens. This trend may threaten national identity because globalization undermines the importance of being a citizen of a particular country. Several researchers examined globalization and its impact on national identity found that as a country becomes more globalized, patriotism declined, which suggests that the increase of globalization is associated with less loyalty and less willingness to fight for one’s own country.
In some cases, national identity collides with a person’s civil identity. For example, many Israeli Arabs associate themselves with the Arab or Palestinian nationality, while at the same time they are citizens of the State of Israel, which is in conflict with the Palestinian nationality.
Taiwanese also face a conflict of national identity with civil identity as there have been movements advocating formal “Taiwan Independence” and renaming “Republic of China” to “Republic of Taiwan.” Residents in Taiwan are issued national identification cards and passports under the country name “Republic of China”, and a portion of them do not identify themselves with “Republic of China,” but rather with “Republic of Taiwan”. This is the main reason for the confusing and completely different names. In some contexts, especially official ones from the ROC government, the name is written as “Republic of China (Taiwan)”, “Republic of China/Taiwan”, or sometimes “Taiwan (ROC)”.
National identity markers are those characteristics used to identify a person as possessing a particular national identity. These markers are not fixed, but fluid, varying from culture to culture and also within a culture over time. Such markers may include common language or dialect, national dress, birthplace, family affiliation, etc.
Some close friends asked me to characterize and define in shortest possible term what the ingredients are in building a nation with diverse ethnic groups in the world. It is undeniable that each country has its own way of nation building in the context of “appropriate” approach for the diverse ethnic groups.
If I may take the liberty to say — in a safe way — and share knowledge with the esteemed readers through shortest possible words on the nation building, this planet fundamentally requires a strong leadership that upholds greater national interest with the strongest support of the people. It may need time and space to compromise solutions in the context of political aspirations and the wishes of diverse ethnic groups. The buzzword should be “All Inclusive” approach, and seek sensible supportive strong allies.