Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Relational Interracialism and the American Dream of Race in Ha Jin's A Free Life

Academic journal article Tamkang Review

Relational Interracialism and the American Dream of Race in Ha Jin's A Free Life

Article excerpt


The old focus on the clashes between races in the new millennium is being superseded by a surge of scholarship focused on other possibilities of interracial relationships and their complexity in terms of time and space, and within national, transnational as well as global matrices. This paper argues that interracial harmony is the American dream of racial relationships that American writers, including Ha Jin, explore in literary narratives and poetry, and I will illustrate this American dream of interracial harmony with his novel A Free Life (2007) and examples from other novels and poems. Through four of John E. Farley's models of racial theories--functionalism, the split labor-market theory, multiculturalism, and cultural immersion--this paper analyzes collaborative interracial relationships in the division of labor, adoption, romance, and friendship in Ha Jin's novel A Free Life, while advancing a relational interracialism, a term I coined as a viable theoretical grappling with the subject of interactions between races. Relational interracialism has been inspired by two cardinal concepts of critical race theory, "differential racialization" and "intersectionality and antiessentialism" (Delgado and Stefancic 9-10). The first concept, "differential racialization," denotes the racialization of people for "shifting needs" at diverse historical junctures (Delgado and Stefancic 9). In agreement with Stuart Hall and others on culture, the second concept, "intersectionality and antiessentialism," suggests that an individual could have multiple identities, not all of which are in concord all the time, and that people could belong to more than one community (Delgado and Stefancic 10). Sharing with these two concepts the theoretical underpinning of the plurality of identities and communities conditioned by historical circumstances and formed out of taxonomic motives, relational interracialism studies the relationality between races and suggests that multiculturalism in practice can be revised so that interraciality is premised on interracial cooperation and cultural infiltration with conflicts constrained within a resolvable range.

Four Interracial Theories

In this paper ethnicity refers to communities evolved historically, socially, or politically around differences in physical features, religions, languages, customs or along the borders of other boundaries. The paper reserves race to denote ideas contiguous with physical traits in a more constricted sense, such as skin color. The paper maintains that race has both inherent and constructed dimensions just as George Lipsitz delineates:

Racial identifications and identities... are based on legacies of
belief as well as of blood and bone. Their noises and echoes come to us
by choice as well as by chance; they are inherited and invented, found
and fabricated, determined and dynamic. (30)

In addition to the double attributes of race, four theories about interracial relationships Farley outlines in Majority-Minority Relations can elucidate the relations between races in A Free Life as oftentimes more collaborative than incongruous. While it does not apply well to the novel, assimilation theory will be examined as well, since it is one of the most cited concepts of interracial relations. The first two theories, functionalism and the split labor-market theory, explain crossracial contact from a structural and economic perspective respectively, and the third and the fourth theories, multiculturalism and cultural immersion, deliberate crossracial interaction from a cultural viewpoint. Farley maintains that after World War II, capitalist factors including "industrialization," "modernization," and "urbanization" relaxed the once rigid interracial interplay (214). Functionalism believes in the force of capitalism to rule out inefficient and irrational behaviors including discrimination for the economy to yield the highest productivity and for the well-being of the majority of people (Farley 264). …

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