My research interests center on identity politics. I was drawn to my research through questions of patriotism and respectability, and how such forces matter to racial and ethnic identities. Spanning the intra-group disciplining I witnessed within Asian American communities to the initial popularization of #BLM, I traced a pattern in which patriotism and respectability were prerequisites for certain racial and ethnic identities to participate in politics. Both my primary and peripheral research are motivated by these themes of how race and ethnicity continue to matter in a political reality that many assume to be colorblind.
My dissertation project, “Performative Citizenship and the Continuation of Ethnocentrism in Ethnoblind Citizenship”, demonstrates how performance has become the accepted solution to citizenship’s historical ethnocentrism. Many people today understand and criticize past American citizenship for sorting citizens from non-citizens along ethnocentric, immutable lines of identity, leading to calls for a more “ethnoblind” citizenship, one which relies upon civic values and patriotism rather than ethnic or racial identities. Though seemingly more just, my project demonstrates how these ethnoblind attempts have resulted in a performative citizenship that perpetuates ethnocentric violence under a “benign” guise.
By analyzing the practice of performative citizenship in the United States, the purpose of my dissertation is to examine how self-acclaimed ethnoblind citizenships continue ethnocentric practices by evaluating non-white individuals on the basis of performance, contingently accepting those who perform respectability, and excluding those who do not or cannot outperform their deviance. Yet even when the concepts of deviance and respectability are ethnocentrically informed, performative citizenship maintains its legitimacy by excluding and accepting citizens on the basis of performance, rather than ethnicity.
The first half of my project details how performative citizenship still results in an ethnocentric citizenship, despite its ethnoblind logic. In Chapter 1, I refer to post-9/11 Islamophobic violence in order to illustrate the exclusion and elimination of certain of deviant individuals as justified by performative citizenship. Narratives that would champion spectacular performances of patriotism by Muslim Americans would simultaneously condone violence against Muslim Americans who did not carry out such performances. Such violence could not be appropriate if it was on the basis of ethnicity, but could be deployed against Muslim Americans whose adherence to American citizenship was under question.
In order to escape such violence, I argue that abject individuals must often outperform their suspected deviance. While performance may appear only as an inconvenience, I detail how the need to continually perform respectable citizenship results in its own “respectable violence”. I present the experiences of and “model minority” expectations faced by Asian American students who successfully navigate performative citizenship, yet who still experience mental illness and are driven to suicide in order to delineate the psychological toll of perpetually having to undergo respectable performance.
While contemporary scholarship remains critical of contemporary citizenship’s shortcomings, the transformation from traditional, barefaced ethnocentric citizenship to ethnoblind citizenship has yet to account for the continuation of ethnocentrism vis a vis performance. Performance, however, is significant to this transition precisely because it is ostensibly tractable for non-white identities – all one “has” to do is outperform one’s aberrance – and therefore suggesting it as a sufficient remedy to ethnocentrism.
The second half of the project explains how performative citizenship maintains its legitimacy through its ostensible voluntariness and promise of emancipation. Chapter 2 depicts the many DREAM Acts proposed by Congress as attempts to uphold performative citizenship’s practice by both politicians and scholars alike. Regardless of whether they were against or in support of the DREAM Acts, I show that the arguments used by politicians and commentators would reify the practice of performative citizenship by intending to only offer legal citizenship to those who have successfully met performative citizenship’s respectable expectations. In promoting the assumption that abject individuals have the choice to either perform or not, the exclusion and elimination of deviant migrants became justified as chosen fates.
Concluding with the American public’s response to the 2017 NFL protests led by Colin Kaepernick, Chapter 3 illuminates how performative citizenship masks its anti-democratic exclusion of select political claims and actors through questions of respectability. Whether writing against or in support of Kaepernick, commentators either presented him as a deviant non-citizen unworthy of political recognition or as an ideal respectable citizen deserving of participation in the demos. I argue that such an outcome is inherent to performative citizenship, which sidesteps political claims by prioritizing questions of who or what is respectable enough to participate in politics. By elevating the role of respectability, I contend that our practice of performative citizenship not only forces individuals to filter political claims through a language of respectability, but also exonerates the very violence of labeling and rejecting deviant politics and actors in the first place.
In working through these case studies, I show how performative citizenship is not only distinct from past citizenship practices, but also replicates the same ethnocentric exclusion and violence located in traditional citizenship.
Although my primary research focuses on the United States at the moment, my intent is to expand it beyond this scope. I plan to apply my framework to other countries in order to show a generalizable pattern across citizenries that have also adopted performance as an alternative to ethnic conceptions of citizenship. My research explains why there is good reason to be critical of these transitions to performative citizenship, however, by comparing American citizenship to others, I aim to show how other citizenries may enforce performance through less ethnocentric means.
My future research directions include analyzing the differences between performative citizenship in the United States and performative citizenship in Thailand. Looking particularly at Thai citizenship’s treatment and assimilation of Chinese migrants over the course of the 20th century, I pinpoint instances where populations seemingly acquiesce to performative expectations in order to locate where performative citizenship can potentially fulfill its ethnoblind promises. While many citizenries today are culpable of enacting performative citizenship, there are meaningful variations that have resulted in more or less severe ethnocentric practices across different contexts. It is therefore my aim to continue diagnosing the maltreatment of racial and ethnic identities in politics today, but to also continue theorizing more meaningful solutions to citizenship in an increasingly pluralistic world.