Diversity and a shared identity

What is culture? Well, it is often seen as a tool to determine how one perceives life and seen as an inseparable part of our identity. For many, cultural identity is easy to pin down. But, for anyone of multiple backgrounds, it is quite problematic. It is even more problematic to pin down the identity of an entire country.

It is no secret that Australia is a multicultural country and has always been. Before the arrivals of Europeans, the continent was already diverse with hundreds of indigenous languages being spoken (assuming one language represents one culture). Under the White Australia policy, the country was still multicultural, albeit differently, with massive immigration from various European countries. Now, it can be argued that the country is even more multicultural considering there are less restrictions for non-European immigration. How about Indonesia?

Unlike Australia, Indonesia still retains its native population. But, like Australia, it is also multicultural and has always been. There are over 300 native ethnics groups in the country. Many regional cultures are strongly shaped by Indian, Chinese, Arab, Dutch and Portuguese influences. Overall, Chinese-Indonesians are the fifteenth biggest ethnic group (Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, p. 9). An assortment of indigenous and international flavours. How does one determine the overall cultural identities of each country? Well, almost a trick question. One cannot do that simply to a highly diverse country.

In the case of Australia, some may argue the country’s identity must be based on Anglo-Saxon culture as the white people of such heritage are the majority. But, it is discriminating against white people and racial minorities of other roots. Some may argue that Aussie identity must be of Aboriginal roots. But, most Aussies are not Aboriginals. Forcing non-Aboriginals to embrace Aboriginal culture, something they are not familiar with, is also discriminatory. Even if they settle on it, there is another problem: which indigenous culture should they choose?

As I said, there are lots of them to choose from. I am not familiar with a single one. But, I can safely assume some are very distinct from each other. If they prefer the easy way out by choosing only one, they would create needless conflicts by culturally alienating a chunk of the population. Even if the chosen culture is also the most numerically dominant, cultural well-being of the minorities should be something to be mindful of. Similar case with Indonesia.

Forming 40 per cent of the country’s total population, Javanese people are the biggest ethnic group. Unsurprisingly, they are among the most culturally influential ethnic groups in the country. Javanese words are widely-used in pop culture, Javanese foods are easily found everywhere, Javanese social hierarchies are used in the establishments and all Indonesian presidents, living or deceased, have Javanese blood running through their veins. But, when we look at other ethnicities, we will see lots of disparities.

Batak people, Madurese people, Bugis people and a group of smaller Sulawesi ethnicities are the third, fifth, eighth and fourth biggest groups, respectively (2010). Yet, apart from the shallow stereotyping of the first two, I know nothing about their heritages. Nothing. I know some singers of Batak descent; even then, they sing westernised pop songs. Foods of those cultures are unheard of on a national level. Compared that to other statistically smaller peoples.

Batak people, Madurese people, Bugis people and a group of smaller Sulawesi ethnicities are the third, fifth, eighth and fourth biggest groups, respectively (2010). Yet, apart from the shallow stereotyping of the first two, I know nothing about their heritages. Nothing. I know some singers of Batak descent; even then, they sing westernised pop songs. Foods of those cultures are unheard of on a national level. Compared that to other statistically smaller peoples.

To summarise, the national identities of both countries are relatively sound considering they are based on the ancestral heritage of each country’s masses. Relatively sound. The exclusion of other heritages also embraced by the people is, as I said, alienating. It is gross disunity. Yes, 100% inclusivity is impossible. But, when they entirely exclude even the numerically significant cultures, the unification effort is either half-arse or a sugarcoated form of sectarianism. If only there is no diversity…

What if there is none? Surely, homogeneity would make it easier to define a country’s national identity. There is literally just one available option. No minorities to be mindful of. Only one national collective, united under a definite cultural singularity. Except, that premise ignores who we really are: human beings.

We tend to see ourselves as mere collectives. But, we often forget that one human collective embodies distinct human individuals, each with their own biases. An utterly all-embracing agreement on anything can never be realised. Not one. Not even on matters like cultural identity. Especially on matters like cultural identity.

Culture is abstract and inherently intangible; it is unaffected by cold objectivity and it will always succumb to our biases. In the end, a culture is not defined by a joint agreement, but by the ones who speak the loudest, the ones who see themselves as worthy spokespersons. It does not matter if many disapprove. The conceited loudmouths win and we ought to listen to them.

In conclusion, there is no easy way to determine a country’s cultural identity; any of such efforts will forever be contentious. But, from my personal point of view, there is a way out.

A study shows youths who have experienced racial and cultural education are less likely to show signs of racism (Mansouri 2009, p. 110). Frankly, I do not know if they are genuinely unprejudiced or just being politically correct. But, we still can learn something from this: cultural backgrounds do not matter. What matters is our sense of belonging in which we identify as Indonesians, Aussies or what have you and unite with fellow citizens. Never ever let others using our predestined familial circumstances to negate your self-proclaimed identification.

Badan Pusat Statistik 2010, Kewarganegaraan, suku bangsa, agama dan bahasa sehari-hari penduduk Indonesia, BPS, Jakarta.

Mansouri, F, Jenkins, L, Morgan, L & Taouk, M 2009, The impact of racism upon the health and wellbeing of young Australians, Foundations For Young Australians, Melbourne.

Author: The Stammering Dunce

I write blogs. I love to act smarter than I really am and I pretend that my opinions are of any significance. Support me on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=9674796

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