The Arbitrariness of Belonging

As I was reading Ann Stoler’s article “Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers: European Identities and the Cultural Politics of Exclusion in Colonial Southeast Asia”, I was struck particularly by the arbitrary designation of citizenship, based on “a belief in Christianity, fluency in spoken and written Dutch, and training in European morals and ideas” (538). All the more fascinating in the concept of citizenship and belonging is that it is not something that results from the mere presence of these characteristics, but more importantly, that it cannot be awarded unless the “candidate… neither identif[ied] nor retain[ed] inappropriate senses of belonging or longings for the milieu from which she or he came” (538).

The concept of belonging here is an interesting one, because it is not merely the acceptance and subscription to one culture, particularly the religious and moral system, but it necessitates in that acceptance, the rejection of another culture. According to these standards, one cannot be a citizen of one country and have any attachment to another. It’s also interesting because what was normal then, is still prescribed now. In thinking about changing to Singapore citizenship, I have only begun to go through the process not just of saying I agree with Singapore culture, but of saying I renunciate my British citizenship. One must choose. Or be chosen, as appears in the case of Indochinese applying for Dutch citizenship.

How one is chosen is dependent entirely on full identification with only one state. There is no room for the metis figure to be of both cultures, not unless he wants to be permanently branded as a wanderer, belonging to neither side since he cannot wholeheartedly choose, and by consequence reject, one culture.