What we see in this veritable framing of the conflict is the strong undercurrent of disregard for historical fact. The same tendencies were witnessed in Mindy Fullilove’s childhood in Orange, New Jersey. At that time, she endured social segregation, which was not a mandated law but rather a silently understood rule. Even worse, she witnessed firsthand how segregation was adopted as policy in major public institutions. The most troubling of these is segregation in the education system, where blacks were only allowed to go to exclusive schools for their community. This is oppression twice over, for it implicitly teaches young black students that they have to live as second-class citizens in their own country. What lays behind this institutionalized discrimination was a successful ideological war. White Americans convinced themselves and others that their race is manifestly superior to the rest. They presented selective biological and cultural markers to strengthen their case. The ideology of White Supremacy was then imposed on major public institutions. We see a similar pattern in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the recent war
“was preceded by an era in which the state was founded on ideology. Regional (as defined by the country’s republics), national and all other dimensions of society were perceived as subordinate to the ideological project. Any insubordinate ideas and trends were rejected, suppressed and often liquidated.” (Mahmutcehajic, p.220)
Richard Jenkins’ article Imagined but Not Imaginary talks of a conflict elsewhere in the Balkans, namely, Yugoslavia. Jenkins reminds the readers of that forgettable episode in Balkan history, where blatant acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ were witnessed. As Jenkins points out,
“Events in Kosovo since the mid-1990s are a stark reminder, if one were needed, that the genocidal impulse remains a present danger, not to be dismissed as the barbarism of previous generations or ‘the uncivilized’. Kosovo is also a reminder that problems of this nature can never be seen as local. In some respects, there is no such thing as ‘local’ any more.” (Jenkins, p. 114)
The sentiment expressed by Jenkins rings very true, for the black oppression in Fullilove’s America also carried similar impulses. Fortunately for the black community, it did not escalate into outright genocide.
In conclusion, all the scholars discussed in this essay seem to broadly concur on how personal identities are formed. While biology and genealogy play a minimal role, the major role is played by the environment. This environment constitutes the county, district or state in which the individual grows up and forms her personality. Be it in the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Yugoslavia or in the United States, people associate very strongly with the soil in which they find abode. It is a nostalgic and sentimental idea, but true nonetheless. This factor is perhaps underplayed in many sociological theories of identity formation.
Mindy Thompson Fullilove, Chapter 1: In Retreat, The House of Joshua: Meditations on Family and Place, University of Nebraska Press, 2002
Rusmir Mahmutcehajic, The War Against Bosnia-Herzegovina, International Forum Bosnia, Sarajevo, East European Quarterly, XXXIII, No. 2, June 1999
Richard Jenkins, Imagined but Not Imaginary: Ethnicity and Nationalism in the Modern World, Exotic No More: Anthropology on the Front Lines, University of Chicago Press, p.114+