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Centering the White Gaze: Identity Construction among Second-Generation Jamaicans and Portuguese.


In our increasingly interconnected and transnational world, different theoretical perspectives have argued that modern living will eradicate the need for any communalistic affiliations like race and ethnicity. It has been assumed that the effects of capitalist industrialization, urbanization, and mass communication will replace traditional, fixed identities of rootedness and belonging, e.g., race, tribe, and national origin, with more mobile and comprehensive identities, such as class and occupation (Allahar 2006; Cornell and Hartmann 2007). However, globalization and immigration have kept ethnic and racial identities alive in modern societies. Members of ethnic minority groups feel vulnerable in new lands, and have sought to stay together for economic and cultural security on the basis of assumed primordial identities (Howard-Hassmann 2006). These identities can lead to a rise in "us" vs. "them" feelings and sharpened identity politics within communities, even in the mainstream, thereby triggering nationalist discourse in everyday life as well as in the political arena.

This article examines the process of identity construction in two second-generation groups: Jamaicans and Portuguese in Toronto, Canada. Jamaican-Canadians comprise an overwhelmingly working-class community (Liodakis 2002) and face disproportionate challenges with regard to socioeconomic problems. They have weak access to the labor market and earn less than the Canadian average (Statistics Canada 2007). Some of this can be explained by institutional racism (Branker 2017; Galabuzi 2006; Henry 1994). For instance, whether native-born or immigrant, black men experience a significant wage gap compared to non-racialized groups, even when educational backgrounds are similar (Block and Galabuzi 2011; Hum and Simpson 2007; Skuterud 2010). Similarly to Jamaican-Canadians or immigrants of color, and unlike northern and western European groups in Canada, Portuguese-Canadians are overrepresented in working-class groups (Liodakis 2002,17). Though categorized as "white," compared to most European groups, they share less economic prosperity and are highly concentrated in manual labor, such as construction and cleaning (Nunes 1998, 2003, 2008, 2014). Still, the unskilled or semi-skilled jobs held by Portuguese men have not necessarily been low-paying. This is because of a high level of union participation and their role in the Laborers' International Union of North America (Costa 2012; Reitz 1998). However, Portuguese-Canadians hold more precarious positions in comparison with earlier decades as a result of economic restructuring and the introduction of neo-liberal policies (Aguiar 2006).

These two groups were chosen for two reasons. First, since the members of both the Jamaican and the Portuguese communities are largely working-class immigrants, it is easier to lay bare the impact of race on identity construction when the role of class is held constant. For the purposes of this study, it is crucial to include and contrast two different groups with similar class backgrounds in order to fully recognize the impact of color and racialization on identity construction within two groups: one representing darker-skinned individuals, and the other representing a non-visible minority group. Second, this research involves an assessment of the ways in which social class, race, and culture shape the process of identity construction among second-generation immigrants of white or light skin color (Portuguese) and second-generation immigrants who are black (Jamaicans). Jamaica, like the other Caribbean islands, hosts a diverse range of peoples who arrived in these lands as African slaves; as European, Indian, or Chinese indentured labor; or as European conquerors (Richardson 1992). Jamaicans therefore cover a wide range of ethnic affiliations and phenotypical variations, including Chinese, African, and white Jamaican. In this study, however, Jamaican specifically refers to black Africans or Jamaicans in order to properly delineate the impact of blackness on identity construction. Given the history of Portugal's colonial empire, the Portuguese also comprise a wide range of skin colors, including black Portuguese-Canadians as well as darker-skinned Portuguese. However, for the sake of this study, only lighter-skinned Portuguese were interviewed as representative of non-visible minorities.

In the "multicultural" Canadian setting, do differences exist between the ways in which second-generation diasporic Jamaicans and Portuguese define themselves, both ethnically and racially, and the ways others see them? The discussion will cover identity construction as a dialectical process between the self-perception of racialized populations of Portuguese and Jamaicans and the perception of the other on the part of the majority.

This paper will first briefly discuss my methodological approach to the study. Next, I will introduce the basic theoretical foundations of identity construction. Later, this theoretical framework will be elaborated in light of the thoughts and experiences of the research participants. Finally, the concepts of racialization, blackness and dark-white will be discussed as sociological terms.


This paper draws upon 43 semi-structured, in-depth interviews conducted with second-generation Jamaicans and Portuguese in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) between February 2015 and February 2016. Of the second-generation participants in this sample, twenty-three of them were Jamaicans, representing blacks, and twenty of them were Portuguese, representing non-visible minorities. The characteristics of these participants are listed in Tables 1 and 2. I interviewed people older than eighteen years of age. The interviews took place in public spaces, and lasted between 60 and 90 minutes. Pseudonyms will be used in the interview data to protect the anonymity of the participants.

This research utilizes a neo-Marxist class schema in which class is defined by property ownership, relations of production, exploitation, control over labor, and autonomy. Neo-Marxist definitions see classes in relation to the other. There is no ruling class unless there is a ruled class (Allahar and Cote 1998; Marx and Engels 1947, 1948; Wright 1980, 2008; Wright and Perrone 1977). Although this study acknowledges Weber's (1968) emphasis on non-economic sources of power (e.g., knowledge) in a class-related analysis of advanced capitalist societies, it employs Marxist ideas to a greater extent than Weberian class analysis, which is traditionally marked by different levels of income and distribution of economic goods and services. This study will use the class schema proposed by Allahar and Cote (1998, 34-53) which was influenced by Wright's model with the addition of Weber's emphasis on ownership of marketable non-material property. Allahar and Cote (1998) add the "new middle class" or "new petty bourgeoisie" to the classical Marxist class schema, which consists of the working class, the capitalist class, and the petty bourgeoisie or middle class. The new middle-class experiences autonomy in their jobs and commands the labor power of others, profiting from their specialized knowledge and technical expertise.

In advanced capitalist societies, on the other hand, the working class is the fastest-growing class, and it is characterized by the most heterogeneous class structure. It includes a wide range of occupations: semi-professionals such as teachers, social workers, and nurses; white-collar workers such as secretaries and bookkeepers; service workers such as waiters and cleaners; and blue-collar workers such as factory and farm workers (Allahar and Cote 1998, 48-50). The working class does not command the means of production, and does not have control over labor processes. It is marked by very restricted control over others and restricted autonomy in the context of jobs. Only those at the top of the working-class hierarchy--semi-professionals--have a limited amount of control over others, possess some cultural capital, and enjoy less restricted flexibility in their jobs. For instance, a schoolteacher may have two university degrees, but she is still working-class, as she does not control the curriculum handed to her by the school board. She does not determine the conditions of her work (e.g., the size of her class), so her autonomy is limited. Apparently, holding a university or college degree and being a white-collar worker does not preclude taking part in the working class.

Participants in this study came mostly from the working class, though I also conducted seven interviews with middle-class participants, including two financial analysts, two governmental consultants, one engineer, one coordinator, and one small-business owner among 43 Jamaican and Portuguese participants. Some of my participants were university or college students; some were nurses, social workers, teachers, and personal support workers. The rest were either looking for jobs or working in part-time positions (for example, in the retail sector).

This study employed a purposive sampling model which allowed me to find the groups and settings in which the processes being studied were most likely to occur (Creswell 2014, 188; Denzin and Lincoln 1994, 202). I reached out to participants via Portuguese and Jamaican and Caribbean organizations, NGOs, student organizations at universities, and through private individuals related to the groups. These organizations and individuals were important for this research, since they functioned as the gatekeepers that could ensure my access to the site and interviewees (Creswell 2014, 188; Mason 1996, 104-105). After my initial contact through organizations, participants were identified and included through snowball sampling: I asked people to put me in touch with other participants with a similar background (Mason 1996, 103).

In terms of limitation, I had little control over the sampling method because I had to depend upon previous interviewees to reach more participants. This is why I had some difficulty finding male participants. The higher number of female participants was not related to the purpose of this research; that occurred spontaneously during the fieldwork because my gender limited my access to male participants. Although snowball sampling does present limitations with regard to representation, I opted for snowball sampling because my samples--second-generation Jamaicans and Portuguese--were difficult to reach out to, especially as an outsider: a researcher who is neither Portuguese nor Jamaican. However, as gender and its relation to identity construction did not represent a major focus for the current research, and interviews were sufficient to determine initial differences between the experiences of men and women, the overrepresentation of women ought not to be an obstacle to this study. Furthermore, because of the snowball sampling strategy of this research, a significant number of the participants were college and university students. As such, the study sample did not speak for the population excluded from the education system. In the sampling, there were three male Portuguese participants who did not continue on to post-secondary education. If this study had also reached out to second-generation Jamaicans cut off from education after high school, one could have anticipated even more critical evaluations of Canadian institutions.


Identity Construction

Far from home, and in response to xenophobia, racial or ethnic discrimination, alienation, loss of community, and an unfamiliar, individualistic, and materialistic culture, diasporas have reinvented ancestral identities as a coping mechanism to overcome isolation and marginalization in a foreign place (Allahar 2001; Breton et al. 1990; Howard-Hassmann 2006; James 2003). Marginalized by the rest of the society because of physical and cultural differences from the mainstream, e.g., phenotype, religion, and language, identities are constructed in relation to "others" by setting boundaries between "us" and "them," wherein power is unequally distributed among different groups (Bashi Treitler 2013; Cornell and Hartmann 2007; Hall 1991b; Johnson 2006). These socially constructed boundaries shift constantly, depending upon external dynamics such as changing economic conditions or resurrection of nationalism. Members of ethnic groups continuously reconstruct their identities in a strategic attempt to survive and fit in. Identities are thus dynamic, fluid, situational, and eternally incomplete (Allahar 2001; Hall 1990, 1996; Nagel 1994; Plaza 2006; Waters 1994).

Identity construction is not simply a personal choice (Waters 2010), because history and social context also shape identity (Hall 1990; Kitossa 2012; Nagel 1994). Identity construction is a dialectical process built by interaction between the way in which an individual sees him/herself (asserted identity) and how others see him/her (assigned identity) (Bailey and Gayle 2003; Cornell and Hartmann 2007; James 2003, 2006; Nagel 1994; Vertovec 2001, 2009). For instance, some of the Portuguese participants of this study think others see them as white. However, does this match the way in which they are viewed by the majority in Canada? As an anecdotal response to this question, in his dissertation, da Silva (2011) reported that he himself saw the words "white niggers of Europe" on the back doors of a church in Toronto's Little Portugal in 2008 (73). Does the mainstream of Canada see the Portuguese population as white, as they believe? On the other hand, all of the Jamaican participants contended that society viewed them as black, although some of my participants defined themselves through an ethnic lens, e.g., Jamaican.

Individuals do not construct their identities within national borders, but in a space transcending those borders (Cohen 1994; Vertovec 2001). In our global and transnational world, the flow of values, beliefs, images, aesthetics, and practices across different places shapes our identities. Furthermore, in Canada, the official multicultural discourse encourages immigrants to keep their heritage culture. There is, therefore, no contradiction between keeping one's ethnic origin and becoming Canadian, according to the "official discourse" (Bailey and Gayle 2003; Jedwab 2008). An intermingling of widely varying cultures creates hybrid cultures, thereby establishing a base structure upon which ethnic identities are constructed.

Immigrants construct their hybrid identities by drawing upon their heritage culture while blending with the mainstream and all other cultures present (Yon 2000). As in Nagel's (1994) "shopping cart" metaphor (162), they, as well as second-generation participants in this study, pick some aspects of the different cultures to which they are exposed and leave others on the shelf, depending upon their emotional and material interests. The items in the shopping cart can always change as identities are reshaped within a specific context and time period.

Identity construction among second-generation Portuguese and Jamaicans delineates the complex nature of this process. Participants identified themselves within multiple intersected levels and in the context of a random mix of race, ethnicity, nationality, and gender. They construct their identities based upon how they look, the languages they speak, their religious beliefs, and their social class. The lived experiences of my participants will guide further theoretical discussions on identity construction.

Second-Generation Jamaicans as Blacks

Though born and raised in Canada and socialized in Canadian institutions, second-generation black Jamaicans are often not easily accepted in Canadian society (Hill 2001, 49; James 2012, 471-474). Most second-generation blacks have acculturated into Canadian mainstream values and beliefs, such as liberalism and individualism. They are, however, torn, as their Canadian identity is constantly challenged by others in their everyday lives with reactions like "Oh, you don't sound Canadian." Chariandy (2007) defined this as living in an "adopted state" (819). In other words, blacks can be said to have a legitimacy crisis when claiming to be Canadian in Canada in the sense that "Canadian" refers to being "white," Western, and Anglo-Saxon (James 2012, 472; Kalbach and Kalbach 1999, 3; Shadd 2001, 12). When Matthew was asked whether he felt more Canadian or Jamaican, he explained as follows: "I feel more Jamaican because I am always reminded that Jamaican is tied to being black. In my everyday interactions... I am never reminded that I am Canadian. I am reminded of my subordinate status in the society daily."

The society at large constructs Jamaicans as "racialized other" deviating from the white norm. Racialization refers to a process of social construction through which oppressed groups are 'othered' by those in power. Historically, powerful groups--male, 'white,' educated, European, Christian--have used physical characteristics to assign meaning to oppressed groups as a marker of their social standing (Allahar 1993; Gans 2017; James 2006; Miles 1989; Omi and Winant 2015). As stated by Omi and Winant (2015), "Bodies are visually read and narrated in ways that draw upon an ensemble of symbolic meanings and associations" (111). Phenotypical differences are therefore used to assign social characteristics such as intelligence, temperament, and sexuality as well as to justify existing social differences between groups. This complex process of selecting and attributing social and symbolic meaning to physical differences stands as a key issue of racialization. "Bodies matter" (Sefa Dei 2010, 4), and body images and the meanings they represent are crucial to understanding the racialization process of black Jamaicans.

The meanings associated with black bodies have been made up for them by white power groups as a tool to project a self-image of white superiority. In this way, blackness has been constructed as a "negative other" in opposition to an image of whiteness as a "positive self" (Hall 1991a, 53-54; Miles 1989, 11; Sefa Dei 1997, 244). Black people have been associated by those in power with low levels of intelligence, criminality, violence, degeneracy, rudeness, immorality, and sexual overactivity (Adjei 2013, 28; Harris and Khanna 2010, 643-644; Peterson-Lewis and Bratton 2004, 86; Sefa Dei 1997, 254). In a transformative way of thinking, the "white race" is socially constructed, as well, though white people tend to see themselves as without race, or simply as human beings (Dyer 2012, 11). They are associated with intelligence, a high level of morality, civilization, wealth, and capability of social achievement (Allahar 1993, 43-44; Miles 1989, 29-32). Blackness is positioned as deviation from the "norm" of whiteness, and blacks have faced the most deleterious forms of racialization because of the legacy of slavery and centuries-old anti-black racism. Jamaican participants confirming this argument contend that they are seen as criminals, violent, lazy, [and] deficient by society at large.

Phenotypical differences have remained the most salient tools of 'othering' (Gans 2017; James 2012). The visibility of second-generation Jamaican-Canadians otherizes them in educational institutions. The school system, including teachers, administrators, and students, often perceives black students to be intellectually inferior and troublemakers, and expects them to fail, have poor study habits, and skip classes (Codjoe 2010; Fordham and Ogbu 1986; Harris and Khanna 2010; Peterson-Lewis and Bratton 2004; Sefa Dei 1997). Sarah describes her experience at elementary and high school as follows:
...You walk in there, and teachers already have that idea of oh, my
God, a Jamaican....You are almost expected to know when it
comes time for scholarships and that sort of thing, you are
overpassed, or you are not smart was always expected that
I would be the delayed kid.

Interviews also revealed that being Jamaican is seen as a synonym of black--as if blacks were a monolithic group with no ethnic differences. They are seen as "black foreigner[s]" in Canada, where skin color continues to define Canadian identity (James 2012, 472). All of the participants agreed that people see them through the lens of their skin color, in which black as a symbolic marker represents a cultural, historical, and political "other" (Hall 1991a, 53). Blackness has also been used to construct criminality. Black bodies have been pathologized, and black men have historically been represented as dangerous and an imminent threat to society (Adjei 2013; Benjamin 2003; Henry and Tator 2010). This has led to constant surveillance of black citizens in Canada.

The fact of being Jamaican has also been layered on top of blackness, and has furthered marginalization of black male second-generation Jamaicans. In the media, Jamaican culture is often associated with crime, gang membership, drugs, robbery, killings, and weapons (Benjamin 2003, 124-134; Henry and Tator 2010, 269-270). The depiction of black Jamaicans as a dangerous 'other' evokes public fear toward them and causes them to lose their individuality when seen through a racist lens. Kevin explains how he is seen by society at large:
I think black has particular meanings. One of the issues is with
cops...there is a tremendous amount of fear. I don't know why the fear
is there, necessarily. Is it the TV, or the training? But there is a
tremendous amount of fear people have for black people. That is why
people have a particular type of look on the bus. I am [viewed as]
black, and sometimes specifically male, as well.

The context in which second-generation Jamaicans build their identities exerts a significant impact upon how they see themselves (James 2012). Black youth are more likely to be racially profiled, and, as a result, have more frequent interactions with police (Wortley and Tanner 2003, 2005). The education system has also failed many black youth due to an alienating school environment characterized by a Eurocentric curriculum, low student expectations, negative stereotypes such as underachievers and troublemakers, and culturally inappropriate assessments, all of which contribute to their marginalization (Davis 2012; James 2012; Stennett 2008; Yon 1994). 60.9% of second-generation blacks perceive discrimination more than any other group, according to Reitz and Banerjee's 2007 analysis of the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey (10).

Though race is a biologically empty concept and not real, "it is significant as long as groups are determined by their physical traits, and attributes are assigned as a result of these traits" (James 2006, 44). As a "symbolic marker," color differentiates second-generation black Jamaicans from the mainstream, in which ethno-racial differences are politicized. Black skin becomes more than a question of skin pigmentation in a color-stratification system (Miles 1989, 16). It is accompanied by a social evaluation in which black represents a cultural, historical, and political "other" (Hall 1991a, 53; Omi and Winant 2015, 110-111).

Thus, second-generation black Jamaicans have limited options in terms of choice of social avenues. Their ethnic identities are devalued and assigned racial meanings (James 2006; Waters 1994, 2010). Because being Jamaican has real social costs in their everyday lives, Jamaicans experience a thick assigned identity (Cornell and Hartman 2007, 77). This means that their ethnic and racial identity organizes almost every aspect of their lives: education, the labor market, and their interaction with the rest of the Canadian population, as revealed in my interviews.

However, assigned racial identities are not simply imposed upon Jamaicans; some resist being black, reject the stereotypes associated with blackness, and refuse to conform to these racialized identities. Barbara described the way in which blacks are perceived as being less intelligent, and how hard she works to debunk this dominant image in society. Here, she explains further how she sees herself:
I don't like just being rephrased by my skin color. I like to call
myself Afro-Canadian, where I descend from.... In Canada, I assume I
am a non-Canadian; I am a lamaican. Or I am a Jamaican-Canadian.... I
feel Canadian, but 1 most definitely like identifying with the
Jamaican culture.

Some second-generation participants in the study chose to define themselves through an alternative ethnic lens while refusing the perception that they were just blacks and were not Canadian. Second-generation Jamaicans, therefore, do not simply function as passive recipients of mainstream ideas and beliefs, but also possess agency, and are active participants in the construction of their identities. They give meaning to their everyday life experiences, and construct their identities accordingly.

The conflict between their asserted and assigned identities, along with the hostility of the host society, cultural alienation, and the feeling of "otherness," has given rise to diaspora consciousness among my certain second-generation Jamaican participants. They have reinvented their identities around their perceived similarities to develop a "we-consciousness" and to build a sense of belonging (Allahar 2001, 200-201; Breton et al. 1990, 5). Blackness is seen as an experience that unites them: "We're Black.... We all understand each other.... We have the same experiences" (Sefa Dei 1997, 18). Jamaicans who have not been accepted by the majority organize around community, youth groups, political institutions, and, most significantly, churches (Connely et al. 2014; Hall 2012). This was confirmed by some participants. However, this does not mean that all of my Jamaican participants agreed that blackness provides a common ground around which solidarity among all community members is cultivated. One of my participants defined her community as "crabs in the bucket." Another research participant, Harold, explained this situation in this way: "I feel like it goes back to sixteenth- or seventeenth-century slavery. They taught black people to hate each other and fight against another. This mentality still has an impact on the black community."

On the other hand, other participants eagerly assert a black identity because of their common history of colonization and similar experiences of anti-black racism (Codjoe 2010; Hall 1990; Solomos 2014; The Environics Institute 2017). Here, black is conceptualized as a historical, political, and cultural category that goes beyond skin color. They have chosen politically delineated racial boundaries to act upon their common interests as positive reinforcement (James 2003). When Rosa was asked how she sees herself, she replied: "Race is not biological, but at the same time, it is there. We are treated differently based on it. So, I need to acknowledge it. So, I see myself as a black woman."

Most second-generation Jamaican participants, seeking authenticity as a means of coping with marginalization, have embraced Jamaican culture and/or certain African cultures. Because they do not feel Canadian and/or are not viewed as Canadian, they can be understood as individuals searching for a spiritual home (Hall 1991b; Simmons and Plaza 2006). This journey enables them to reinvent their lost histories and reconnects them emotionally with Jamaica and Africa (Farred 1996). In the process, some Jamaican participants imagine Jamaica and Africa as their real home, and Canada as their practical home. They want to live in Canada, since that is where they were born and raised, and because they don't always feel that they fit in when traveling to Jamaica. However, they also hold idealized images of Jamaica and Africa based upon feelings of rejection in Canada as well as what they have heard, read, and seen during short visits to Africa and Jamaica. They are constantly reconstructing their identities around these ideal images of home. Thus, all worlds are part of their new identity and culture (James 2005).

In today's globalized world, participants have developed and maintained transnational ties with Jamaica and Africa through short visits and the exchange of information (Henry 1994, 254-256; Jones 2008, 136-147). Because they are, in a psychological sense, living simultaneously in Canada, Jamaica, and Africa, they selectively pick some cultural themes from each and fuse them in a unique way. When they are discriminated against and marginalized in their practical home, each of these cultures provides them with tools to negotiate anti-black racism. Some of the Jamaican participants express their feelings by singing, painting, and making music. These expressive forms of diaspora culture work to resist racism, poverty, and inequality (Clifford 1994; Hall 1996).

Some use patois as a language of power and resistance against the mainstream. Patois, a Creole blend of English and West African languages, was created by African slaves to communicate secretly among themselves (Henry 2012, 100, 103; Hutnyk 2005, 85). Clearly, it continues to function as a tool of resistance for second-generation Jamaicans. They speak patois when they don't want authority figures to understand them, then revert to standard English to communicate with dominant institutions, a practice known as code-switching (Simmons and Plaza 2006, 143). Sandra explains: "If someone's annoying us, we talk in patois with other Jamaicans... in that way, I feel more Jamaican."

Because identities are situational and fluid, second-generation Jamaicans in this study identify themselves in multiple ways, depending upon the context. They are Canadian in Jamaica; they are Jamaican, African, or Jamaican-Canadian in Canada. Sometimes, even if they do not feel they are black (given the negativity associated with the term), they leverage their racial identity rationally, if it serves them to their advantage. Robert feels more African than anything else, and explains as follows:
I identify being an African before Jamaican.... If I talk with white
people who I feel like they don't know any historical context, I am
African (I see Jamaica as a part of Africa). They continue asking what
part of Africa. I say Jamaica, so that is how I get the chance to
educate them...but if it is a certain type of person who has an
understanding of context, I am just black. Black is a term that
Europeans has nothing to do with your actual
identity.... If there is a grant...I don't argue. In a way
manipulating the system, I click black or visible minority.

Canadian citizenship is obviously not an indicator of feeling Canadian, or of being seen as a Canadian (Howard-Hassmann 2006, 229). While their Canadian citizenship entitles them to some legal rights, such as Canadian passports, some participants consider themselves second-class citizens. In fact, although second-generation Jamaicans have acculturated into the mainstream, they are viewed as deviating from the "white" Canadian norm. Furthermore, despite exogamy, their skin color will remain as a marker even after two to three generations (Cohen 1994, 144). Hence, compared to whites and dark-whites, the two-way street of assimilation, which requires acceptance by the dominant group as well as the minority group's intention to be part of the majority, will be a longer and more painful process for black Jamaicans.

Second-Generation Portuguese as Dark-Whites

Portuguese-Canadians are categorized as a European group; hence, second-generation Portuguese fall under the "white" category in formal documentation (Statistics Canada 2016). I argue that this categorization is simplistic, because it determines the ethnic/racial background of groups through an immigrant's origin country, which, though objective, does not take into account the subjective assessment of their standing.

This study adopts a sociological and critical understanding of whiteness. Whiteness functions beyond skin color or one's European country of origin; it is about social, economic, and political power, irrevocably connected with light skin color (Bailey 2004; Frankenberg 1993; Mcintosh 2004; Satzewich 2007; Wildman and Davis 2012). Groups categorized as "white," however, are not homogenous, and whiteness is not a monolithic category (Doane 2003; Satzewich 2007). A European group can stand as "not-yet-white" (Barrett and Roediger 2012, 41; Roediger 2002, 331) or socially darker on a scale of white to black, as whiteness and blackness are matters of degree (Murguia and Forman 2003, 65).

The current research argues that Portuguese are dark-whites, for even if the wider society does not discuss them in terms of color, they are, nevertheless, a racialized community in Canada, and their labor force participation puts them closer to blacks than whites. Their physically demanding jobs, which are frequently associated with blacks, have degraded them compared to northern and western European groups (Bashi Treitler 2013), serving to racialize Portuguese-Canadians and darken them socially. As a case in point, one member of the Portuguese community remembered hearing her parents describe their day as working "like a negro" (Pacheco 2004, 18).

Mcintosh (2004) pointed out that being white brings unearned privileges, which are conferred systematically. However, the lighter skin pigmentation of the Portuguese does not automatically confer structural privileges upon second-generation Portuguese. This has been evident in Canadian educational institutions. Racist and classist attitudes towards Portuguese students amongst teachers are illustrated by McLaren (1986) as follows:
During one meeting, a staff member exhorted those present not to expect
too much from this year's crop of students, claiming that teachers
couldn't be expected to fill sixty-ounce bottles with ninety ounces of
wine. By this he meant that Portuguese students--presumably because of
their language and cultural differences--couldn't be expected to learn
as much as middle-class Anglo-Saxon students. Staff meetings thus
became occasions during which the tacit categories that located
Portuguese students as academically inferior were credentialized and
made legitimate. The paradigmatic status of cultural deprivation theory
was therefore enhanced through the imputed consensus that Portuguese
students were 'inferior' to middle-class students in manifold ways--the
most pronounced deficit consisting of academic achievement. Through
informal gossip on the part of teachers, the Portuguese student was
made into a type of subcultural underdog--a member of an underclass or
Untermensch (119, as cited in Nunes 1999, 84). (Italics in original)

Accordingly, this study prefers to use Harney's (1990) term "dark-white" to address the Portuguese-Canadian diaspora instead of "white," for the latter is insufficiently nuanced. The claim here is that social class can confer social color, which can, in turn, determine social standing. The Portuguese participants are overwhelmingly "working-class," in a way similar to second-generation Jamaicans. Furthermore, second- and third-generation Portuguese are reproduced as a working-class community; specifically, males drop out of school to get a job in construction or some other non-skilled or semi-skilled area (Nunes 2003). Educational barriers faced by Portuguese-Canadian males are of particular concern (Nunes 2014, 5). Adam, who works as a welder, spoke of the reasons he disliked his school:
I wasn't learning anything from teachers. Maybe that was just me being
stubborn...I think it is the teacher's work to push me into what I
like. Instead, 'Here is a chalk bar... you do this... this is your
exam...." or you fail. That's it. It seems like teachers don't care
about the education they are giving; they also aren't pushing students
a lot.

In high school, Portuguese and Caribbean English-speaking youth share similar statistics in dropout rates, somewhere around 30-40 percent (Anisef et al. 2010, 18; Davis 2012, 339; Stennett 2008, 47). Their intellectual abilities are questioned by teachers (Nunes 1999, 2003), and, like black students, they are overrepresented in remedial courses (Persley and Brown 2011). As the male Portuguese research participants mentioned, they are labeled as "troublemakers" at school. Discrimination against them is less overt because their skin color obscures their racialization; hence, theirs is what could be called invisible oppression. That being said, it would be a mistake to equate the marginalization of second-generation Portuguese-Canadians with that of second-generation Jamaican-Canadians because bodies matter (Sefa Dei 2010, 4). The skin color of second-generation Jamaicans stimulates specific meanings in the minds of others without any verbal communication or prior to any kind of action. Due to negative connotations associated with their skin color, blackness; their ethnic affiliation, Jamaicanness and due to the legacy of slavery and centuries-old anti-black racism, second-generation Jamaicans experience much more intense forms of racialization. For instance, during the research interviews, none of the Portuguese women mentioned any conflictual relationship with teachers at high school, however the Jamaican women consistently mentioned that they were consistently streamed into non-academic courses, perceived as a "delayed kid", and pushed down in the educational system by their teachers and counsellors.

Based upon Murguia and Forman's (2003) criteria of whiteness, which includes command of English, accent, phenotype, religion, social-class standing, and ethnic and racial identity (67), second-generation Portuguese can, at best, be seen as dark-whites. Hegemonic whiteness, on the other hand, refers to middle- and upper-class Anglo-Saxon, Protestant English speakers. This does not mean that second-generation Portuguese see themselves as dark-whites. The Portuguese participants usually do not feel they are discriminated against, as reported in other research (Oliveira and Teixeria 2004; Reitz and Banerjee 2007). This significantly impacts the ways in which they construct their identity. However, it does not change the fact that they are being discriminated against in the educational system and in the labor market. For instance, statistics show that compared to European and non-European groups, second-generation Portuguese are less likely to acquire a university diploma in Ontario (Abada and Lin 2011, 10-13). During the interviews, a significant number of Portuguese participants mentioned that it is very likely that a young Portuguese man would drop out of high school and start working at a construction site, since he doesn't see education as promising. According to a report from Aydemir, Chen, and Corak (2005), wages for both male and female second-generation Portuguese between the ages of 25 and 37 are lower than the wages paid to their fathers (34). Hence, Portuguese youth in general are experiencing a lack of economic mobility that differs from that of their European counterparts (Kenedy and Nunes 2012; Nunes 2008). Based upon the statistics and interview data, it can be argued that feeling they are not discriminated against is different from being discriminated against. Hence, some study participants thought that others saw them as white or Canadian. However, the high representation of Portuguese in low-status occupations, along with their poor education levels, serves to color their whiteness (Murguia and Forman 2003).

An argument can be made that any perceived whiteness of the Portuguese is, at best, related to their skin color. In terms of their social standing, power and prestige, they are not seen as whites by the wider society. The media, in which they and their problems are depicted as part of the working-class community, significantly influences how Canadians view the Portuguese (Clifton 2010, 411; da Silva 2011, 292). In contrast to the construction of whiteness, in which whites are understood as intelligent and oriented toward success, Portuguese students are characterized as underachievers. The general view of Canadian society toward Portuguese communities presumes low-skilled manual laborers and undocumented construction workers facing deportation; both views are typically held toward people of color, but not toward whites.

Furthermore, the understanding of Portuguese as non-white exists as a historically ingrained construction. By the end of the eighteenth century, the English were describing the Portuguese as "not white" and stereotyping them as "primitive, barbaric, lazy, violent, superstitious, silly, and imbecile" (de Sousa Santos 2016, 21-23), terms mostly used to describe blacks. In the 20th century, even though some of these tendencies have changed and the Portuguese have transformed "provisional" or "probationary" whiteness (Jacobson 1999) into whiteness--especially with the increasing number of immigrants from non-European countries after the 1960s and the drop in white-only immigration policies in Canada--certain prejudices have continued to exist in many areas. They are still seen as loud, not that bright or intelligent, unsophisticated, uneducated, unwilling to learn English, and devoutly religious (da Silva 2011, 292; Nunes 1999, 54-55).

The Portuguese are also underrepresented in the political domain (Bloemraad 2009; Nunes 1998; Siemiatycki 2008). An example of political underrepresentation can be found in the election of the first Portuguese-born member to federal parliament in 2004 (Bloemraad 2009). Overall, the Canadian educational system, labor market, political institutions, and wider social system do not see the Portuguese as white in Canada, as they are either excluded or cast down in the hierarchical system.

Additionally, when asked whether they claim to be white, some deny it because of the cultural differences between themselves and the mainstream. In this way, not every Portuguese wants to be white, or to claim Anglo-Saxon whiteness. Many prefer instead to simply identify themselves with Portuguese culture. Siobhan declares herself olive-colored, but not white, for the following reasons:
Family values and religion... being close to family.... All my friends
at work moved out from their parents' house when they were nineteen.
They found it weird that at the age of twenty-four, I was still living
with my parents. Portuguese move out when they are married.... I feel
like being Catholic is being Portuguese, and being Portuguese is being
Catholic, because it is so ingrained in Portuguese culture.

When defining whiteness, Frankenberg (1993) sets two other criteria in addition to structural advantages. Whiteness is also defined by cultural practices such as language and religion, and represents "a standpoint or a place from which to look at oneself, others, and society" (54). Therefore, in addition to the impact of socioeconomic indicators, Portuguese-Canadians are likely to feel less white with regard to their culture. Mary, on the other hand, does feel white: "If you are white, you are white, right? It is not even only about your nationality; it is about... color.... If you are visibly white, I think that is all."

However, as mentioned, whiteness goes beyond one's skin color. Mary's asserted identity does not match the way in which the majority views Portuguese-Canadians. Though they are not otherized because of their skin color, they are otherized because of their "social color," or socio-economic status and culture. For some participants, their ethnic identity--being Portuguese--has negative connotations. As Ethel says:
If I don't say my background, they see me as anybody else. If they know
that I am Portuguese, then they see me different. They start judging
me, just making false assumptions about me and Portuguese...uneducated,
in construction and cleaning, just assuming that I am just the typical
dropout. We are not that bright...but hardworking...they have a
preconception of who I am. And that is not who I am.... Sometimes, I
avoid telling people that I am Portuguese....

With the exception of one of my participants, a working-class Portuguese individual who identifies solely as Canadian, my second-generation Portuguese participants define themselves as a combination of multiple identities, such as Portuguese, Canadian, and Latino (given the Brazilian link), depending upon social context (Gomes 2008; Noivo 2002; Sardinha 2011; Stennett 2008). They are Portuguese-Canadians, or Canadian-Portuguese in Canada and Canadians in Portugal. They have developed hybrid identities through negotiation with different cultures, retaining some of their Portuguese values, blending them with the mainstream, and sometimes adding Latino flavor, which is constantly fed by transnational linkages and multiethnic Canadian society. Jim, who has a business and economics diploma and works in the finance sector, identifies himself in this way: "Personally, I consider myself Canadian. To an extent Latino, because Portuguese people are considered Latino... [they] have a nice barbecue, watch soccer, or listen to Latin music, Brazilian, Portuguese, or Spanish. I like it...."

Considering the perceived shades of color among Latinos, it is important to differentiate between dark-skinned Latinos and "European-looking" Latinos. Jim is a white-skinned, blue-eyed, middle-class man who sometimes identifies himself as "Latino" because of his leisure activities, not because of how he looks or because of his occupation. His skin color and social class allow him privilege over darker-skinned Latinos in the diaspora, though they may share a similar culture, and both are attracted to Latin music and soccer. For Jim, feeling Latino is an enjoyable and voluntary aspect of his identity as an individual, and comes without any social cost (Waters 2010).

In contrast with second-generation Jamaicans, second-generation Portuguese have "partial white privilege," and thus lack strong "racial awareness." My participants identified themselves through their ethnic linkage instead of color lines, unless they were asked about whiteness. For instance, they do not face instances of discrimination, such as police carding, due to their phenotype. Furthermore, research shows that second-generation Portuguese earn higher incomes than second-generation Jamaicans, even though they may have a lower level of education than the latter (Abada and Lin 2014, 84-85). This stands as evidence of their partial white privilege.

Second-generation Portuguese-Canadians have developed a diaspora consciousness which rests on pride in their "magnificent" history and culture, but also in bitter memories of what their parents endured back home: poverty, deprivation, and Salazar's oppressive regime (Gomes 2008; Noivo 2002; Oliveira and Teixeria 2004; Pacheco 2004; Sardinha 2011). My research participants hold a strong emotional attachment to their "imagined" home. They are proud of being Portuguese, and keen on retaining their culture.

This doesn't mean that they are in any way reactionary to the mainstream. They appreciate Canada for the opportunities provided to their families. Second-generation Portuguese carry the traits of both cultures, and celebrate this as a new definition of Canada under multicultural policies (Sardinha 2011). Most of the participants associate traditional values, such as the centrality of the church and family, with their lives and Portuguese culture. However, to them, their work ethic is Canadian, because they live in a fast-paced world; they tend to perceive Portugal as far more laid-back.

Hence, although second-generation Portuguese have acculturated into the dominant culture as an adaptive strategy, some of their beliefs and values, such as Catholicism, family ties, strong community involvement, and ethnic language, separate them from the mainstream (Noivo 1997; Stennett 2008).


In addition to the existing literature, my interviews demonstrate that second-generation Jamaicans and Portuguese have, more or less, assimilated into Canadian mainstream values such as liberalism, individualism, and consumerism. Still, black second-generation Jamaican participants are devalued, and seen as an unassimilable group by the majority. The Portuguese, on the other hand, are more accepted as decent, hardworking manual workers. Acceptance, however, does not mean that one is accorded equality.

What is the signification, for Jamaicans, of having black skin in a white country? The deeper their skin color, the more likely they are to be viewed as deviating--both physically and culturally--from the white European norm. Second-generation Jamaicans often build their identities around the feeling of rejection. To them, Jamaica and/or Africa is/are their real home, but, as stated by Farred (1996), "You can go home again, you just can't stay" (29).

While some Portuguese may sometimes feel "white" in their minds and hearts, their social class and culture serve to "shade," or darken, their whiteness. Hence, their skin color serves as no guarantee of being perceived as white, because feeling white and being white hold divergent meanings. Identities are constructed in a dialectical way, and within a specific power context. However, as history shows, lighter-skinned Portuguese have the chance to move into hegemonic whiteness. It is evident in history that previously, perpetual others were moved into the category of whiteness (Jacobson 1999; Roediger 2007), and the white skin color of the Portuguese permits them to step within the boundaries of whiteness.

This research emphasizes the significant social, economic, and political differences within specific groups that tend to be lumped into the same category, such as whites/Europeans and "visible minorities." It is important to note that both whiteness and blackness are perceived in a matter of degrees. Some groups are perceived as neither white nor black, such as the Portuguese in Canada. Similarly, Jamaicans are perceived as blacker than African-Canadians as a result of the separate set of socio-economic indicators and social characteristics attributed to those groups by the majority. Tied to the increasingly diverse population of Canada, groups rich in nuanced heritage and tradition should not be assessed according to homogenous group constructs, and specific policies should be implemented to address the unique problems of each of these groups.

This study initially attempted to look into the effects of racialization on identity construction in two different working-class second-generation groups: Jamaicans, representing blacks, and Portuguese, representing a non-visible minority. A number of issues have been omitted from this research because of delimited scope, time, or budgetary constraints. However, the limitations of this paper explicitly point to future avenues of research. First, acknowledging the basic tenets of an intersectional approach, a significant area of future research would be to examine the relationship between gender and racialization, and to explore the ways in which this translates into identity formation. For instance, how are the experiences of second-generation Jamaican women and men with racialization similar to, or different from, each other? How do Portuguese women experience racialization compared to men?

A second area of future research with the potential to make a significant contribution to the literature would involve conducting an equal number of interviews with Portuguese and Jamaicans from different class backgrounds in order to see how different class affiliations impact identity construction within the same racialized group. Third, as blackness is a matter of degree and blacks are not a homogenous group, black Jamaicans can be compared with other black Caribbean and African groups, and similarities and differences among these different ethnic groups can be identified. Fourth, since there are both dark-skinned and light-skinned Portuguese, research should be conducted with regard to how these two groups define whiteness. Last, based upon the argument that European groups are not homogenous, interviews with various European groups, such as Northern, Western, Southern, and Eastern Europeans, could be conducted to understand how these groups view one another.


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This research was approved by the Western University Health Science Research Ethics Board in February 2015, and was partially funded by the Faculty of Social Science ($750) and the department of sociology ($600) at Western University.


ESRA ARI holds a PhD in sociology from Western University and has taught courses on social inequality, racialization and racism, minority groups, and sociology of work at King's University College at Western. Esra's areas of interests are 'race', ethnicity, racialization, immigration, multiculturalism, diasporas, and globalization. Esra's research, education and work experience span many countries such as Canada, Turkey, Portugal and Jamaica. Her PhD research examined the interlocking effects of 'race' and class on the integration of second-generation Jamaicans and Portuguese and the role of multicultural ideology in the integration process of two second-generation groups in Canada. From her dissertation, Esra published an article in International Network on Youth Integration (INYI) Journal and coauthored a book chapter published by Springer. Her M.A. research looked into the children of internally displaced Kurdish people, education, child labor and child poverty in Turkey.
TABLE 1. Participant Information (Second-Generation Jamaicans)

    Nickname  Gender  Age  Occupation         (*) Education (Highest
                                              Level of Education)

 1   Sarah    F       33   Social worker      College (Early
                                              Childhood Education)
 2   Barbara  F       20   Student            College (Nursing)
 3   Maina    F       20   Student            College (Nursing)
 4   Rosa     F       25   Student            Master's (Education)
 5   Agnes    F       32   Teacher            Master's (Education)
 6   Lily     F       20   Student            Bachelor's (Women's
 7   Limn     M       31   Nurse              Bachelor's (Nursing)
 8   Alexa    F       31   Consultant         Bachelor's (International
                           (Service Canada)   Business)
 9   Riley    F       34   Personal Support   College (Personal
                           Worker             Support Worker)
10  Allison   F       26   Financial Analyst  Bachelor's (International
                           (Government of     Communications)
11  Emma      F       23   Student            College (Nursing)
12  Lucy      F       41   Social worker      College (Child and Youth
13  Abigail   F       22   Student            Bachelor's (Sociology)
14  Mia       F       38   Court Worker       College (Paralegal)
15  Jen       F       39   Consultant         Master's
                           (Government of     (Business and Law)
16  Brianna   F       40   Teacher            Bachelor's (Education)
17  Sandra    F       18   Student            College (Music)
18  Kevin     M       25   Student            Master's (Urban
19  Isaac     M       31   Social worker      Master's (Social Work)
20  Mike      M       25   Student            Bachelor's (Liberal Arts)
21  Robert    M       25   Student            Bachelor's (Fine Arts)
22  Matthew   M       34   Social worker      Master's (Social Work)
23  Harold    M       24   Student            Bachelor's (Law)

(*) if research participant is a student, education applies; if
research participant has an occupation, highest level of education

TABLE 2. Participant Information (Second-Generation Portuguese)

    Nickname   Gender  Age  Occupation

 1  Zoey       F       41   Teacher
 2  Nick       M       21   Student
 3  Siobhan    F       25   Student Life Coordinator
 4  Nancy      F       42   Teacher
 5  Summer     F       32   Legal Assistant
 6  Ethel      F       25   Student
 7  Mia        F       21   Student
 8  Charlotte  F       21   Student
 9  Mary       F       19   Student
10  Ava        F       48   Telemarketer (Part-time)
11  Donna      F       26   Secretary (Part-time)
12  Natalie    F       24   Chief Operating Officer
13  Tom        M       33   Construction Worker
14  Piper      F       26   Unemployed
15  Adam       M       43   Welder
16  Jacob      M       29   Student supervisor (Part-time)
17  Jim        M       23   Financial Analyst
18  Luke       M       42   Engineer
19  Sam        M       46   Self-employed (Small business)
20  Aaron      M       47   Teacher

    (*) Education (Highest Level of Education)

 1  College (Early Childhood Education)
 2  Bachelor's (French Language and Literature
    and Diaspora and Transnational Studies)
 3  Master's (Higher Education)
 4  Master's (Education)
 5  College (Legal Assistant Programme)
 6  Bachelor's (Nursing)
 7  Bachelor's (Linguistics)
 8  Bachelor's (Linguistics)
 9   Bachelor's (Liberal Arts and Professional Studies)
10  College (Real Estate)
11  Bachelor's (Social Work)
12  Bachelor's (Arts)
13  High School
14  Master's (Management)
15  Some college (Hotel and Restaurant Management)
16  College (Early Childhood Education)
17  Bachelor's (Business and Economics)
18  Bachelor's (Civil Engineering)
19  High School
20  Teachers College & Bachelor's (History and Geography)

(*) if research participant is a student, education applies; if
research participant has an occupation, highest level of education
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Author:Ari, Esra
Publication:Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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