The Implicit Inclusivity of Ethnonationalism

Recently I had a moment where I forgot that a certain American of Iranian and Armenian descent isn’t white. And then it struck me: Underneath the political statements of the alt right, white nationalism, and other similar movements is really just a strong stance of, ‘If you can’t fool us into thinking you’re one of us, then you’re not one of us.’

It’s precisely like this in Japan. People don’t pretend to be tolerant. You either fool them into treating you normally or you fail. They won’t go out of their way to make you feel welcome, and the moment you do anything that’s foreign they’ll start treating you like a foreigner. The professed idea is identity politics through and through: Unless you’re genetically Japanese, you’re not Japanese. But the real system is more nuanced: The standards are just incredibly high. If your face is white, black, or otherwise clearly not Japanese, and you want to be welcomed as one of them, you have to dial in every single aspect of your behavior such that you can fool them into thinking of you as Japanese while they’re interacting with you. They’ll push you onto the social fringes unless you can embody the culture so well that it would be harder to treat you like a foreigner than to just respond in the same automatic way as with a fellow Japanese person.

This is a tried-and-true method for preserving tradition. Race has a major effect on one’s neurological structure (and thus one’s behavioral tendencies), and it has a strong correlation with one’s upbringing (and therefore the culture that’s programmed into one’s mind). So it functions as a convenient anchor, with anyone who seeks to fit in who’s not of the dominant race having to channel the culture so well that people forget about the difference in appearance.

As a white person who lives in Japan, I’m the equivalent of a black or a Jew in a white ethnostate, and I’ve had no problems fitting in, or rather no problems that weren’t a matter of it simply being a challenge to acquire a deep understanding of a certain aspect of the cultural system. This contrasts with the experience of most other white people who’ve been living here for a long time, who complain of being treated like a foreigner who’s fresh off the boat even after being here for 10+ years and then blame this failure to assimilate on the supposed xenophobia, racism, and bigotry of the Japanese. They don’t realize that the ethnonationalism of Japan doesn’t actually care about their foreigner status or their non-Japanese physical appearance, but rather just assumes that being, say, a white foreigner, means you’re almost definitely not culturally Japanese, and then upon that prediction coming to pass they shove you out of the mainstream and into the compartmentalized ‘foreigner box’. The objective is to preserve the uniquely Japanese aspects of the culture, and not let ignorant foreigners mess with the system.

The takeaway is that the common Western idea of inclusivity isn’t about making people feel welcome no matter their race, since that’s happens just fine in ethnonationalist Japan; instead, it’s about burning tradition to the ground and turning into sludge the rich culture that white people in the West created. There’s no reason an ethnostate couldn’t be inclusive the way Japan is inclusive: with extremely high standards, where the metric is whether you can make them forget that your face is different than theirs. The white nationalist idea that ‘you must be white to be one of us’ shouldn’t be interpreted so literally. Organizing a culture around race is a bit different in practice than what it may seem like to those who’ve only seen it on paper. While Japan explicitly says ‘you must be Japanese to be one of us’, but implicitly treats anyone who can perfectly embody Japanese culture as they would anyone else in their everyday life; on the other hand, the West proudly announces ‘you can be any race and you’re still one of us’, but actually means ‘you can do whatever you want and still feel accepted’.

In other words, organizing a culture on lines of race doesn’t actually exclude anyone, but instead just makes the standard very high for acceptance. Although many people see ethnonationalism as a system which determines whether you belong simply based on your race (a physical attribute) rather than the way you behave (your cultural sensibilities), this is subtly incorrect. In reality ethnonationalism is also based around culture; race is just used as a convenient anchor. Going back to the analogy with Japan: If I act perfectly Japanese in a specific moment, I’m treated like I’m one of them in that moment. That means acceptance is based fundamentally on culture and not race, first impressions notwithstanding. It’s just that race acts as the anchor, and makes me have to work very hard at acquiring the culture to be accepted (which is the only way to preserve a culture). Until proven otherwise, I’m seen as a foreigner due to my appearance; but once proven otherwise the tables are turned. Essentially, even a race-based societal organization principle can merely act as a proxy for protecting a way of life (where individuals of other races who embody that way of life are accepted too); it’s not an instrument of arbitrary prejudice against those who differ physically.

It’s also based on what I think is a core truth about human nature. Small neurological differences stemming from race won’t make people terribly different from each other on an individual basis, but there will likely be major effects on a macro scale. That is, a single individual of black ancestry growing up in a white upper-middle-class area in America who has a high IQ and other such attributes isn’t likely to be all that different than the high-status white people in the area just due to race; they’ll probably take on a lot of the habits and ways of thinking of the culture they’re immersed in. However, if you take a large number of blacks and put them all in that area, the racial differences will be magnified, since it won’t just be one individual of a certain type trying to fit into the prevailing culture, but many individuals who together have a lower average IQ and so on forming their own culture by interacting with each other. Thus in the white-nationalist community, ‘black people’ is considered ‘not us’ (not the civilization that whites created), but a single black individual who perfectly embodies Western culture because of their upbringing can be ‘mistaken as white’ by the mechanism I laid out above.