The term cultural industries was first coined in the 1980s as a comprehensive means to understand production, distribution, and consumption in the traditional information and entertainment industries—press, radio, and television—and others such as film and recorded music. Closely related industries, such as advertising, marketing, and public relations, were also included. With the subsequent popular embrace and commercialization of the internet, especially the social media platforms, the concept was necessarily expanded to incorporate such “new” media of the digital age. The relevance of these cultural industries for racial and ethnic groups living within the nations of the developed world is significant in at least two contexts: national and transnational. Within the frame of the nation, the issues concern the status of these groups as minorities; and in a global perspective, the groups come to be seen as members of transnational communities, with ties both to a putative nation of origin and to their counterparts in other nations. Most theoretical and research attention has focused on media representations—that is, on how racial and ethnic minorities are portrayed in the content of the cultural industries’ outputs, seen both in a national context, such as the perpetuation of stereotypes in news and television series, and globally, as in film. Yet such a focus on representations tends to position minorities as passive victims of the media. Less common is research in which minorities are viewed as active agents producing their own information and entertainment, as they do, with local, national, and even transnational distribution. Minorities’ own media can range from local community radio to globally available television channels and internet platforms serving vast diasporas, the largest of these being those of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and the Chinese-speaking world (the “Sinosphere”). Each of these provides a case in which the industrial structure of the huge home media market provides the basis for far-flung consumption in all those countries in which members of the respective ethnicities have settled. In situations in which they attain a certain critical mass, such racial and ethnic minorities form a market for the cultural industries and consumer goods industries more broadly. Also to be taken into account is the phenomenon of racial and ethnic minorities having an impact on the cultural industries of the dominant cultures of the nations in which they dwell. The most striking case in that regard is how African American popular music made the profound cross-over from segregated radio stations and live venues to infuse the commercial mainstream of music recording and performance in the United States and, ultimately, the world. Although such creativity is valued, there remains a diversity issue about the actual participation of racial and other minorities in executive, management, and production roles in the major cultural industries.
David O'Brien and Melissa Shani Brown
“Chineseness” is often depicted in public discourses within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as an identity that blurs together varied notions of shared cultural heritage, as well as common descent, within discourses of a unified national identity. This combines what might be called “ethnicity” (as cultural heritage), “race” (as common descent, physical or intrinsic characteristics), and “nation” (as territory and political state) in complex ways. And yet, a standard position within Chinese discourses (and often replicated in non-Chinese scholarship) is that historically informing the present, Chinese notions of “ethnic difference” are based on differences in “culture,” thus precluding “racism.” This characterization in part derives from the narrative that Chinese history was an ongoing process of “sinicization”—namely “backwards,” “barbarian” ethnic groups eagerly assimilated into the “more advanced” Han “civilization,” thus becoming “Chinese.” However, there are numerous scholarly challenges to this narrative as historically inaccurate or overly simplistic, as well as challenges to the positioning of this narrative as not “racist.” The idea that an emphasis on civilization versus barbarism is “cultural” and not “racial” delimits racism to a narrow definition focusing on “biophysical” difference. However, wider scholarship on race and racism highlights that the latter rests on diverse articulations of hierarchical difference; this includes and mobilizes cultural difference as an active part of racist discourses predicated on the acceptance of ideas of the “inferiority” versus “superiority” of peoples, as well as notions of “purity” within discourses of homogeneous imagined communities. Increasingly, “being Chinese” is being conceptualized in PRC official rhetoric as a culturally, and racially, homogeneous identity. That is, not only is Han culture being positioned as emblematic of “Chinese culture” generally but also it is being asserted that all ethnic groups are descended from the Han and are thus genetically bound by “Chinese bloodlines.” Such discourses have repercussions for ethnic minority groups within China—most clearly at the moment for Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities who are positioned as “infected” by “foreign influences,” namely their religion. This is particularly clear in the contemporary sinicization campaign in Xinjiang (XUAR: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), a region in northwest China that has gained increasing international attention due to the government’s use of “re-education” camps in a program it argues is designed to eliminate terrorism. The accompanying sinicization campaign involves a combination of propaganda emphasizing “Chinese socialist characteristics” and “core values” that should be adopted, an emphasis in the media on Uyghurs engaging in Han cultural practices as a demonstration of their loyalty to the state, as well as the removal of many visible signs of Chinese Islamic history and Uyghur culture. The turn toward politically policing culture is hardly new in China; however, the increasing emphasis on racial notions of identity—foregrounding physical appearance, genetics, lineage, and metaphors of “bloodlines”—is an attempt to turn a national identity into a “natural” one, something that raises urgent questions with regard to how China deals with the diversity of its population and the stakes in being, or becoming, “Chinese.”