This article presents a new viewpoint on the lasting identity problem faced by the Turkish population living in Germany. As a third generation of Turkish Germans comes of age, the problems of identity, integration and acceptance into German society is still a problem for many of the young, in a more precise way, “German Turks.” White’s article not only gives an overview to how this particular population is treated in Germany, but also presents her idea of identity as “a dialect of how people see themselves and how others see them” and “has an essentialist or ‘external’ component… and a processional ‘internal’ component” (White 1997, 754). White finds the “essentialist” component to be the difference between the original population and the outer population that keeps the two apart (in this case, the differences between the German Turks and the ethnic Germans), and the “processional” component is the similarities that band together the members of the like population. White also shows how the 2nd and 3rd generations of German Turks have formed their own “third culture” that is different from the Turkish culture and German culture, and how that the 3 generations of Turks in Germany are each moving away from a Turkish culture and into a specialized German Turkish culture than the preceding generation. However, the most important analysis that the article provides is the concept of “generalized reciprocity” (756). This concept is shown as the primary reason why although the external forces such as outside culture are changing, many ethnic groups manage to stay together. According to “generalized reciprocity,” if a person acts the same way as a group or has common values as that group, then that person is considered by other members of that group to be a member of the group. Because the values of the group can change, there are no set customs, which allows that group to be flexible with their combined identities.
This takes a fresh approach by examining the status of German Turks from a viewpoint not outside, but from within the German Turkish community. Most of the article deals with how the Turkish population in Germany is changing and modifying itself, and although retaining some customs from Turkish culture and taking in some new ones from Germany, the actual identity of the Turks in Germany is becoming its own entity, separate from others but flexible enough to change with the times. White’s definition of identity (dialects of viewpoints) certainly matches what is happening with the Turkish German identity, especially as it moves into the 3rd generation who have grown up in Germany all their lives and have been exposed to the German culture since youth. The concept of “generalized reciprocity” takes that view of identity one step further, as it shows that the identity and culture of a population is always flexible, based across “boundaries of social class, lifestyle, generation and (although including – but not exclusively) even ethnicity.” This “generalized reciprocity” that does not solely judge on the concept of race is certainly what the identity of any foreign population in Germany would strive towards. This new explanation of how the Turkish population in Germany is changing and revising itself is certainly a valuable part of the article.
However, this new perspective on how the identity of the Turkish population is changing is still not without some questions. This flexibility of identity might be overly positive; in the case of the article, White is simply considering all Turks in Germany to be of one unified group, without differences in demographics or other differentiating factors. However, she does not account for the possibility that after the so-called “primary” identity is formed, there could be people who refused to be characterized by it. White should have acknowledged that there will still be people who nevertheless will have opinions on the identity formed by the majority, and it is quite possible that they will not accept it as a characterization of themselves. Nevertheless, the concept that the members of the ethnic group have the ability to change their identity to their own concept of identity is still a very interesting and valid point. The fact that the new identity is not shaped solely on origin or ethnicity, but on social standing, lifestyle and generation shows how the identity of a foreign population is subject to how the individuals change.
by David Liu