The ‘‘Wages of Burman-ness:’’ Ethnicityand Burman Privilege in ContemporaryMyanmar
MATTHEW J. WALTON
Department of Political Science, George Washington University, Washington DC, USA
Ethnicity is one of the primary lenses through which scholars view conﬂict in Bur-ma/Myanmar. In this paper I examine the dominance of the majority ethnic group in Myanmar,the Burmans, and the ways in which Burman-ness functions as a privileged identity. I draw fromthe theoretical framework of Whiteness and White privilege in critical race theory to argue that,although there are important analytical diﬀerences between race and ethnicity, we can conceptua-lise Burman-ness as a form of institutionalised dominance similar to Whiteness. I support this ar- gument by documenting the ways in which Burmans are privileged in relation to non-Burmans,while still, in many cases, seeing themselves as equally subject to government repression. Thisanalysis of Burman privilege (and blindness to that privilege) is particularly relevant given the fact that the political reforms implemented by Myanmar’s new, partly civilian government since2011 have opened new opportunities for (mostly Burman) activists while coinciding with in-creased military violence in some non-Burman border regions of the country.
: Burma, Myanmar, ethnic conﬂict, Burman, privilege, Whiteness
Ethnic conﬂict has persistently plagued Burma since before its independence in1948.
The military governments that ruled the country from 1962 until 2011regularly battled ethnic insurgencies in the border areas and, despite a series of ceaseﬁres over the last 15 years, ethnic conﬂict continues today. As a result, ethnicityremains one of the primary lenses through which scholars view conﬂict in present-day Myanmar.
This paper examines the dominance of the majority ethnic group inMyanmar, the Burmans, through a conceptual lens drawn from critical race theory.
The theoretical framework of Whiteness and White privilege is used to determine if asimilar privileged identity of Burman-ness operates in Myanmar. I argue that we canconceptualise Burman-ness as a form of institutionalised dominance similar toWhiteness, despite the analytical diﬀerences between race and ethnicity. At the sametime some of the ways in which the boundaries of a dominant ethnic group appear tobe more porous than racial boundaries, particularly when they overlap with nationalidentity, as is the case in Myanmar. This argument is supported by documenting the
Matthew J. Walton, Department of Political Science, George WashingtonUniversity, 2115 G St. NW, Monroe Hall 440, Washington, DC 20052, USA.Email: email@example.com
Journal of Contemporary AsiaiFirst article pp. 1–27, 2012
ISSN 0047-2336 Print/1752-7554 Online/12/000001-27
Journal of Contemporary Asia
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