Have you ever felt like the universe had a curriculum? Like it had a syllabus of things you need to learn before you kick the bucket, complete with lesson plans and topics of the week? It may sound crazy but lately my life has been a topic-drvien adventure. Maybe its just me mulling over different topics and finding aligning concepts around me because it was on my mind, but I can't help but feel that somehow it's waaay too structured to be coincidental or accidental. This week, the topic has been identity. You know that nagging question of "Who are you?" - requiring some static reference to a dynamic being. You are changing every moment you breathe, even by the end of the asking of the question you have changed ever so slightly. How do you answer such a question? And even then, unless you have taken the time to analyse that question for yourself about yourself, how can u honestly answer?
I imagine myself replying "Well on last analysis, I was always changing. That said...umm, i dunno...who are u?" But then I figure that's a bit pretentious and I guess, I'm pretentious at times so maybe that's part of the answer. Maybe I should reply, "Well sometimes, I am a pretentious slob, and often I can be pedantic and stubborn and strong-willed, yet passive-aggressive, with a bad temper if I'm pushed far enough" But who wants to be all negative about themselves like that. That's not even what people want to hear. But then again, what DO people want to hear? And does what they want to hear ever align with who you really are? And if you never align with want they want, will they ever really accept you? And if they "accept" you, how real is this acceptance?....But then, how many of your friends completely align with what you want them to be or think they should be? Do you love them any less? Are you any less of their friend because they are multidimensional and changing all the time?...Soooo many questions!!!!
It's crazy how questioning leads to more questions and there always seems to be more questions than answers and you wonder why bother ask. But then a life without questions is the life of a robot and I don't think I could accept that particular type of programming. I have so many questions and I end up just mulling over them almost obsessively, becoming increasingly reclusive and singular, which is never good because then you have sooo much more time to ask more questions and with no external input you never really get too many answers, but what you get sometimes is alot of confusion which really affects your relationships. I mean everyone is some level of confused but some confusions are more acceptable than others, I guess.
But yea, identity, is an interesting topic. In this week's curriculum, the reading material was a play by Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror. It was soo touching to read and it hit me hard. But it hit even harder in class today, as I watched a white man read a section of it about the middle passage, sometimes looking straight at me - the only black person in a class of over 100- seeming to desire a chance glimpse of my reactions to what was for me more emotional than educational, more feelings than words. I felt as if I was to represent all African descendants in the "New World" but yet still I felt as if no one in this room of Kiwis, really cared that much because what they were hearing didn't reflect any of their history.
Later on, I caught classmates (both Kiwi) practicing for their dramatic presentation of Fires in the Mirror, which is basically a group of interviews about the Crown Heights Race riots in Brooklyn.(google: Crown Heights Riots) I don't mean to interfere, but I asked why they chose Southern accents for their characters (who are from NY) and they say for authenticity, I say but they're from New York, they are stunned but they won't change it. I say it would be better if they used their Kiwi accents than to use inaccurate accents, but they don't care. I leave feeling once again ignored (a increasingly common feeling I get here) but at the same time not angry because if I was acting Kiwi I would use an English accent and no one would be able change my mind about it either. I mean yes, Kiwi and English accents are much more similar than Texas and NY accents but its the same kettle of fish right? Accents.
But that's how my day started today and increasingly, I have just been calling people out on their stereotypical comments about people they don't even know; stopping them in their tracks and asking them why they think what they think. Most didn't really know but if the media says its ok, who are they to disagree right?
But yea, I find being a minority identity, you feel you stand out and are invisible at the same time. And that you speak but aren't heard and if you want to be heard you can't go with the flow; you have to make people uncomfortable, but that's never easy and not always appropriate. And sometimes you need to have a sense of humor, but you have to stand up for yourself too and so my lesson in identity turned into a lesson of balance. Balance of ideas and ideals and emotions. Frustration with understanding, empathy but with restlessness. And then I'm like whoa, wait a minute, maybe passivity is the whole idea. Maybe the idea is ignore their voice enough maybe they'll shut up; make them feel guilty for being so forward so we can never feel uncomfortable about ourselves...and then I'm conflicted
But I go to class and I forget all about it. But then class ends and the learning begins as I make my slow, slightly painful trek home. I think of alot of things, too much to post here right now, but in my thinking, I think about how stereotypes are self-reinforcing. Not only racial ones but also societal expectations on gender and gender roles. Ever wonder who decided that women were "weaker" than men? Who decided that being feminine meant self-torture and self-censorship and that being masculine meant doing whatever you please? Who decided that women shouldn't be strong? Like women's strength somehow diminishes men's strength...and if that's so, how strong were they in the first place? And by saying this I sound like a man-basher, but like Big Mo' sed in Fires, "I ain't men-bashing, I'm female assertin'!"
I love men, but I'm calling a spade, a spade. I'm saying that if any of my guy friends are slipping and asks my opinion, they know they gonna get it plain and straight if they're being stupid (which is probably why they don't ask me :P)....but at the same time, it doesn't serve anyone to dim their light so that some one else can feel a little brighter for doing nothing. If someone is trying and to encourage them, you step back for a sec that's ok but a life of mediocrity helps no one really. It's easy but it's not very fulfilling.
Relationships are about give and take and there needs to be compromise but is it really necessary to expect your wifey to be your mom too?....I won't go there...but I am putting that question out there.
But as I close this wonderment of ponderment, I think about how different I was from all my friends at home before I left, and how much more removed I am now, and I wonder like Tracy in her last post about graduation, how will I regain or gain a sense of place when I return? How do all these ideas that I've generated outside of the regular frame of reference fit into life? My sense of humor has changed, my preferences have changed, my ideals are sorta the same but not exactly as they were before. How will that affect my relationship to my world; to home. I find myself slipping and calling other places home. How does that affect my identity? Jamaica is a huge part of who I am! It is a huge part because it is home. It is where respect is always due. If other places become home, do I lose my identity?
What was my identity in the first place? I don't fit too many stereotypes. I guess you can call me special. But I guess that's me being pretentious again. Oh well.....maybe that's an indelible part of my identity....which means you just gotta deal with it....somebody has to...and I'm too lazy to right now....