Saturday, March 24, 2007

I-den-ti-ty!?

thefreeslave is featured on my BlogRoll; this blog offers a constant stream of thought-provoking subjects. The following list of questions were asked (and answered by plezWorld in the Comments section) on the March 8, 2007 post entitled "I-den-ti-ty!?".


Who are you?

most people call me plez, i've even been called plezure! those who are linguistically challenged, are afflicted with mild speech impediments, or are hard of hearing will call me anything from pledge to fred to thez to clarence (i never quite understood the last one)!

What are you?

to make things easier on everyone, i just say that i'm black. some say african-american, but i'm not a hyphenated type. i am also a husband, a father, a son, a brother (in more ways than one), an uncle, a lover (not a fighter), a pragmatist, an occassional elitist, a worker, a producer, a rabble rouser, and a hell of an engineer!

What is your primary identity?

i don't know. the times that i can actually look at myself in the mirror, i just see me looking back. but i can't say that i strongly identify politically, religiously, ideologically, or any other -ly that i can think of.

What ethnic, racial, nation-state do you identify with?

i am a black american.

Or do you identify with none at all?

asked and answered.

How did you learn who you are/how to categorize yourself?

i hate to label myself, but will not bat an eye to label someone else! i was shaped and morphed by my environment - in total. and since i've had various environments and influences, and since i was shaped (in part) by all of them, it is very difficult for me to categorize myself. i was born and raised in New York, but have spent the greater part of the last 30 years in the south (Virginia and Georgia). most of my close friends and relatives are black, but i've also had a fair number of white, asian, hispanic (and other) influences in school and work. i was "raised in" the Baptist Church, but of late, i've been more strongly influenced by the spiritual rather than what was manufactured for the Bible.

How does having/maintaining an identity detract/support one being their authentic self?

being a Black American, or i should say, trying to be a successful Black in America, one has to be able to quickly and effortlessly switch between life in the Black community and existence in the mainstream community. i would be the first to say that i've probably lost a great deal of myself while constantly switching between the two. am i the self-loving Black man or the consummate corporate cog? i am realistic enough about myself to know that you cannot be both!

When we confront people as labels or categories, how does that affect our ability to see them for who they are?

unfortunately, we label people to make it easier to deal with them in that environment. until you get to know someone outside of the environment that spawned their label, you will probably never get to know them or see them for who/what they really are. think of interactions with co-workers, your boss, or other students at your school; you only know those people from your interactions in that environment. you will probably see them in a totally different light, if you were to move the interaction to another environment.

Is having a simplistic, hand-me-down identity a form of ’security,’ and a strength or an ‘escape’ from the anxiety of growing into something beyond the flowerbox you were planted in? Or both?

you gain 'security' in being able to quickly label someone; you can quickly place the "proper" barriers around your interaction with them (this is where prejudice comes from). it is the fear of the unknown that keeps us from growing (or venturing) outside of our flowerbox.

Do you ever ask yourself who and what you are, who and what you are supposed to be and whether you are being your truest self?

nope! i'm sure the answer would scare the HELL outta me! *smile*

Krishnamurti says that the drawing of lines, of distinctions in one’s mind has and does create all of the conflict, all of the war on the planet. What say you?

if that was what Krishnamurti really said, then i agree with him/her! think of our Civil War, think of WWI & WWII, think of why we are in Iraq, think of all of the strife in the Middle East and Israel. we all have drawn the proverbial "lines in the sand" about what we think of those other "labels" AND what we will do to them if/when they cross our line.

Speak now or forever hold your peace


plez sez: I welcome your responses, as well.

8 comments:

Anali said...

Very interesting post. I think when we are younger, we are constantly labeled by other people and then as we mature, it's up to us to decide who we are. We will always be labeled by others, but we define ourselves.

Being African-American there is an implicit dualism that we are always dealing with. Since that is all that I've ever been, I guess I can't quite imagine how I would be anything else. And to a certain extent, no matter our race, ethnicity, etc., we as people are all so complex that we are always dealing with many different aspects of ourselves.

Wow, this is a long comment. Let me stop babbling now!!

plez... said...

anali,

you are free to babble all you'd like! *smile*

as i told a young man who i mentor a few weeks ago, when you are teenager, you try to fit in; but as you get older, you try to establish your individuality. often times, the labels that we seek during our youth are the very labels that we try to shed as we mature.

Dave said...

I recently stumbled on a concept through a sociology course that was similar to that old saying "if you are told a lie long enough, you begin to believe it yourself" or something to that effect.

Essentially, this study, or theory showed that when kids were labeled at a young age, that label stuck with them up through the years, and for the most part, they couldn't shake it, and in many ways, lived out the stereotype that they had been branded with.

This resonates with me on many levels. Think about it in terms of racial identity. If a child is constantly labeled "black" "colored" or whatever derivation thereof, they are going to CONSTANTLY be aware of this condition. Whereas if a child is never categorized, labeled, stigmatized, it is unnatural for them to hear this type of B.S. innuendo, and when they DO hear it, they file it on the back shelf where it belongs, with the rest of the meaningless propoganda.

Plez, yeah, shedding of labels. Brilliantly put.

plez... said...

Dave,

as i always tell my friends, it's not what they call you, it's what you answer to!

labels (especially, when you are younger) are a fact of life. unfortunately, some labels are based on lies (dumb, ignorant, slow witted, etc.), and unfortunately, if you are told these lies enough, you will begin to believe (and worse yet, conform to them).

so what are some of the labels that have been applied to you?

Dave said...

Plez,

That's a good question. Where to even begin? A bit of background on me: my folks split up when I was nine. I spent time living with each of them, and they moved a lot. From grade 6 on, I cannot remember a school that I was at for more than 3 semesters at a time. This put me into a situation where I was constantly having to start from scratch, meet new people. I think because of that it intensified my sensitivity towards labels.

Most people don't label others that they have known all their life, grown up with. They tend to label strangers, the new kids on the block, because until they actually get to know them, that is all they have to go on, the cover of the book.

Regarding labels applied to my racial identity, I remember a particular situation where months after being in the class, and interacting with my group, still being referred to as "white boy." It's such a frustrating feeling. To have meaningful interaction with people, and believe that you are past that, only to have it creep back in, time and again.

But even more damaging to a child than the casual references, are the hate filled, venomous sort. I had never once been called a "honky," until the day that some random stranger stabbed me in the hallway while screaming "h-o-n-k-y!" They asked her later why she did it, and she said she didn't know. Said she didn't even know me. Stabbed me because I was there, because I was "white."

This level of derogatory racial stereotyping by a child's peers... it takes it to the next level. I could easily brush aside comments like "white boy" knowing that these were my friends, and it was half in jest. But to have a complete stranger single me out, and hurt me bad like that, just because I was "white," that was crazy. My sense of self-identity was shaken. I found myself asking questions like "why did she choose me?" "of all the other white kids around, why me?" "am I some exaggerated version of a white person?" "am I hyper-white?"

Obviously no, it was a random, freak occurrence. But the lie started to eat away at me. I remember trying to compensate. Went through a phase in which I tried to shed anything about myself that was indicative of "white" culture. I guess when a thing like that happens to a person, they either choose to become bitter, and blame the assailant for putting them on victim status.. or, as in my case, they blame themselves, internalizing, trying to empathize with the assailant, trying to justify why they did what they did.

Labels spread like a disease, you either have immunity to them, or you get infected.

plez... said...

Dave,

That's tight! You've endured quite a life in your short time here on Earth... hopefully, you are able to shed some of those labels and learn to live up to your potential.

Dave said...

Labels, no problem. Potential? Thats tough. Be nice if we could all discover our hidden potentials. Something tells me that no matter what level of relative success I achieve, I would still feel in the back of my mind that I could do more or do better.

How about you Plez, are you content with your life? Your identity?

plez... said...

Dave asks: How about you Plez, are you content with your life?

plez sez: Dave, contentment is easy... finding true happiness is the tough part. it takes a balance of family (i have a lovely wife and a gorgeous & inquisitive little girl), success at work (i'm doing ok, but i'm sure that i could be doing better - sometimes i feel that i'm falling behind in the "Success Race", but i'm also not inclined to try to keep up with the joneses), and inner peace (i know who i am, i know who i am not, and i am at peace with that knowledge about myself).

Dave asks: Your identity?

plez sez: i took control of my identity quite a long time ago, so i'm am fine with "my" creation! *smile*