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Posts Tagged ‘who am I?’

This is likely going to cause the wrong kind of controversy.  Let me say up front this is NOT a post which is suggesting anyone has to ‘get over’ anything, or that anyone is wrong in viewing the world the way they do.  This is about sharing my view.

There is a real and justified cry about the lack of “people who look like me” on TV.  “Me” in this case being anyone not white.  What I disagree with, however, is the argument that the television is therefore full of people who look like me; me in this case being actually me.

Just because she’s white doesn’t mean she looks like me.  Especially if you consider the level of make-up and even Photoshop involved in many ads these days, she probably doesn’t even look like herself!

Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I look at the TV or movies and see it filled with representations of me.  I don’t.  I see beautiful, skinny, wealthy women who wear short skirts and high heels who feel incomplete without a man.   They don’t represent me.   They don’t look like me.  They don’t act like me.

The very, very rare time that a woman is depicted as anything other than skinny and beautiful, she is usually heavy and beautiful, and her sole purpose is to prove that the heavy girl can still get the guy.  Which is great, except it’s limited to roles where the story plot *is* the heavy girl can get the guy.  The average woman on TV is still skinny and beautiful as the default.

Because of the difference in how culture views each of us, there is also a difference in how we view the culture, and how we interact with it.  They say giving a white doll to a black girl lowers her self-esteem, but giving a black doll to a white girl raises her empathy.   I think this is sort of the same idea.  Any two groups might have very different interactions and reactions to what is otherwise seen as the same catalyst.

When black people see black people on TV or in the movies or other media, they see themselves – because of the general lack of it.  But when white people see white people on TV or in the movies or other media, we don’t necessarily see ourselves.  We often feel worse about ourselves because of what we see.  It fuels our insecurities rather than building our esteem.  It’s like the opposite of the dolls.

The irony is, both groups look at today’s media and see someone other than us.  So it’s entirely accurate to say that everyone who isn’t white isn’t properly represented in media, but that doesn’t mean everyone who is white is.  It’s an oxymoron, but it’s true.

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Indigenous people.  There can be no argument – let me rephrase:  no *serious* argument – that they have gotten just about the worst end of any stick that ever was.

But wait… everyone is indigenous somewhere, right?  I mean, I’m not dismissing the genocide and other attrocities that have been perpetuated on Native Americans, Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori, Mayan tribes, Sami and Inuit peoples… the list literally goes on.

But the term indigenous seems to be… a bit… disingenuous.  EVERYONE is part of an indigenous people group, indigenous somewhere.  If you want to really argue semantics, the whole of the human race is indigenous to Africa (though Neanderthals seem to throw the monkey wrench in those works).

Okay, point is, when people discuss the issues of indigenous peoples, it always makes me stop and think, wait… if I’m not from here, where am I from?  Here being, of course, the only place on Earth I’ve ever known.  I’m not part of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.  The closest I can get to that distinction is my brother in law.

(as an aside, have you ever stopped and realized, the Pacific Northwest is Canada’s Southwest?  Kinda blows the mind, don’t it.)

My grandparents’ parents from one branch came from Sweden.  I am not indigenous to Sweden.  I’ve never seen the country, I don’t know the language (however similar it is to English) and I know even less about the culture itself.  I don’t know what the traditional dress or folk songs are.  Ethnically I have some Swede in me.  I am not Swedish, however.

I have a bit more Irish/Scottish in me, but see above: I don’t know Gaelic, nor have I ever been to Scotland or Ireland, nor do I know anything about them beyond the typical (or rather, stereotypical) haggis, St. Patrick’s Day, kilts, and whiskey.

I have some ethnic roots in Ireland/Scotland, though the Scottish side I believe is actually Dutch, and then the Dutch were really just the Norse who settled there, and the Norse… And hell, the Norse settled Sweden, too, so I’m Norse.  Where did they come from?

I mean I could say yay, Thor and Loki and mead and Vikings and long boats… surely THOSE are mine, right?  I mean, I know a little bit about them, right?  Well, I at least know enough to roll my eyes at the Marvel movies (enjoyed them, though I did) because they completely messed up the mythology of the characters and why on earth were Norse gods skipping around New Mexico, of all places!?

But no, I know something about the Norse, but it’s all academic and trivia.  I may be ethnically Norse, but I don’t I belong to the Norse culture, nor does it belong to me.  It’s someone else’s culture that I am interested in because if you go far enough back in my family tree you’ll run into people who *were* culturally Norse… but that still doesn’t make it mine.  Not MINE mine.  Not something I feel and identify with.

Because I’m from here.  This is my home.  This is the only place I’ve ever known.  This is where I was raised, where I recognize the seasons not by the calendar but by the garden, where I know the names of the creeks and can recognize the trees and flowers and animals, and know when to expect the hummingbirds and the elk.  This is where I understand the relationship between the snow in the mountains and the river in summer.  This is where I take my shoes off and walk the earth.  This is where the sun and the rain know where to find me, and where I understand how the society around me works.  (or rather, I don’t, but I make a better pretense of it.)

This is the only place I know.

I recognize the pain that my brother in law has faced in his life, the pain his people have felt in being pushed into reservations, in having their culture destroyed, their children taken away, their language outlawed, their land stolen.

I recognize I live on land that shouldn’t be mine.  I recognize I live next to the indigenous people who were put on reservations to ‘make room’ for those who came before me.

I recognize there are people who believe I have no right to be here.  This isn’t my home.  This isn’t where I belong.

There are people who love to spew the old “Go back to Africa” or “Go back to China” or whathaveyou racist nonsense.  Rightfully, I could be the object of such hate, but where would I go back to?  Where *do* I belong?

If not here… where?

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How many people does it take to have a culture?  Can I be my own?  Can I observe things that no one else observes, or celebrate in ways no one else celebrates?  Can I look at the world differently and find value in my own art and creations?  Can I be a culture unto myself?

I’ve thought about this more and more as I realize I belong to no culture but one I really don’t care for at all and don’t really fit into anyway.

So what will it mean to be a culture of one?  Well, first, it *doesn’t* mean I can’t share anything with anyone.  My culture will be individual to me, but it will not be comprised entirely of unique elements – no culture is anyway.  It will be merely comprised of elements that I find meaningful; important.

That means there will be plenty of elements that, individually, I will share with many people, some elements I may share with only a few people, and of course, a few elements that will end up being at least mostly unique.

It also doesn’t mean that nothing will then ever change.  Culture is alive, or it isn’t at all.  The only static cultures are those which exist solely in the past now.  Culture exists to change, to grow and bend with the generations, and sometimes even within generations.  So merely having aspects which evolve with time does not make it somehow invalid.

Still, it will be lacking quite a bit from being only me.  Someday I hope to bring more people into my little culture through a spouse and/or children, (really, I’m more interested in children than a spouse anyway) but until then, I’ll spark a little candle flame in my soul and see where its light lands.

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It’s a question that has haunted many a person throughout history.  The question of not just who we are as individuals, but what that means, what it means for us and for others.  The question of our place in the world, in the universe, in the scheme of things has spawned philosophies and religions, wars and enlightenments, and of course, personal midlife crises when people go to ‘find themselves.’

I’m not going to go find myself anywhere because I’m here.  I am the embodiment of my existence and I’m not going to find sudden personal enlightenment by traveling somewhere.  I am already here.

I’m also not going to try to answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything (42) nor am I going to try to be somehow inclusive and balanced.  This is solely about my own personal journey to understand myself, and therefore everything will be presented through my own eyes, my own understandings.  You can say your experience has been different, but you can’t say mine hasn’t been mine.

Despite this, I will welcome anyone who finds this interesting to come along.  Maybe together we can find out more about who we all are, and that would be wonderful.  As much as this will be my journey, my journey inherently involves others, involves my community, my country, even my global interactions.  No man is an island, is the famous phrase.  No one lives in a vacuum.

But I will admit to having very limited experiences in some ways.  I have never lived outside of my country, outside of my state, outside of my county.  I have lived within 30 miles of my birth my entire life.  I have visited other places, other countries, but I have never lived there.

The name of this blog is due to a sadness I have always felt at lacking a culture to call my own.  While I will not say I *don’t* have one, I have always *felt* the lack of one, and sometimes our perceptions affect us more than reality and so are more important to address.

I have never felt an overabundance of belonging to any group.  I am closest to Washington culture, but am still different than many others in this state.  I am even different than many in my family!  I can ethnically trace my family back to Scotland, Sweden, and parts of Ireland and England.  If I trace back far enough through my family name, I can get to Denmark (Flanders).  In my family, though not blood related, I also have Latvian, Mexican, Lummi Indian, Ugandan and Portuguese.  Some great grandfather/mother was from Canada, but I think they were still from Scotland ultimately.

Though I can say my family – or some of my family – comes from these places, I do not share a common culture with these places, and would feel just as out of place in Sweden as I would in Swaziland.

I also feel out of place in Seattle, despite living only 2 hours from there, but at least I am familiar with everything I see.  I recognize store names, brands, people’s clothes… I can’t say I always understand the people themselves, but this is as much my home as anywhere.  I think that’s why I feel so disconnected is because people I can’t relate to are still the closest I have to a cultural community.

Or are they?  Maybe that is the very heart of why so many have found refuge in online communities, that they are not based in geography, ethnicity, social class: they are based at their very core in shared values, shared understandings, shared desires and enjoyments.  I can say I have friends in Canada, Poland, Holland, Japan, and though we don’t share a common personal culture, together we share quite a lot in common.  Beyond culture and borders, there are commonalities between all people, common needs, wants and dreams.

Sometimes I think we define ourselves by negatives.  Not that we are negative against ourselves, but we define or are defined by what we are not.  I can only pinpoint aspects of my culture by the fact these things differ from other cultures.  Without a backdrop of difference, things start to disappear.  Have you ever rearranged a room, changed where your furniture sits or where your art hangs, and for the next week or so, you constantly ‘see’ it again.

It’s sort of like that.  As someone else said once, it’s like asking a fish to be conscious of the water around it.  When you are so immersed in your surroundings, you tend not to see them until something comes along to switch things up, to make it stand out, you see something that *isn’t* to make you realize what *is*.

I’ve become, I think, part of the American culture that is rejecting American culture.  Stop buying so much, stop eating so much, stop spending so much, stop using credit cards, stop fast food addictions, stop dumping so much garbage, becoming both more and less individualistic at the same time.

It can be exhausting fighting against the culture you live in, to constantly have to resist falling into the expected and once familiar patterns of life and remember every day to make that conscious decision not to take the easy way but to keep fighting for a better way.

In a nation fixated on a two-party system – I vote for a third.
In a nation fixated on faster, cheaper, disposable – I choose slower, sustainable, reusable.
In a nation fixated on pop-culture and celebrity icons – I focus on things close to me, relevant to my life.
In a nation fixated on appearance, I don’t spend thousands on clothes, shoes, hair, make-up or plastic surgery.
In a nation fixated on more More MORE, I am trying to learn to live with less, use less, waste less.
In a nation fixated on self (and *itself*), I do what I can to reach beyond me, to see and understand the world, not just my little part of it.

I still don’t know what that makes me.  Does it somehow make me un-American?  What *does* it make me!?

I don’t know.  I guess that’s what I’m going to try to find out.

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