A Battle with Identity

The idea for this post came to me one day when I was thinking about updating my “About Me” Page on the blog. I was thinking about what I am passionate about, versus what people see in me. I realized that I could come up with tons of adjectives to describe myself, both positive and negative. I also realized that most of them are not adjectives I would use in a public domain regardless of the connotation. When writing an about me page, or introducing yourself to somebody else, you want to engage the person by telling a story. Adjectives are great at enhancing a story, but you simply cannot start a story with adjectives and fill in the rest and expect it to remain entertaining.

This all got me thinking about what we tell people versus what we let people find out for themselves. I also took that to another level and thought about the things that we hide from others. Then I thought, what does it even matter? What does it matter if I am polite or rude to everybody I meet? It matters to me because I want to brighten people’s days and I actively try to do so, but I also do so in a very natural manner. I smile and/or wave at people I walk past on the sidewalk. I even used to wave to my daily bus driver if I saw him while I was running. I would actually feel less like myself if I didn’t do this, however, if it was natural for me to not do these things, would I feel as if I need to to “save face”?

Picking my favorite negative quality about myself now: I am grossly impatient. So much so that I tend to be really rude when I feel like my time is being wasted. I mean, really rude. So rude you do not want to deal with me. This is something I have tried to work on, and continue to try to work on, but let me tell you in my 25th year of life it may take me another 125 years to get this one right. Now, I can think about this and say to myself, “do I need to fix it?” Maybe I do and maybe I do not. I am unhappy with it, so changes need to be made sure. But if I reach happiness at getting better rather than perfect, would that bother me? Should it?

If failure is the best way to learn, why does society not accept failure? Why does society make such a big deal out of imperfections? Why do we need to fit a mold and why, when we are the first to do something are people floored? I am the only black graduate student in my department. I only know one other black graduate student in the college of engineering. I know two black faculty members in the sciences. We are elite because we are few. However, this is also a burden because it means that we must constantly be on full alert of our appearance, our tactfulness, everything that we say and do represents black people as a whole because there are so few of us. Personally, I think this is grossly unfair.

I understand that racism exists. I do not understand why racism exists. The more I explore the topic, the more confused I become. I mean that honestly. Because some people in certain countries decided long ago to explore and conquer the world we have racism. It isn’t because members of “minority groups” did something, it is because some white man decided he was better and so did the one next to him and so on and so forth. I am not saying that everybody is racist, and I am not saying that everybody who has racist thoughts and/or actions even really knows that they are doing it. I am saying that people learn racism. People choose racism. People choose to make color and sexual orientation matter, and for what? So that they feel better about themselves.

Here is my other problem with this: you can choose who you hold hands with in public. You cannot choose what color your skin is. Why are people punished for things they were born with? Why are we so mean to people with mental disabilities? Not just in our language (example: misuse of the word “retarded”), but also in our stigma around mental illnesses. How is this any different from being aware of racism? It isn’t. Discrimination is discrimination regardless of who is being discriminated against.

The bottom line is that we must fight negative with positive. We must fight fire with water. We must be the fire and know when it is time for the fire to go out for the night and trust that there will be another fire on a new day. What do I mean? I mean that if fighting needs to happen, we fight. But at some point every day, we need to back down. We need to rest and recover and leave the other side to think. And once we give them some time to forget, we come back and we fight some more. We cannot stop fighting until the story is over. And even then, we must make sure that nobody forgets.

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