This book is a presentation of Wesley Morrisâ€™ Who Do You Think You Are? with comments, interviews, and selected literature from students at Washington University in Saint Louis. The interspersed student contributions work in dialogue with Morrisâ€™ argitle to tempor its theoretical discussion of identy with personal accounts.
Akua Owusu Dommey
Who Do You Think You Are?
A few weeks ago, I sat in a movie theater and grinned. Anne Hathaway was in ‘‘The Intern,’’ perched on a hotel bed in a hotel robe, eating from a can of overpriced nuts, having tea and freaking out. What would happen if she divorced her sweet, selfless stay-at-home dad of a husband? Would she ever meet anybody else? And if she didn’t, she would have no one to be buried next to — she’d be single for all eternity. And weren’t the problems in her marriage a direct result of her being a successful businesswoman — she was there but never quite present? ‘‘The Intern’’ is a Nancy Meyers movie, and these sorts of cute careerwoman meltdowns are the Eddie Van Halen guitar solos of her romantic comedies.
I watched this in theaters, too. Remember the audience laughing at this bit.
I don’t like her brand of white feminism
I’ll have to use the term ‘gilfriending’ more often
But what’s funny about that scene — what had me grinning — is the response of the person across the bed from Hathaway. After listening to her tearful rant, this person has had enough: Don’t you dare blame yourself or your career! Actually, the interruption begins, ‘‘I hate to be the feminist, of the two of us. … ’’ Hate to be because the person on the other side of the bed isn’t Judy Greer or Brie Larson. It’s not Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon. It’s someone not far from the last person who comes to mind when you think ‘‘soul-baring bestie.’’ It’s Robert freaking De Niro, portrayer of psychos, savages and grouches no more. On that bed with Hathaway, as her 70-year-old intern, he’s not Travis Bickle or the human wall of intolerance from those Focker movies. He’s Lena Dunham. The attentiveness and stern feminism coming out of his mouth are where the comedy is. And while it’s perfectly obvious what Meyers is doing to De Niro — girlfriending him — that doesn’t make the overhaul any less effective. The whole movie is about the subtle and obvious ways in which men have been overly sensitized and women made self-estranged through breadwinning. It’s both a plaint against
the present and a pining for the past, but also an acceptance that we are where we are. And where are we? On one hand: in another of Nancy Meyers’s bourgeois pornographies. On the other: in the midst of a great cultural identity migration. Gender roles are merging. Races are being shed. In the last six years or so, but especially in 2015, we’ve been made to see how trans and bi and poly-ambi-omni- we are. If Meyers is clued into this confusion, then you know it really has gone far, wide and middlebrow. We can see it in the instantly beloved hit ‘‘Transparent,’’ about a family whose patriarch becomes a trans woman whose kids call her Moppa, or in the time we’ve spent this year in televised proximity to Caitlyn Jenner, or in the browning of America’s white founding fathers in the Broadway musical ‘‘Hamilton,’’ or in the proliferating clones that Tatiana Maslany plays on ‘‘Orphan Black,’’ which mock the idea of a true or even original self, or in Amy Schumer’s comedic feminism, which reconsiders gender confusion: Do uncouthness, detachment and promiscuity make her a slut, or a man? We can see it in the recently departed half-hour sketch comedy ‘‘Key & Peele,’’ which took race as a construct that could be reshuffled and remixed until it seemed to lose its meaning. The sitcom ‘‘Black-ish’’ likewise makes weekly farcical discourse out of how much black identity has warped — and how much it hasn’t — over 50 years and across three generations. ‘‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’’ turns selfhood into a circus, introducing us to a lower-middle-class Native American teenager who eventually succeeds at becoming a rich white lady, and to other characters who try out new selves every 10 minutes, as if they’re auditioning for ‘‘Snapchat: The Musical.’’ Last month, Ryan Adams released a remake of Taylor Swift’s album ‘‘1989,’’ song for song, as a rock record that com-
Don’t completely agree with this. Hathaway’s character has an odd drunk moment where she laments a time where men were more ‘gentlemanly,’ In such a time of strictly defined masculinity she would not have been ‘allowed’ to achieve the success she has now
Oh my god. I’m cackling with laughter.
What…no. We aren’t losing, we are gaining appreciations that other identities exist. Hm. I would disagree? Unless we are talking about the increasing population of people who consider themselves mixed race? \ Lol I despise Amy Schumer.
No, she’s just slightly racist…#whitefeminism
...Would totally watch!
â€œ Gender roles are merging. Races are being shed.â€?
Whatâ€Śno. We arenâ€™t losing, we are gaining appreciations that other identities exist.
I would disagree? Unless we are talking about the increasing population of people who consider themselves mixed race?
Katherine Branche Race: Black, Mixed Race Gender Identity: Woman Sexual Orientation: Straight Pronouns: She/Her Age: 22 Hometown: Mclean, VA Education: 2016 Bachelor of Science in Anthropology/ Archaeology Other Identities not listed above: Christian, Extremely Privileged, Able-Bodied
What does identity mean to you?
What are you frustrated with?
Identity is who you believe yourself to be, how you wish to be characterized and viewed.
How much people are filled with hate and fear. Racism. Rape Culture. Inequality and oppression in all its forms. Poverty. US Education.
In what ways have you struggled with your own sense of identity? Being Black growing up inhabiting mostly white spaces made me question my value, capability, intelligence, and beauty. . Do you feel our society has made progress towards accepting people of all different backgrounds and identities? In what ways have we made progress, and where do we still need work? Society has definitely made progress I would say. We need to continue working till there are truly equitable opportunities provided to people of different identities and till we as an entire society stop fearing, judging, and hating those who are not the same as us. Individual change must happen along with systemic change.
How does your sense of identity impact your actions? As someone who has had almost every privilege in this life who also holds minority status, I feel a great responsibility towards using my power to better society and put effort into â€œhandlingâ€? my above frustrations.
For all the times I was called an Oreo
I now know that isn’t a compliment.
That your desire to claim me as one of you is an attempt to erase the merit of the “other”. Whiteness is not synonymous with goodness, intelligence,
You do not get to strip me of my identity
These aren’t examples of blurring or loss of gender/race etc. distinctions. It is showing how encompassing one identity can be to a multitude of behaviors etc..
bines a male voice with a perspective that still sounds like a woman’s, like Lindsey Buckingham trying on Stevie Nicks’s clothes. Dancing on the fringes of mainstream pop are androgynous black men like Le1f, Stromae and Shamir. What started this flux? For more than a decade, we’ve lived with personal technologies — video games and socialmedia platforms — that have helped us create alternate or auxiliary personae. We’ve also spent a dozen years in the daily grip of makeover shows, in which a team of experts transforms your personal style, your home, your body, your spouse. There are TV competitions for the best fashion design, body painting, drag queen. Some forms of cosmetic alteration have become perfectly normal, and there are shows for that, too. Our reinventions feel gleeful and liberating — and tied to an essentially American optimism. After centuries of women living alongside men, and of the races living adjacent to one another, even if only notionally, our rigidly enforced gender and racial lines are finally breaking down. There’s a sense of fluidity and permissiveness and a smashing of binaries. We’re all becoming one another. Well, we are. And we’re not. In June, the story of a woman named Rachel Dolezal began its viral spread through the news. She had recently been appointed president of the local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. in Spokane, Wash. She had been married to a black man, had two black sons and was, by most accounts, a black woman. Her white biological parents begged to differ. The ensuing scandal resurrected questions about the nature of identity — what compelled Dolezal to darken her skin, perm her hair and pass in reverse? She might not have been biologically black, but she seemed well past feeling spiritually white.
Some people called her ‘‘transracial.’’ Others found insult in her masquerade, particularly when the country’s attention was being drawn, day after day, to how dangerous it can be to have black skin. The identities of the black men and women killed by white police officers and civilians, under an assortment of violent circumstances, remain fixed. But there was something oddly compelling about Dolezal, too. She represented — dementedly but also earnestly — a longing to transcend our historical past and racialized present. This is a country founded on independence and yet comfortable with racial domination, a country that has forever been trying to legislate the lines between whiteness and nonwhiteness, between borrowing and genocidal theft. We’ve wanted to think we’re better than a history we can’t seem to stop repeating. Dolezal’s unwavering certainty that she was black was a measure of how seriously she believed in integration: It was as if she had arrived in a future that hadn’t yet caught up to her. It wasn’t so long ago that many Americans felt they were living in that future. Barack Obama’s election was the dynamite that broke open the country. It was a moment. It was the moment. Obama was biological proof of some kind of progress — the product of an interracial relationship, the kind that was outlawed in some states as recently as 1967 but was normalized. He seemed to absolve us of original sin and take us past this stupid, dangerous race stuff. What if suddenly anything was possible? What if we could be and do whatever and whoever we wanted? In that moment, the country was changing. We were changing.
Hm. I’m not sure if I really agree with this. Integration is different from claiming you have changed races, which is not possible. While maybe you can feel as if you identify more closely with a different race’s culture, I don’t believe you can choose to identify as a different race, nor do I believe that it is our future. I disagree with this.
I think it’s a little naïve to claim this. Many people still seemed to recognize the problems and challenges ahead for racial inequality at that time. Certainly the 2008 election gave people hope, but I would probably not go this far.” I would argue that this was the perspective of a very select population of idealistic, at least moderately privileged white people. Were we? Voting for a black president is one thing. Police not murdering little black boys and girls is another.
“ It was as if she had arrived in a future that hadn’t yet caught up to her.”
I’m not sure if I really agree with this. Integration is different from claiming you have changed races, which is not possible. While maybe you can feel as if you identify more closely with a different race’s culture, I don’t believe you can choose to identify as a different race, nor do I believe that it is our future.
I disagree with this.
Alana Goodrich Race: White Gender Identity: Female Sexual Orientation: Straight Pronouns: She/Her Age: 20 Hometown: Geneva, IL Education: Student at Washington University in Saint Louis Studying Economics, Finance, and Math
What does identity mean to you?
What are you frustrated with?
To me, identity is a combination of the experiences, people, beliefs that shaped me as a person as well as who I strive to be going forward.
How divided the US has become, especially because of the election.
Do you feel our society has made progress towards accepting people of all different backgrounds and identities? In what ways have we made progress, and where do we still need work?
I think that sometimes I am hesitant to engage with certain issues that I haven’t personally experienced because I don’t want to take any focus away from the voices of people who are more personally connected to problems/issues who deserve to have their voices heard.
I definitely think our society has made progress, but we still have a lot of work to do. I think it’s pretty easy to see just by watching/ listening to the news or talking to friends how a lot of people feel frustrated and angry that their voices are not being heard or taken seriously. While there has been a lot of talk about striving to be more accepting of all backgrounds and identities, there has been much less progressive action taken by people who don’t identify as members of marginalized groups/identities. I don’t think we can ever reach our goals until all members or groups of society are fully engaged.
How does your sense of identity impact your actions?
The Identity Freakout of 2015
This sentence, to me, truly captures the “otherness” of the intersected identity on the national stage. Though you might have biracial nephews, or maybe even a little bit of Cherokee deep, deep down inside of you, there wasn’t precedent for the problem of “otherness” representing the American people from 2008-2016. There wasn’t room for that identity to be the face of our identity.” Interesting way of puttin that.
“Why is the author obsessed with transcending race?? Transcending is overrated. Get down and dirty.”
Before Obama ran for president, when we tended to talk about racial identity, we did so as the defense of a settlement. Black was understood to be black, nontransferably. Negro intellectuals — Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray and James Baldwin, for starters — debated strategies for equality and tolerance. Some of them asserted that to be black was also to be American, even if America begged to differ. For most of those many decades, blackness stood in opposition to whiteness, which folded its arms and said that was black people’s problem. But Obama became everybody’s problem. He was black. He was white. He was hope. He was apocalypse. And he brought a lot of anxiety into weird relief. We had never really had a white president until we had a black one. This radical hope, triggered by Obama, ushered in a period of bi- and transracial art — art that probed the possibility that we really had transcended race, but also ridiculed his hope with an acid humor. During Obama’s past year in office, those works of art have taken on an even darker, more troubled tone as we keep looking around and seeing how little has really changed. When the Dolezal story broke, I was partway through Nell Zink’s ‘‘Mislaid,’’ one of the four new satirical novels of race I read this year — Jess Row’s ‘‘Your Face in Mine,’’ Paul Beatty’s ‘‘The Sellout’’ and Mat Johnson’s ‘‘Loving Day’’ were the others. (I also read Fran Ross’s long-lost, recently reissued ‘‘Oreo.’’) But Zink’s was the only one that felt like an energy reading of Dolezal. Zink’s white heroine, Peggy, has run off with her daughter, Mireille, and decided to take the birth certificate of a dead black girl named Karen Brown and use it for Mireille, while changing her own name to Meg.
The next year, Karen was 4 years old going on 5 and still blond. Nonetheless registering her for first grade as a black 6-year-old was easy as pie. Maybe you have to be from the South to get your head around blond black people. Virginia was settled before slavery began, and it was diverse. There were tawny black people with hazel eyes. Black people with auburn hair, skin like butter and eyes of deep bluegreen. Blond, blue-eyed black people resembling a recent chairman of the N.A.A.C.P. Zink’s marveling description of what blackness looks like implies that it could welcome anyone. She draws a phenotypic loophole through which a sympathetic impostor or a straight-up cynic can pass. Each of these books wrestles with the fact of race while trying to present it as mutable, constructed, obscuring. In Beatty’s novel, a young black farmer in modern Los Angeles reluctantly takes on a vulgar former TV minstrel star as his slave. Blackness, according to this book, is as much a scam as it is a cultural identity; the undercurrents of tragedy keep lapping at the harbor of farce. Row’s novel is also a satire, but an eerily calm one in which a white man has ‘‘racial reassignment’’ surgery and becomes black. Row, who like Zink is white, takes guilt to an astounding allegorical extreme: The surest cure for white oppression is to eliminate whiteness. Whatever else is going on with Dolezal psychologically, you can read into her proud reassignment a sense of shame. But racial transgression works the other way too. ‘‘Hamilton’’ is a musical biography about the very white, very dead Alexander Hamilton, in which most of the cast is ‘‘other,’’
“You may be experiencing such an illness like feeling bad about white oppression if you: show symptoms of trying to promote a “color-blind” America, promising that you “just love soul food!” and swearing that you voted for Obama in the ’08 election. ”
“I do agree with that. Dolezal’s rejection of her race seemed very much like it was coming from a place of shame to me when I first heard her story.”
“Today, I ask my questions.”
Akua Owusu Dommey Race: Black, Ghanain-American Gender Identity: Woman Sexual Orientation: Straight Pronouns: She/Her Age: 20 Hometown: Gilbert, AZ Education: Student at Washington University in Saint Louis Studying PNP and Religious Studies. Other Identities not listed above: If I want to be hones, a recently skeptical Christian.
What does identity mean to you? I personally believe that identity is written in the body to a very large extent; the ways in which I navigate the world in my body are the ways in which my identity has been/is birthed. And to some larger extent, I used to resent the legacies that shaped my identities— I resented not being able to choose my own bodily inheritance, that I had to live with the body that housed me and love the tent that held me with no questions asked. Today, I ask my questions. In what ways have you struggled with your own sense of identity? To quote the title of a blog post I wrote in the summer of 2016 following the shooting of several unarmed black men by police officers— “in which akua is very conflicted on how to go about how much she truly believes proclaiming ‘black lives matter’ matters while also not potentially alienating herself from her wonderful but not always understanding tumblr Christian ministries friends”— I cannot rest easy as a black body in a white pew. I cannot exist with ease as I see how so much of white Christian America remains silent in so
many forms of injustice, choosing cowardice as a default and apathy as their grave. I cannot exist without doubts when I see, without reason, why God hath forsaken black bodies for so long. It’s hard. I don’t know what else to say besides “it’s hard”. Do you feel our society has made progress towards accepting people of all different backgrounds and identities? In what ways have we made progress, and where do we still need work? I think we give a lot of beautiful and inspiring lip-service to the politics of acceptance. It seems as if we measure acceptance by some cheap maxima and pat ourselves on the back for our weak minima and it just doesn’t quite seem right. If I were to say, “I promise, I don’t hate gay people!!!” and simultaneously believe that my wish to be aligned with the Bible is of enough importance to consciously square away the humanity and literal existence of many individuals as a condemnable “lifestyle”, I am not living in acceptance— I am living in a bent-over-backwards lie. And so I think the progress lies in the acknowledgment—the acknowledgment of how often we try to stretch our realities to fit
into the narrative that “we don’t really need feminism anymore in 2016”, how far we must contort our histories to justly believe that our founding fathers meant what they said when they held “all men were created equal” to be a self-evident truth as they concurrently perpetuated race-based chattel slavery for their own gain, how much we have to bend over backwards to tell ourselves that we truly, actually have been and are an accepting society. Once we’re able to admit that we haven’t done shit, I think, we’ll be able to do so much more shit in the process of recognizing that equality and acceptance for all has never been our common narrative. There is much work to be done in reworking ourselves, our ideologies, and our systems to make sure that anybody’s bodily legacy is as important and as valued as the next person’s. What are you frustrated with? I worry that my activism can sometimes be flaunted like a crown I wear atop my newly natural (#blacktivistapproved) hair. I don’t know how to piece together the problem of relishing in-group activism while not knowing if I’d be so activism-oriented organically and without social trend. Even further, sometimes the
language and spaces of activism can seem exclusive to those people without as much access to the educational and experiential tools that college students at Wash U are afforded. Sometimes, college students privileged to the opportunity to study at a top institution can feel alienated when it comes to issues of justice and social analysis. I think, then, it’s important to remember that everyone is on a journey to more understanding. That this journey in social understanding doesn’t have to be exclusive to those with BAs or PhDs in a humanity and that being further along this journey doesn’t mean that anybody else’s journey is less worthwhile. Here’s to navigating this complex road. How does your sense of identity impact your actions? I would say that I am more careful. I think the prototypes and exemplars of misogynoir (first coined by black queer scholar Moya Bailey as a “word [she] made up to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at Black women in American visual and popular culture.”) that I’ve experienced thus far in my life as I write my black womanhood, have made me more careful to make sure I do not use
my tongue to bring down the body. It hurts to be 7 and scrub your skin in the tub so that you’ll be a just a little less dark-skinned and a lot more beautiful. It’s hard to see clearly when you didn’t wear your glasses for years because you hated being darker-skinned, brace-faced, and bespectacled just like the character Cookie from the show “Ned’s Declassified”. It’s unsettling to be at a place where so often, people’s tongues shape and curl around an idea of you now being a praise-worthy beautiful and your body now being attractive and therefore worthy of taking up space as a woman on earth and you feel like the biggest imposter in the world. Because others’ tongues have choked my appearance-based legacy for so long, I need to be more careful with the words that I say and the actions that proceed. I need to be aware that my words, deliberate or otherwise, can shape a legacy and a life-lived.
Check Your Priviledge at the Sliding Door Akua Owusu Dommey Living in St. Louis for the school year and coming back to Arizona’s summer has never been conducive to much beyond suffering, sweating, and sweet, sweet misery. I mean, it isn’t all bad— I get to enjoy the feeling of home through family and friends. I get to visit my favorite spots and re-experience some of my favorite memories along Cypress Point’s winding roads. But to do these things and experience these pleasures, I have to drive. And to drive, I soon realized that I just had to get sunshades for my car. So that when getting into my oven-baked car, I wouldn’t be roasted alive by the beating Arizona sun. So that I wouldn’t burn my hands on the steering wheel as I backed out of my driveway. So that I could take cute front-seat selfies for the ‘Gram and the ‘Snap and actually be glistening instead of just farm-animal sweating. So I recognized my need to purchase sunshades (for those who don’t live in the depths of hell, these are large, reflective aluminum shades that cover the windshield and sometimes the windows of each cardoor of your parked car). And I recognize my need to fulfill this need before the cruel
gaze of the Arizona sun would forever render me and my delightful expectations of Summer ‘16 sour… and annoyed. There is a Walmart that is a 4-minute commute from my childhood home and I knew that I could find my saving grace there. After a short morning in my summer class, I drove to that Walmart on Market St. in the high afternoon and entered inside. As much as I’d hate to admit it, Walmart is ubiquitous— as a marketplace, as a corporate scam, as consumerist ideology. Yes, we know of it. We’ve heard of it. Individuals tend to love it or love to hate it. People either laud the enterprise for its “famous low prices!” or condemn the mega-business for its famously exploitative practices. I, personally, find myself straddling the fence— shamefully, only affirming a real stance on Walmart when it is in my best interest to do so (giving my stamp of approval when I can get 3 boxes of cereal at the ‘Mart for the price of 1 box at Target; giving my castigation in disapproval only when I am outraged by new facts that inform us of why Walmart can manage to sell cereal and appliances and clothing and goods for a 1/3
of what they’re worth through dishonest labor laws and unfair employee compensation and… and still, yet, being placated by the bumpin’ bargains I get on my Cinnamon Toast Crunch every two weeks...). Opinions aside, Walmart is a remarkably knowable and far-reaching enterprise to most spaces of our globalized society. And as I walked the aisles to find the “Car Goods” section, I walked past many knowable and far-reaching aisles like “Sporting Goods,” “Home and Lifestyle,” “Entertainment,” “Groceries,” “Appliances,” and “Personal Care” to get to my promised-land. Once I found my beloved car shades in “Car Goods”, I was also able to pick up a personal humidifier, another appliance needed for me to combat Arizona’s extreme dry air in my bedroom, near the “Pharmacy” section, found a cylindrical container of Lemon Pledge wipes in the “Cleaning Supplies” section so I could have the means to clean my personal bathroom, and meandered to the “Health and Beauty” section to find two concealers and an eyebrow pencil in my default color— the darkest shades that I could find. (Which, in the realities of living in 2.3% black-populated Gilbert, Arizona, were not very dark. Gone were the days of seeing the multiple shelves of “Black Opal” and “Black Radiance” beauty products at any store near my school in St. Louis, MO. Though St.
Louis catered to my Camille Winbush, Gilbert only got me as far as Rosario Dawson). After cursing myself for not having the foresight to get a cart at the entrance to place my items, I stumbled to the register and paid, wincing when the total came out to be a little too expensive for comfort. My slight grimace was quickly erased, however, when I remembered that my parents would add money to my two debit cards on the 25th of each month. It was the 23rd. So I flashed my signature smile, gave the cashier a quick “thank you so, so much!”, and flounced out of the store with my purchases in hand. As I put all of my shopping bags into the seat beside me and turned on the air-conditioning for a few minutes, preparing to peel off from the busy parking lot, I realized a few things: 1. That I had forgotten to lock all of my doors as I sat in that parking lot waiting for the air-conditioning to spread throughout the vehicle. I’d watched too many news reports and read too many articles about women being taken hostage in unlocked cars by guys taking advantage of the few seconds it takes for a woman to touch up her makeup in her driver’s mirror— guys who would then enter into her unlocked passenger door and place a gun to her head. “Not today,” I thought as I locked my doors with a quickness.
“...my Walmart was a superstore. And unlike my above realizations, I couldn’t immediately unpack this one.”
Check Your Priviledge at the Sliding Door Akua Owusu-Dommey
2. That I was presented with the problem of the Arizona sun and was able to fix it quickly and easily through immediately accumulating the many expendable, replaceable resources to buy a damn sunshade from a superstore that carried many varieties, colors, and styles of damn sunshades was a direct result of so, so much privilege. “Can’t apologize for my privilege— can only recognize it and my place in the discourse and use my positions of power to better my intersecting communities in all the ways that I can,” I confidently and pedantically reminded myself, hearkening back to some of the basics I had gleaned in humanities classes my first two years of college and patting myself on the back for not sleeping on ‘tha issues’. 3. That my Walmart was a superstore.And unlike my above realizations, I couldn’t immediately unpack this one. It was quite a simple realization, actually, but it was stunning how perspectivealtering it was to comprehend that my Walmart wasn’t just any old Walmart. My Walmart, the Walmart I had always just referred to as “Walmart”, was actually a Super-Walmart that carried appliances and electronics and foods and clothes and shoes and movies and makeup and car goods.
In my seat, I thought back to the first time I went to a non-superstore Walmart in a less nice area of town— which, in the $80,000 median income Gilbert, AZ, was still very nice. My 8th grade choir class was having a party the next day for the end of the semester and we were all to bring “holiday” (read: Christmas) snacks. My older sister and I had just performed at a Christmas-themed piano recital in North Gilbert and my family decided it would be a good idea to get the cookies at a Walmart there. There, I was introduced to my first “Neighborhood Walmart.” There, I was shocked to find that we couldn’t also get a vacuum cleaner with our platter of Christmas Trees. I was flabbergasted in reconciling the idea of a Walmart without a baby clothes section near the (non-existent) craft supplies aisle and without books or magazines to be found by the (non-existent) dental hygiene aisle. Because “Neighborhood Walmart” meant a Walmart with only groceries. Good groceries with inexpensive prices, but only groceries nonetheless. As I sat and I reminisced about this moment 6 years ago in the one Neighborhood Walmart I had been to, I realized that privilege (of any kind) is a little bit like Super-Walmart— dawning on me first with a whimper, then with a bang.
Check Your Priviledge at the Sliding Door Akua Owusu-Dommey
If Oxford Dictionaries define privileg as: “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people,” then: Privilege often doesn’t call itself out— with me never remembering that my Walmart was a Super-Walmart until I was challenged with remembering the only non-super-Walmart I had been to a few years back. You don’t know your Walmart is “Super” until it is pointed out to you. Privilege doesn’t often seem real— with me often expressing frustration with the Super-Walmart near my house for being dimly lit and overcrowded and with me not even recognizing that just because my life and my Super-Walmart aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean that my life and my Super-Walmart don’t carry immense privileges in so many ways. You can’t erase your inherent privileges because you have faced hardship or times of struggle. Privilege doesn’t always consider the fact that others don’t necessarily have the access to the thousands more opportunities that you have, just by merit of being privileged enough to have a supercenter by your house that other people aren’t given access. You don’t know how much access you have until you are made privy to spaces
with less immediate access and can no longer assume that it’s normal to buy toilet plungers and a butterfly terrarium in the same shopping trip that you buy lunch meat. You automatically assume that everybody else starts on the same Super-playing field that you’re on, even though that will never be true. Privilege often mandates that those without it are expected to go out of their way to enter into privileged spaces and “keep up” with the rest of the world— because how dare the people of nonsuper-Walmart find issue with having to drive across town to go to a supercenter to buy items that they don’t need? How dare the people of non-superWalmart create their own institutions (#hbcus), their own businesses (#blackowned), their own sources of media and their own happy, superstore-less lives? And privilege often assumes that the people who have it are happier and more fulfilled than those without such privilege— a lá my horrified thoughts a few years back when I felt so sorry for those people who had to go to Neighborhood Walmart and couldn’t get tween-dream Jonas Brothers posters alongside their chicken entrees and laundry detergent. #checkyourpityattheslidingdoors
Of course, this was a lot to chew on and it was a lot to work through my mind as I tried to see how far I could stretch the analogy before it became unrecognizable. It was also a lot to unpack in my now cooled-down car. As I checked in my rearview mirror and carefully backed out of my terrible parking job, I tasked myself with considering how Super-Walmart occurs as a constant motif in the conversation about privilege: White people almost always finding their shades of makeup at the store is the Super-Walmart of beauty. Men almost never feeling the urge to immediately lock their car doors as they idly sit in the parking lot is the Super-Walmart of safety and self-preservation. People who are not black women getting to have emotions and be expressive and feel real feelings without being pigeon-holed into the quick-anddismissive caricature of the “angry black woman” is the Super-Walmart of human validity. #Alllivesmatter. Is. The. Super. Walmart. Of. Living. In. A. Bubble. That. Belittles. And. Degrades. And. Disarms. The. Narratives. Of. Black. People. Being. Murdered.
And as I made a sharp right-turn into my upper-middle-class neighborhood with HOA-approved McMansions neatly lined up on every street, I couldn’t forget about myself, either: Me not really worrying about the $81 purchasing price of my items because my parents lavish us kids with unmerited financial ease is the Super-Walmart of economic advantage. Me not really worrying that I could type and be understood in this article through fluent English and eloquence is the Super-Walmart of hegemonic globalization and educational resource. Me not really worrying that I could find and be wed to a great person without shame as a devoted, committed Christian and heterosexual cis-woman is the Super-Walmart of identity politics. Me assuming that I could drive to the superstore there and back without being pulled over and when there, paying for my items with a giggle and a cute, suburban smile is the Super-Walmart of the politics of respectability. Me being assured that I could quickly fix the problem of my overheated car with a trip to the store so close and accessible to my house is Super-Walmart— is privilege.
Check Your Priviledge at the Sliding Door Akua Owusu-Dommey
Because as stated before, Walmart is ubiquitous in almost every way shape or form. We all know it, we’re all consumed by its power, stretch. and magnitude of influence. But once we begin to recognize the Super-Walmarts of our lives— the physical ones we frequent, the systemic ones that we’re affected by, the unjust ones that we, ourselves, perpetuate and benefit from— it is often a lot easier to confront such influences of privilege and recognize how and why it hurts.
and making steps towards a more equitable world in navigating through the supers- and neighborhoods- of it all. I finally pulled into my driveway and parked my 2004 Honda Accord. I turned off my engine and tore open my package of sunshades, eager to secure them on my windshield and rid myself of AZ’s toaster-oven misery. Nowadays, when I enter into my car, I am still lightly broiled by Charlie’s slick interior and leather seats; sunshades can’t get rid of all of the heat and they only transform my dangerous 115-degree fire-hazard into a still-very-uncomfortable 95-degree hot-stove. But nowadays, even as I leave my house to sit and sauté in my non-stick sedan, I think back to the day that I realized that my Walmart was Super.
While I won’t apologize for my privileges— especially those that characterize values that mean the most to me, like my faith, my 2-parent home, and my educational opportunities— I’m much more able to recognize and confront them for what they are through the lens of Walmart. Recognize just what the hallmarks of Super-Walmart privilege look like. Confront just how to use such privileges in progressive ways through I think I need to take a trip to the acknowledging them, analyzing their effects, Neighborhood Walmart very soon.
This line is so necessary. I feel like the author’s comparison of “Hamilton” to Dolezal doesn’t quite work. Dolezal was claiming to be a different race in the present day. “Hamilton,” on the other hand, seems very aware of the fact that the history it is portraying was made up of mostly white men, but I believe one reason it uses a racially diverse cast is to challenge the audience to think about how history could have been different if all races could have participated inthe political process at the time of America’s beginnings.
When ‘other’ becomes noteworthy, the only way for people to reassert themselves is in the masking of such ‘other’ and the demonizing of the bi-.
including Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s Nuyorican creator and star. Some of its audacity stems from the baldness of its political project: In changing the races of the founding fathers from white to brown, it pushes back against the currents of racial appropriation. It also infuses the traditional melodies of the American musical with so many genres of hip-hop and R & B, sometimes in a single number, that the songs themselves become something new. Political debates are staged as rap battles. Daveed Diggs’s Thomas Jefferson becomes the best good thing that never happened at the Source Awards. Artistically, Miranda has created a great night out. Racially, the show tags the entertainment industry status quo with color. It’s obviously musical theater. But damn if it’s not graffiti too. Naturally, this new era has also agitated a segment of the populace that is determined to scrub the walls. That, presumably, is where Donald Trump comes in: as the presidential candidate for anyone freaked out by the idea of a show like ‘‘Hamilton.’’ Trump is the pathogenic version of Obama, filling his supporters with hope based on a promise to rid the country of change. This incarnation of Trump appeared not long after Obama’s election, determined to disprove the new president’s American citizenship. On Trump’s behalf, an entire wing of conservatism — the so-called birthers — devoted itself to the removal of a mask that Obama was never wearing. Part of Trump’s appeal is his illusion of authenticity. His blustering candor has currency in a landscape of android candidates. Yet his magnetism resides in paranoia, the fear that since Obama’s election ushered in this shifting, unstable climate of identity, the country has been falling apart. It’s a paranoia that pop culture captured first: In the last six years, Hollywood has provided a glut of disaster spectacles, armageddon scenarios and White House sackings.
But the USA Network’s ‘‘Mr. Robot,’’ which ended its first season last month, might have gotten at that sense of social collapse best. Created by Sam Esmail, an Egyptian-American, the show pits technology against the economy and its unstable protagonist against himself. The plot concerns a group of anarchist hackers conspiring to topple a corporation; with it go the stability of world markets and everybody’s financial debt. But it’s also a mystery about the identity of its protagonist, a mentally ill, morphineaddicted hacker named Elliot. We think he’s obeying the commands of the show’s title character, the head of a hacktivist outfit, but it turns out that he has been commanding himself all along. Significant parts of this world are figments of his delusion. Elliot is at least two people. Some of the dark excitement of this show is that he might be even more.
Sidenote: this is an amazing show!
‘‘Mr. Robot’’ is worst-of-times TV, reflecting a mood of menacing instability. Over the course of its 10 episodes, almost no one was who they appeared to be. A straight married man seemed to think nothing of his sleeping with a gay work underling (and neither did his wife). A character who seemed, to my eyes at least, to be a transgender woman at some point appeared as a conventional man. Was that a coming out? A going in? Both? This isn’t a show I watched for what was going to happen but for who people were going to turn into, or who they wanted to turn out to be. It’s a show about the way your online profile can diverge from your real-life identity, yes, but also the way you can choose a self or a self can choose you. There’s also the choice to ignore the matter of identity — until, of course, it starts to aggravate your complacency. Not far into the flap over Dolezal, another alarming story took over the news, a story that challenged the myths white America tells itself about progress. This story was
In my opinion, “transcending” is a fancy word for ignoring.
Michael Collins Race: White Gender Identity: Man Sexual Orientation: Gay Pronouns: He/Him/His Age: 21 Hometown: Danville, CA Education: Student at Washington University in Saint Louis Studying Chinese and International and Area Studies
What does identity mean to you? A lot of what I think about, um, identity... It’s this weird thing because it’s the things that make you you, but in another sense it’s the things that make you uncomfortable with yourself My mom said when I was growing up that the only person you can control is yourself, which is really powerful, but not exactly true. For more dominant identities, personal and societal perception line up. But the more marginalized your identity is, the more space [there is] between your personal beliefs about yourself and how others perceive you.” “Something has to fill that space, maybe it’s a stereotype, maybe it’s prejudice, maybe it’s violence, maybe it’s something else. Public perception outweighs the minority and tries to force the marginalized group to fit into society’s perceptions about this group When people say an identity is privileged its not just because you are afforded greater luxuries or societal benefits, but more that you are allowed to act the way that you want to act without the same negative societal push-back.
In what ways have you struggled with your own sense of identity? I think I’ve struggled with it by working off of this assumption that it is static, that I don’t have to constantly work to rediscover myself. I think I found a lot of comfort in saying that I am who I am, but I think I was selling myself short. Can you explain that more? It scares me that one day I will be a completely different person years from now. Yes I will always be white, yes I will always be a man, but the way that I show up and act will always be changing. Privileged identities are ones that you don’t constantly think about. Ones you don’t have to worry about growing with because society kind of allows you to be static in those identities, and it is not until a marginalized voice pushes the norm to a new place that you must grow. Have you discovered more about your identity since coming to college? Yes, definitely since coming to college! I think that, I don’t know, like the people I wanted to hang out with were the people who were asking these questions. The people
I looked up to were the people who were exploring themselves. My older brother always says that college teaches you how to think, that it would be unreasonable and naïve if I think about things in my classes and don’t apply that lens to myself. I want to connect these intellectual concepts back to me. I am the subject of my own experiment. . Why? I was always afraid that that would be me, being highly intelligent but highly ignorant. You said that you drew inspiration from other people where were experimenting with their own sense of identity. Would you say that your process of self-discovery has been contingent on interacting with other people? It helps to interact with people, but you don’t want to compare yourself to others. If I am talking to another person who identifies as a gay man, and even though we may have the same labeled identity, we still may identify in completely different ways. It’s one thing to be inspired by people, but it’s dangerous, in a sense it’s unwise, to use people
as measures for how far along you are in your own self discovery, and implies that you can be ‘developed’, but it’s more than that. It’s easy to say, this person is really comfortable in their queer identity and to say: ‘why can’t I be like them.’ So It is nice to find those affinity spaces, to surround myself with people who understand me or have gone through similar things that I have. I can enter a space of queer people but my experience can be completely different from anyone else. The hard work comes internally, and the support comes externally. What are you frustrated with? The thing that frustrates me the most is that people always want to search for commonality Fuck commonality, find difference, be uncomfortable and revel in it. It’s stupid to assume that everyone is the same. As soon as we say that we have things in common, then that becomes the dominate culture and begins to exclude people. I’m in this class this year that examines how Buddhism views life, compared to Christianity, and from an Eastern perspective… you don’t have one life, you have many many many lives, so the whole
YOLO… thing doesn’t make sense to them. Something as fundamentally basic as life is differently perceived by large masses of the word, so how can you find commonality in the world? Commonality dilutes, it takes your belief and moves it back inch by inch until it puts it in a box that other people can stand in. So, do you think people should focus more on debating differences? Not looking to debate differences, but being willing to accept the differences. Once we take the rose colored glasses off and say ‘oh we’re different’ then we move to either meaningless commonality or we debate. I think we need to skip the step of finding commonality and create empathy. Where do you think the push-back against celebrating differences comes from? I think it comes from fear, because people don’t want to say that they are different form their neighbors, because that is unsettling. There is this false belief that society is built from commonality, why does something so exclusionary have to be the bedrock of society?
Do you think there has been any progress on this front to embrace differences? I hope it is a growing movement. I think that there is this idea in the social justice realm of ‘fictitious kinship.’ The thing about ‘fictitious kinship’ is that as a human, you are tied to everyone o the earth. As a human, my life cannot be valued if everyone’s is not valued. I do see progress, I see people having those conversations, I see people struggling with that. I still think this idea of commonality is the dominant narrative, though. Like you see it in the debates when [candidates say] ‘we are all Americans.’ Well one, no we are not, and two what does that mean?” Why do we have to choose certain topics for it to be meaningful to have in common. Why is the religion that I have something that is divisive, instead of, I don’t know, what I’ve chosen to study? How does your sense of identity impact your activism? When the violence against women act was being past there was this concept of the ‘last girl’ which meant that they wanted to think of the last girl who has all of the disadvantaged identities and wanted to craft legislation to fit
her situation. Because all of these systemic problems would be solved, anyone with more privilege would be fine. For me it’s to not play to what is going to be where the majority is coming from, but really for trying to go as long and far out as possible, and so to know that anyone who is not so far out, that they will benefit but that the people on the most marginalized edge, that it was created for them to. So, for example, as an RA, instead of making an LGBTQIA session, making that the norm, something that they always get. Also I am always trying to challenge my peers. Is that hard to do? Based on my identities it is pretty challenging. As a cisgender white man, most programs put on by the university will be catered to my identities. It does take a lot of thought or intention, and stepping back, because there is this idea that a lot of when white liberals talk about racial justice, but still stay that affirmative action is racist. In order for someone else to advance, you might have to take a few steps back. Looking at my life and seeing in what ways I am willing to step back and where I am not. For example, I am a quarter Native American, and on thing
that my family has started doing paying our estate tax and then paying the same amount of money to the local tribes, whose land it really is. It’s fine and dandy to say ‘ let’s give resources to them’ but we have to be willing to give up those resources. I am constantly looking for fundamental things that I need to give up in order for someone else to get ahead. That might mean, in a class or something, not speaking or letting someone else speak. Or, I don’t know, when there are programs available, not signing up for them because there are a lot of programs not designed for me. Not speaking, listening. And being cognizant of the space I am taking up. Because I am given a lot of space, but that doesn’t mean I have to fill it up. Is it easy to give things away? It is the constant struggle of wanting to support but… well there’s this analogy of rowing a boat. That white liberals will stand on the beach and watch people of color row against oppression and support from the show. I want to get in the boat and help row, but I don’t want to take the spot form someone more acutely effected. It sucks to think that me meaning to help, hurt people.
about Atticus Finch, the protagonist of Harper Lee’s 1960 classic, ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’’ Atticus single-handedly fought racism in the fictitious Alabama town of Maycomb, and he became a window through which we could see a version of tolerance, someone holy enough to put on stained glass or money. But in ‘‘Go Set a Watchman,’’ the sequel to ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’’ published in July, Atticus was given a scandalous status update: He had been aged into a racist. Aren’t we always?
I don’t necessarily think so, but it’s an interesting question.
I can’t recall the last time the attitudes of a single fictional character led the national news. But there was bigoted old Atticus, on the front pages, being discussed on cable. One of the most iconic white antiracists had grown fond of white supremacy. It raised an uncomfortable question: If you had identified with the original Atticus Finch, did his Archie Bunkerization make a racist out of you too? The public hand-wringing was a perverse refreshment because, even if only for a few days, it left white people dwelling on race as intensely as nonwhite people. This new Atticus was a betrayal of white liberal idealism, feeding a suspicion that that idealism was less than absolute — that it could suddenly, randomly turn against the people it purported to help. It was almost as if Lee knew, in 1957, about the mood of the country in 2015 — about the way a series of dead black men and women would further cleave apart the country; about the massacre of nine black churchgoers by a young white supremacist in a South Carolina church, and the ensuing debate over the Confederate flag; about the fear of inevitable, inexorable racial, gender and sexual evolution; about the perceived threats to straight-white-male primacy by Latino immigrants, proliferating Spanish, same-sex marriage, female bosses and a black president.
The yearning to transcend race keeps coming up against the bedrock cultural matter of separateness. But the tectonic plates of the culture keep pushing against one another with greater, earthquaking force. The best show in our era about that quake — about the instability of identity and the choosing of a self — has been ‘‘Key & Peele.’’ For five seasons, in scores of sketches, two biracial men, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, became different women and different men of different ethnicities, personalities and body types. They were two of the best actors on television, hailing from somewhere between the lawlessness of improv comedy and the high-impact emotionalism of Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman, zillion-character plays. ‘‘Key & Peele’’ granted nearly every caricature a soul. The show started as a commentary on the hilarious absurdity of race, but it never fully escaped the pernicious reality of racism. The longer it ran, the more melancholy it became, the more it seethed. In the final episode, its anger caught up with its fancifulness and cheek, exploding in an old-timey musical number called ‘‘Negrotown,’’ which opens with a black man (Key) being arrested by a white cop one night while walking down a dark alleyway. He says he’s innocent of any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being arrested, intensifying the cop’s anger. Entering the police cruiser, he hits his head on the car door. Suddenly, a homeless man (Peele) arrives on the scene and offers to take the black guy off the cop’s hands. Thecop gratefully acquiesces. Taking the disoriented man by the hand, the homeless guy leads him through an alley door. They find themselves on the threshold of a sunny neighborhood. The homeless guy is now dressed in a three-piece suit the color of pink grapefruit meat, and he begins to sing in a camped-up, zero-calorie Paul Robeson baritone about this new place,
I feel like ‘Transcending’ or ‘looking past’ race, ethnicity, gender etc. is just a more polite form of seperateness.
Leona Chen Race: Asian Gender Identity: Female Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual Pronouns: She/Her Age: 20 Hometown: Oakland, California Education: Student at Washington University in Saint Louis Olin Business School Studying Economics and Strategy, Writing, and American Culture Studies What does identity mean to you? The totality of where you come from, who you want to be, and where you are going What are you frustrated with? The lack of agency afforded to people with marginalized identities, the lack of intersectionality in considerations and advocacy of those whose identities threaten their well-being and/or prospects
insurectio n looks like soaking the dictionary in sake and saltwater restitching its seams with red cord setting this language on fire make these words fall to their knees the way we make immigrants kneel at the altars of white men
if i could i would
pull my mother up
from her shoulders to say
i am sorry i survived so well
for those of us who carry it in
the re-named peel back language and land as if we were onions and not children of colony and conquest as if our strata were whole and we could survive without the skin and start again as seeds but if i tore the hada from my grandfather i would lose him worse than what was lost he carries nihon within him
so i loved the nihon within him
see reducing our story to the ruler and the ruled is a form of self oppression i cannot pretend our seed is worth more than the twisted bulb we have become so
piece by piece
until the sphere is whole a napkin tied with red cord so i can transplant it elsewhere
i make peace by peace
and hidden inside
‘‘where there ain’t no pain, ain’t no sorrow.’’ Black people in bright clothes are dancing in the streets, singing in giddy verse about the special virtues of their town: You can get a cab to pick you up, have a loan application approved, even wear a hoodie without getting shot. Plus: ‘‘There’s no stupid-ass white folks touching your hair or stealing your culture, claiming it’s theirs.’’ But it’s clear from the start that the ‘‘neighborhood’’ is a studio backlot, and the dancers are costumed in the colors of Skittles, and their dancing involves a lot of grinning and spinning and stretching out their arms — shuffling. Black freedom looks like a white 1940s Hollywood director’s idea of it. At the end of the number, the dancers stand frozen with their arms raised in a black-power salute, as if waiting for someone to yell ‘‘cut.’’ No one does. The dream melts away, and we’re back with the guy being arrested, passed out on the ground. The cop starts shoving him into the cruiser. ‘‘I thought I was going to Negrotown,’’ he says.”‘Oh, you are,’’ the cop replies, as the piano riff from the song starts to play and the car drives off.
The show left us with a dream of Edenic self-containment as the key to black contentment — a stunning contradiction of all its previous sketches. It was a rebuke to both racial integration and ghettoization. It split me open. I cried with laughter at the joke of this obviously fake place as a kind of heaven. I cried with sadness, because if you’re in Negrotown, you’re also in a special ring of hell. The bitterness of the sketch made me wonder if being black in America is the one identity that won’t ever mutate. I’m someone who believes himself to have complete individual autonomy, someone who feels free. But I also know some of that autonomy is limited, illusory, conditional. I live knowing that whatever my blackness
means to me can be at odds with what it means to certain white observers, at any moment. So I live with two identities: mine and others’ perceptions of it. So much of blackness evolving has been limited to whiteness allowing it to evolve, without white people accepting that they are in the position of granting permission. Allowing. If that symbiotic dynamic is going to change, white people will need to become more conscious that they, too, can be perceived. It could be that living with recycled conflict is part of the national DNA. Yet it’s also in our natures to keep trying to change, to discover ourselves. In ‘‘Far From the Tree,’’ Andrew Solomon’s landmark 2012 book about parenting and how children differentiate themselves, he makes a distinction between vertical and horizontal identity. The former is defined by traits you share with your parents, through genes and norms; the latter is defined by traits and values you don’t share with them, sometimes because of genetic mutation, sometimes through the choice of a different social world. The emotional tension in the book’s scores of stories arises from the absence of love for or empathy toward someone with a pronounced or extreme horizontal identity — homosexuality or autism or severe disability. Solomon is writing about the struggle to overcome intolerance and estrangement, and to better understand disgust; about our comfort with fixed, established identity and our distress over its unfixed or unstable counterpart. His insights about families apply to us as a country. We’re a vertical nation moving horizontally. We’re daring to erase the segregating boundaries, to obliterate oppressive institutions, to get over ourselves. Nancy Meyers knows it. Sam Esmail knows it. So, in his way, does Donald Trump. The transition should make us stronger — if it doesn’t kill us first.
This gets back to my point about that awkward space in between your self perception and how others perceive you
<3 I think this is so interesting, and really true.
Agree with this a bit.
If it doesn’t kill us first... It will kill us first.
“You do not get to strip me of my identity as a powerful, beloved, confident, Black woman.”
“I think I’ve struggled with [identity] by working off of this assumption that it is static, that I don’t have to constantly work to rediscover myself. I think I found a lot of comfort in saying that I am who I am, but I think I was selling myself short.”
“[Identity is] the totality of where you come from who you want to be, and where you are going.”
“...everyone is on a journey to more understanding. That this journey in social understanding doesn’t have to be exclusive to those with BAs or PHDs in a humanity and that being further along this journey doesn’t mean that anybody else’s journey isless worthwile. Here’s to navigating this complex road”
“I don’t think we can ever reach our goals until all memebers or groups of society are fully engaged.”