Color Outside The Lines #2: Reports of my Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

So it might seem that only two possibilities exist to explain why this thread hasn’t gone up yet: that I decided to stop running this thread, or that I had died. But reports of death are greatly exaggerated.

What actually happened is that I’ve been excruciatingly busy with my immigration problems. The good news is that I have another hearing! The bad news is that I might be deported. So its a bit of a little column A, little column B situation right now.

Before delving into the topic for this thread, let me first run through the rules once more:

1) We ask that only those who identify as people of color participate in this discussion. White Avocados, while valued members of this community, should remain in ‘lurk’ mode.

2) The term ‘people of color’ encompasses a broad range of experiences. We are not a monolith. Therefore, we ask that participants respect each other’s experiences during the discussion, and refrain from promoting one particular experience as being more true to our shared identity as people of color. Furthermore, we ask that participants attempt to voice their own experiences as opposed to generalizing on behalf of the community as a whole. Of course, there are some exceptions. Participants are welcome to interrogate how shared experiences like marginalization help to forge common bonds within our community, but please remain courteous towards others in doing so.

3) We will not set clearly delineated boundaries on who qualifies as a ‘person of color’. As a starting point, this thread uses the definition of ‘non-European heritage of sufficient prominence to affect one’s navigation of a society build on white normativity‘. However, we recognize that there are identities which skirt either side of the divide*. If people feel that they meaningfully experience the identity of being a person of color, then they are welcome to participate.

4) This is not a rule in the strictest sense, as we have no enforcement plans, but we ask that participants remind mindful of the following: we would like to keep this space as safe from white privilege as possible. Even people of color can help to perpetuate systems of white privilege. For example, people who enjoy passing privilege may not understand the experience of being a visible minority. What people of one ethnicity know about people of another ethnicity might operate through the proxy of whiteness. We simply ask that a conscious effort is made to acknowledge white privilege. Likewise, we ask that visible minorities consider the unique challenges of passing privilege when posting. Again, we are only asking that participants keep this in mind while commenting.

5) This is more or less covered by the other rules, but it deserves special attention: nobody on this thread is more or less a person of color than anyone else.

6) Shaming and hateful speech is unacceptable

7) Please keep potentially traumatic content safely behind spoiler tags

Prompt:

Today I’d like to talk about Moana. Let me first offer the disclaimer that Moana ties into a painful history which isn’t at all easy to navigate. Personally I enjoyed it a great deal, but there are legitimate concerns centered on it having to do with cultural appropriation and other problems. Lindsay Ellis does a good job of covering the basics here in a way that’s still broadly positive towards the movie.But we aren’t going to talk about that this week, namely because cultural appropriation is next weeks topic, and I want to save all my goodies for then! Suffice to say, there are always difficulties encountered when white people attempt to navigate the experiences of people of color.


Pictured: white people navigating minority identities

So instead, I’m going to talk about my own experiences with that movie. Much has been made of how it allowed people of color to see themselves onscreen in a story which was entirely about their own culture, and that’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. But what really struck me when I first watched the movie was something entirely different. I felt that Moana captured something essential to our experience as people of color.

Okay, so what’s this great insight that I keep babbling on about? Well, it’s not really an insight at all, not really. More that Moana addresses the existence of something about the lives of people of color which I think goes unacknowledged. Namely, the active role that people of color must take in discovering our own heritage. The one part of Moana which I intimately identified with was her sheer joy at discovering the history of her people, and the realization that her identity meant something. I think that so many white people are born with a sense of meaning instilled in themselves, because society is built to reflect the culture in which they belong to. But for people of color, this is a coming of age experience. For some of us, it’s something that we don’t get to experience at all.


Pictured: the white people still trying to navigate minority identities (yes, that was two paragraphs ago, but they’re still stuck on that step)

Part of this experience has to do with writing out own stories. Unfortunately, much of what we believe our identity to be is really just how we’re seen by white people. One of the things which never ceases to amaze me is how often assumptions about other cultures are passed off as the real thing. The problem is not that white society insists on doubling down on what they don’t know, but that people don’t even understand where the line is between what they know and what they don’t. I think that many people of color go through life with that artificiality staring us right in the face. We all eventually reach a point where the cognitive dissonance becomes too great, and the world shatters around us. That sets us on a journey to discover who we are.


Pictured: white people trying to understand people of color when the actual lived experiences are right fucking there

So here’s my question. Have you ever had a similar experience? How have you navigated the process of discovering your own identity? Is it something that you felt that you were raised within from the very start? Did you, like me, go through stages where you progressively recognized more and more that you had to discover? Or was it a cohesive ‘coming of age’ moment as is pictured in Moana?

Do you feel that your identity fits well into what society prescribes it as? Or have you been forced to strike out on your own and struggle against society’s dictates in order to understand your own heritage?

How would you compare and contrast the ways in which white people and people of color each come to discover their identity and connect it to their own sense of individual personhood? Is there something to the idea that this is an experience unique to being a person of color?

Pictured: …without comment

Thank you so much for your patience, and, as always, I’m thrilled that so many people are participating. My plan is to post these every Wednesday, but it might be a bit difficult given how busy my schedule is. Let’s roll through a few more posts before I set anything in stone, so I have time to establish a system which works for me. Next week: cultural appropriation.