In the way of an introduction…
When I was younger, I was fascinated with the painting “The Treachery of Images” also known as “this is not a pipe.” A straightforward statement on the image representing but not really being the actual object. Likewise, I later became aware of a phrase attributed to Neurolinguistic Programming that the map is not the territory. Again, another reminder that there is a difference between the live reality and its depiction elsewhere. Then, I learned about the proportions of physical stuff in the known universe – how about 99% of what we see and touch is really occupied by empty space. So even as we stand here face to face, able to hold hands, to lift one another, we are more spirit than substance. So I’m thinking about identity and belonging and wondering, “Am I even here?”
I think about these ideas and questions a lot, much more now that I see Dena Simmons out here talking about imposter syndrome. I find myself contemplating what it means to declare an identity but feel like someone is waiting for just the right moment to irrefutably challenge that claim. I wonder what it means to stand forthright in my selfhood and dare someone to tell me I am not who I say.
So, how do you know who I am? How would I tell you? When I haven’t got the words, how must I show you? Is my skin a canvas for your ink, your tint, your stains? Are you willing to explore my landscapes, travel my topology before deciding you know my ways? When you look at me, can you see beneath and between? Do you look only for gaps? Do you know what’s the matter?
I’m going to try helping you out.
When I was in first grade, I came home from school to ask my mother if she was white. This was a question because someone at school wanted to know if I was mixed (and had to explain to me further that meant they expected me to have a Black parent and a White parent). I only realized later (much later, like middle school) that my skin tone prompted the question. So, my mother had to explain to me that some people confused her as White because her skin was pale/light, not brown like my father’s. She elaborated that her family was Mexican and blah blah blah. I had kind of stopped listening at, “No, I’m not White.” So, I wasn’t either. I wasn’t mixed. I was just me. And yet, I wonder today, what do you call it when maybe plantation owners may not have raped YOUR great great grandmother on your father’s side but your mother’s whole lineage is borne of the colonial pillaging of another indigenous people? Am I neither Black nor Mexican, neither indigenous nor invader? I am not this race.
I was born in Chicago. I spent my early youth in Brooklyn. Returned to live in the suburbs while going to school in the city. Since I was three, I spent all year in the “North” except every summer with family in the “South”. To my cousins “down there”, I was a city kid wearing my bright white Keds as they ran barefoot over that Carolina clay. Went to college out of state, where being from The City meant NY, NY. But I could not say I grew up in Brooklyn. I could not say I was from Chicago. Of course, I did though because I did not want to bother reconciling the geography of residing six blocks from the municipal border while feeling miles apart from experiences I couldn’t claim. Later, working in Chicago Public Schools, one’s territory is legislated. To serve the youth, I lived within the boundaries but my students knew I was not of their community, didn’t know their neighborhood. What do you do when you’ve been everywhere but were always a guest, an outsider? Can a nomad ever be truly home? I am not this place.
After studying French for a dozen years, my most available phrase is still from a LaBelle song. I excelled in math and science through high school but failed to graduate as an engineer. I have a degree in interior design but can barely keep my room, my office desk in any semblance of order. Been reading since I was two but can hardly remember a word. Comic books. Movies. Poetry. Photography, Science. Math. Myths. Education. Administration. Professional Development. Social and Emotional Learning. Philosophy. Architecture. Piloting. Telecommunications. At one point or another, I’ve studied all of these and more. What would it take to call myself an expert? To say that I am employed in any of these occupations? Is knowledge alone ever enough? I am not this mind.
I could possibly go on about soccer, basketball, tennis, running, rock climbing (not this body). Maybe, I could describe being raised with Catholics, vacationing amongst Baptists, studying under Jesuits, fascinated by Buddhists (not this faith). I could share the dynamics of being the oldest yet the youngest, sometimes the most experienced yet least mature (not this age). I am not this class. Not this job. Not this plan. I am not this time. This space. This world. This man.
Maybe, I am all those things and more. I am both my atoms and the spaces in between. I am plenty and still waiting to be filled. If you should reach out and grab hold of any of my labels, I am not your idea of these names but perhaps, I am an example of the power that they hold (not this definition). These names when combined are a spell I cast to change the leaden weight of preconceptions into golden possibility. Even this collection of stories I tell are barely chapters in the volumes I possess (not this page). So this writing you are reading is an image but it is not my self. It will take time to get to know me. Shall we begin? (Not this end.)