Who Are We, Anyway?

"LABELS"


I've noticed a trend in our discourse that I quite like.

More and more, I see an effort to move away from finite labels.


You might already know what I mean ...

Where it was once acceptable to refer to the great Harriet Tubman as "a slave" - a growing number of commenters recognize instead, that she, and generations of Africans, were "enslaved".

The linguistic move decouples my ancestors' humanity, from the heinous oppression they likely endured.


"Enslaved" brings attention to a context - unnatural, temporary, and separate from the person. The move from noun to verb now begs a vital question.

"... by whom?"


Another example.

In Brooklyn, growing up, it was not uncommon to be confronted with "homeless people". A lame designation for the families, and hundreds of thousands of children who dip in and out of the plight, each year. Homelessness is an appalling, and very solvable social condition.

It is better to say that people are "experiencing homelessness".


Look, I hate to be technical.

I also see no value in the tedious policing of language.

These are just words, after all - but I think that efforts to improve the accuracy of our conversations, can help us better understand ourselves, and each other.

"LIMITS"


I was recently forwarded a tweet from the detestable political personality, Candace Owens. A stupidly worded tweet, critiquing Harry Styles' choice of attire.

The right wing mouthpiece makes a strange plea, for new arrivals of "manly men".


For her ramble to make any sense, at all - Candace first needs us to agree that "manliness" and strength are traits attached to fabric and fashion.

I don't see this as a given.


Serious question.

What if Harry transforms the tantamount textile by taking it to a talented tailor?

In other words, if the same woven fabric can be either a handsome shirt, or a kilt, or a sexy dress - even a curtain, or snot-kerchief ...

Then who the fuck cares? Am I right?


It must be a stroke of luck, that our cultural forebears failed to imbue gender norms into say, pieces of furniture. Otherwise, Candace and Ben Shapiro would bore us to death with posts about the dangers of homo-sofas, and feminine love seats.

No, this is not facetious.

It would be rational to expect that kind of analysis from these two, literally.


The only real difference is a context of inherited ideas; quiet and pervasive.

Informing our vision of reality, and our sense of selves.

Narrowing our options, in any moment.

Passed down by word of mouth, and art, and law, and ritual.

Sometimes colliding with contrary ideas, and norms - trimming away the worst of these, over time.

... A way of looking at human history.


I respect conservatives' right to their childhood nostalgia, or whatever.

But they will need to respect others' liberty to express, define, and redefine themselves, in the present.

"RECLAIMING MY AUTONOMY"


At the age of nine, after suffering increasingly more dangerous fights in my neighborhood ... my stepdad came home from work, and offered me some straightforward advice.

"You need to stop smiling so damn much, Billy", he said.


Normally, this would be a terrible thing to say to a nine year old.

But our condition wasn't normal.

For school each day, I walked 8 blocks, to and from the New Lots Avenue train station. I'd been robbed, chased, jumped ... sometimes all at once.


There's a funny story - with hindsight - where my Mom and I fought off a trio of high school aged kids. Pressing our backs together, to stay close; we scuffled with them for about :10 seconds. Mom had one bare foot, swinging a chancleta in her dominant hand. It took the sound of a police siren to make the boys disperse.

True story. While playing ball, a year later, I'd witness a verbal spat quickly escalate into gunplay. I laid flat, eyes shut, and waited for the shots and screams to wane.


The families who lived on those blocks were being deprived.

Not "poverty stricken", as if by some mysterious force.

Not "underprivileged".

In a deprived space, learning to not smile - to tighten up, to distrust, to meet conflict with conflict, to become narrow, to set only shorter term goals - can become a rational way to be.


After some years, we would move to a safer neighborhood.

My mom sent me to a prestigious public school, Brooklyn Tech.

I threw my soul into this game called football.

Football helped pay for college, and college took me to Capitol Hill - the center of US politics.

I learned how big power works - during a devastating, illegal war.

I made lasting friends in fitness, and studied Ethics on a graduate level.

I've strategized with brilliant activists, protested war, interviewed Noam Chomsky.


All the while, and since, I've collaborated with hundreds of amazing creatives, dozens of companies - and learned a ton in the five years, as an Editor at CNN.


These are incomplete snapshots.

I turned 38 this year, and your boy struggles along his path. LOVE to everybody I've been blessed to interact with, and call friend.


At every key juncture, I can remember feeling anxiously inadequate - but open minded, and willing to consider previously unknown ways of being.

I take them all, as part of me now.


I am not a set of labels, nor am I your limiting expectations.

I am not my inherited context.

I choose to actively seek a wider range of possibilities, in every moment.

And I hope for the strength to make honest, self-derived choices (whenever possible).

Because we are NOT our experiences - we're only experiencing them.

And everything is always changing.


- Billy


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