I was having a conversation with some friends of mine recently and we were all talking about my ancestry. I mentioned that while in some ways I wished I had some deep heritage to pull upon (like African or Japanese or Jamaican or whatever really), that I was honestly quite glad to be a “mutt” as they call us: your average anglo mixing of european descent. And it wasn’t because I valued the heritage of my european ancestors, but rather because I revered the fact that I wasn’t bound to any traditions, philosophies, or more radically stated: any cultural indoctrinations.
In many ways, I mentioned to these friends of mine, that in many ways this is the perk of America as a “melting pot” country. I like the fact that in cities all over this country, we have an immense mixing of cultures, to the point where we don’t see colour or even outward appearance at all, because we realize that our preconceived notions will falter. We realize that guy in a suit is actually leaving on his skateboard, that the black women in tribal dress with long flowing dreads is a PhD scientist, that the punk-looking kid actually spends his days at a nursing home taking care of the elderly. It is for this reason that when you look at America’s election maps you will see every county near a city starkly blue, while it continually get’s more and more red as you move further into rural landscapes–away from exposure to differences and diversity.
Now naturally, because there are groups of people oppressed, it’s important for us to be able to recognize that specific groups of people are not being treated fairly, and so it’s a privledge point of view to be able to say: “Let’s just ignore culture.” But at the same time, if we did ignore it (if we ALL ignored it, including the oppressors and champions of culture), if we were able to put an end to this sense of white superiority or religious superiority, if there was no color distinction and no need to have the correct creation story, then there would be nothing to oppress. It seems to me that the clinging to our traditional cultures is what keeps us practicing a state of tribal warfare even in this modern age; our need to be part of some small tribe enforces our need to protect it and shelter ourselves within it’s confines, rather than meet with the people who are different than us who have so much to teach us. We have work to do, but it starts with creating a species who doesn’t define themselves as anything more than human.
It’s the same with identifying with social groups, whether it be LGBTQ, Punks, Skaters, Goths, Vegans, Metalheads, etc. We all individualize and then search out people who we can relate to. The problem is that we feel the need to title ourselves as such. And then we feel bound to that title, bound to appease that group by being the best version of that thing; but the best version usually means becoming the loudest radical, thus becoming a closed-minded and ignorant person with whom no one wants to interact with. You see, when we feel the need to constantly let people know what “title” we are, what culture or ideology we represent, then we are inviting preconceived notions and setting a stake in the ground we then have to defend as a foundation of our personality.
I see it all the time here in Portland, Oregon, the known Hipster Capital of the World, where being a radical about your quirky thing you take too seriously is as common as rain. For instance, I eat very healthy, a diet verging on vegan, but not quite ( as I enjoy eggs and salmon and I’m not strict about things like avoiding wine because it’s filtered through fish bladders). But because of this I still often find myself at vegan restaurants/bars, and constantly I hear my vegan peers bashing vegetarians and even vegans because, “tommy can’t fucking having cheese once a month and still call himself vegan. He’s a hypocrite and an asshole and blah blah blah.” And so rather than embrace and lift up someone who comes far closer to supporting your fight to better the world than most, we push them down for not being “[insert any title here] enough”.
And in a more serious way, I’ve seen straight women realize they were gay. They came out loud and proud and wanted everyone to know they were a “lesbian”. But then something interesting happened, and they realized they actually still liked guys too. And then they came to me, torn and feeling isolated and rejected and embodying the weight of betrayal because many of the lesbian community to whom they had come out to had responded to their renewed male interest with: “I told you were just going through a phase,” or, “stop trying to appease the mainstream because it’s easier and just be gay like you know you want to be,” or “I knew you were just doing it for attention.”
The point here is non-attachment. I’m not saying you can’t proudly represent who you are or take up practices of your community that fulfill you, but I am saying that you shouldn’t believe it to be superior to any other alternative or feel so obliged and attached to it that you become upset by anyone or anything that differs from it.
The point is to be an individual, moment-to-moment, who simply embodies a fluctuating set of desires and ambitions and hopes and dreams and fears; and doing all of this without the need to have an external group of peers validate, label, limit, or control that passion for life inside you.
I want everyone to come together not as black or white, not as a writer or a salesperson, not as a muslim or a christian or an agnostic or an atheist, and not as an American or an Asian. I want people to come together without feeling the need to BE anything, without feeling the need to be a spokesperson for an entire category of people. Instead, I wish we could come together simply as spokespersons for self–a mouthpiece for a strand of memories and experiences that have shaped a perspective, who practices kindness, love, and respect regardless of differences with others. And in that way we don’t have the old world situation where anyone different than you posed a threat to the security of your resources and thus was your enemy, but rather a world where we’re all just people with fluctuating preferences that we can happily discuss and explore together in conversation, as we build a world of unity and compassion where the no one suffers from being part of the wrong nation, religion, or economic class.