First off - this post comes in the light of colorblue's thoughts about my previous identity crisis post here, and also in the light of my own thoughts about my own thoughts in that post.
I'm deeply sorry to anyone who read the original post and who rightfully called out the points of racism, whitewashing and false diversity that I wrote out. That is paramount, and I hope not to try to make excuses for what was written, only to move on from there.
I'm not very good at being eloquent about thinky-thoughts in a concrete and totally logical way; that's why bromatheon exists, for thoughts to get catapulted around as I grow up in this great, huge world. Those posts, and this post, I try to write in as personal a voice that I can - I flail around a lot, but I hope that my linguistic flailing is not taken as flippancy, because I really want to think through these things and learn from them. ♥ Thank you guys for your patience, and any comments will be fully appreciated. I hope never to come across as wanting to prescribe what I write here - I'm still figuring it out myself! - but if it makes for good discussion or thought or talk, I will be always happy and grateful to grow and learn.
family (the personal bit)
When I wrote my problematic identity crisis post, I think now in retrospect that I was biting too much off the apple of life in one chew. It reads about "practicalities" and day-to-day racism, but one of the things that impacted me the most that night, which didn't get as much airtime in text, is about my brother, and my family.
My family's pretty close. I'm the youngest by a long shot, and the brother I was talking to is almost a decade older than I am. We don't talk very often - he's out a lot, and spent a lot of the time that I was growing up away at university, and when he came back he went into the army, so all told there's a gap between us where sibling rivalry once was (ages 0 - 12 and maybe forever!) and then when sibling rivalry died out.
My brother -- can be a bit of a child, sometimes. He doesn't have my older brother's icy, and often strongarm, view on things, but he likes to go his own way, and enjoy life as much as possible. It's got him in trouble with the parents on a couple of occasions, but he doesn't want to rush for grades or work or marriage - he wants to do well, and at his own pace. Sometimes maybe it makes him come across as lazy or irresponsible for his age - but I don't know how to objectively view my brother. He's my brother, and I am a younger sister, and always there's this sort of screen between that, contorting things back and forth.
Of late, the family's been criticising him about his job, about his girlfriend. He's been under a lot of pressure, and sometimes - every once in a long, blue moon - when the two of us are alone, he'll talk to me, or I'll talk to him, and a lot of what's bothering us will come out in a stream of sibling-fuelled deprecation and angst and tiredness, sometimes anger, sometimes love, sometimes a lot in between. I don't think the two of us understand it, either; but we run with it, and believe that it brings us closer.
I don't even remember what started us off that night, but it usually goes the same way one way or another. Since I was a kid I've always been hugely eager to argue with my brothers: back then to get their attention, since they lived in a different, very grown up world, and now to assert myself as someone growing up. Old friction, always. We get heated up: my brother, by virtue of being older, feels he has something to teach me, and so tries to teach.
He brought up the phrase "frame of reference" to me, when the argument started to boil down to racism; I taking the side of ideology that we shouldn't let slip casual racist callouts, he taking the side that some things (as the title of the post goes) are "practicalities", that offend in ideological terms but which are carded and dealt with quietly in real life.
He looked at me, across the table, and said at some point, when I went on for a spiel about how it doesn't make sense for practicalities to be allowed as exceptions, that it just engenders a social instinct to think it's okay: 'You've become totally Americanised.'
I stopped short. My family's local in every sense of the word - unlike a couple of other of my friends, who have family or loved ones abroad in the West, we're all here at home in Singapore. I've not been to America for long periods of time. I didn't know what to do with what he said: do I... should I be offended? Bewildered? Complimented? We'd gone on in the conversation about racial politics in our country, looking at our different ways of how we thought things could work, were working, or might work -- when he said that to me, I sat back and thought: have I lost track of myself as a Singaporean? Am I applying too much of what happened in Racefail, for one, which had a far more American context, to our own context?
My brother uses the Internet is a very different way that I do - he keeps it local, a way to catch up on news and friends here, not as a way of meeting new people as I hope I'll always be doing. At that point I stepped back from my ideology: I wanted to know my brother better. I wanted to know if he was right, whether what he proposed as how our local community operated was as practical, workable and low-tension without being disregarding as he spun it out for me to be.
By the end of our talk, we'd been out there for four hours; I was crying, he was ready to leave. Before he went off, he said to me: I know you guys - our family - sometimes you guys look down on me. But I've lived longer than you have, mei, and I've been out there in the real world and I think this has got meaning.
I came upstairs, wrote down as much as I could remember of what he said to me, and tried to put myself in his shoes - to give him the respect that he looked he badly wanted and needed, going up the stairs and away from me.
After which: my brother's not a bad guy, not any more than the next human being you'll find. Reading through Colorblue's post has helped me way more clearly how growing up in a privileged majority has an effect on - to use that same phrase - a person's frame of reference. When he tells me to "loosen up", when anyone in the family tells me to "loosen up", I think I now have a better understanding of why they do that:
My family's in a ethnic majority here at home; we're middle-class and comfortable. My family sees me raging at every mention of things that they do not feel are relevant to them: anything from politics, to gay rights, to the pervasiveness of racial language within the confines of our family household, and they say to me, "loosen up". Loosen up, because you are in a position where you don't have to fight for these, or fight against these things.
You're not, they see: of an ethnic/racial minority, OR gay/bi, OR ever going to be involved politically, OR __________________. You are, however: in this family where we love you, in this family where we have the privilege of allowing you to live the life you want to live without stress or distress or discomfort.
I don't know why I've never seen this before: it seems like such a logical, straightforward thing post facto. My family knows, whether consciously or not, that I don't have to be worked up about any of the above topics, or any topic at all, really, that covers an area, people, minority or part of society that lacks a privilege that we have.
We might not be exercising an open racism; we might not be going up into people's faces or judging them by their ethnicity/race; but when my family tells me to "loosen up", and when I try to "loosen up" and accept practicalities, I think I now better understand and can better phrase what it is we're doing:
There's a difference in intention, yes - but not a difference in result. When we let things slide, we're saying: let other people fight their own fights. We are not responsible. But we are - we are responsible for creating an environment where no one, regardless of their gender/race/identity, should been discriminated against, or have to "fight more" or feel uncomfortable for the rights and privileges the majority enjoy. This means everything, from not having to be subject to a language riddled with inherent racism against one's identity groups, to having the secure trust in the next person to know that, when s/he looks at you, your identity grouping does not stand in the way of your rights, freedoms and ability to practice who you are and what you believe in.
Silence draws a blanket over the differences that should - and must - be voiced out. Practicalities -- are things put in practice, perhaps. To my family now I see how easy and convenient it is for them to make quick, thoughtless jokes and laugh them off as "part of the social fabric" -- of course everyone else is going to laugh. It's either that or cry and take offence - and as my brother said himself, when you're in the minority you learn real quick not to get offended and take up arms, because when you are in the minority you do not have anything or anything to back you up. All you have is your voice, to laugh with others so that you are co-opted into what they believe you are and should be and, and to thereby erase your own identities and fealties, maybe now for a moment, but maybe in the future for a lifetime.
I've straddled the fence for a long while, trying to find a way of explaining to my family why I hold up ideology, why I want to talk about it and keep talking about it while simultaneously wanting to be as blase and careless as them - because it obviously hurts them less, they've grown up and learned how to deal and I want that same peace of mind.
That peace of mind was bought with the peace of mind of others; now I think I have the words to tell them how and why. In my last post I came up with generalities to help me sleep better at night: sweeping statements that sound nice ideologically but which weren't given enough thought. Writing this post I feel like ideology and practicality now are not different at all, which is how maybe things should be.
I'm plenty glad still for my talk with my brother, and I'm plenty glad that I sat down and wrote about it - as faulty as my writing turned out to be. I'm also glad for all the friends and contributors that have helped me think through it: glass_icarus, who sat with me through a long night, rincredible, who sat me through bad teenaged flailing, regicidaldwarf, for her most awesome advice, counsel and pointers on where to go forward and how not to fall into a pit of privilege.
Again I am very thankful for color_blue making that post, and am sorry that my earlier writing displayed such a sense of ignorance and insensitivity for others around me when it was posted to a public forum. And also to oyceter for hosting the main discussion post, the comments of which were seriously vital in helping me sort my head out and think about the line between what's written as something personal (which I've tried to keep beneath the cut here) and as something as commentary (what I tried to leave out of cut). ♥
Oh, K, go!
- [identity crisis] both parts, in whole