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My People, Not My People

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My friend, fellow writer Nick Woods, describes me as “someone who walks the borderlands." I liked that. It sounds so mythic. I always thought of myself as someone who couldn’t quite fit in, someone who just couldn’t manage to fit into any party line. Yes, yes, I know… it shouldn’t be hard to fit into a particular party. Everyone else does it. At least that’s what the American media would have us believe. After all, we have a two party system. Things are either pro or con, left or right, my side or your side. And then of course there is “my people” or “not my people.” “my kind of people” and “not my kind of people.”

First, I’ve got to say that:

  • Speaking ethnically, my people are anyone of African descent.
  • Speaking chromosomally, my people are women.
  • Speaking professionally, my people are artists.
  • Speaking of class, my people are working class.
  • Speaking parentally, my people are people who have had biological children who have special needs.
  • In citizenship terms, my people are people who have immigrated to the United States and after long struggles have become citizens.
  • Personally, my people are folks barely on the verge of sanity, or people who also walk the borderlands.
  • In relationships, my people are people who are long-married.
  • Speaking maternally, I am the mother of sons.

Oh, I could go on forever! But I won’t. I’ll spare you.

The trouble with belonging to so many groups is that they all qualify each other and often I have to forget, ignore, or dismiss some aspect of myself in order to fully fit into another category.

I’m a Christian who has always had tons of gay friends along with Israeli messianic Jews, secular atheist Jews, Angry Buddhist-Hindu Arab, Gay Catholic celibate pro-lifer. Hispanic freedom-fighter. And those are the sane ones.

I’m a church person who generally doesn’t like church people. In fact the only church folks I like are those in my own church who are Hispanics, and who have treated me better than any white Christian or black Christian has ever done.

I am an immigrant who thinks that the earth belongs to God and people shouldn’t be forbidding other immigrants (legal or otherwise) to come in. Yet because I have suffered from prejudice and discrimination, I worry that many new immigrants might not treat American blacks in a fair manner and that makes me sound more conservative than I really am.

I’m a Christian — who because I am black — writes stories that deal with the wrong side of American imperialism; something American Christians don’t do because well, they identify the United States with Eden and prefer a white-washed history where white ancestors were the only ones who created this great country.

I’m a feminist but I have always felt the white feminist agenda is not for black feminists, not for Christian feminists, and not for mothers of sons. And female writer that I am I consider feminism one of the worst things that ever happened to good female characterization. Honestly, admit it, women in modern stories are not as nasty, psychotic, or wrong as they used to be. And we writers are often warned against creating certain kinds of characters. But I digress.

My challenge has always been to be fair and honest with my fellow human beings, to love those who obviously love me, and to be at peace with this borderland walking.

My wish however is that we all learn to see ourselves in everyone, that we can all be honest, and realize that we not only belong to the camp of our friends but to the camp of our enemies.

Why do people forget some aspects of themselves in order to affirm one particular aspect of their identity? I suppose because we will feel all alone when we discuss our opinions. We don’t want to confuse those we are friends with by seeing both sides of a question. Did I say “both sides”? Ah yes, the old two party thinking again. I meant “all sides.”

What, I wonder, would American politics be like if we all stopped dividing ourselves into different camps?

What would American Christian writing be like if we all stopped thinking of certain topics as not a topic a Christian should write about?

What would our friendships be like if we truly acknowledged all aspects of ourselves?

It is sad that identity and identification come from the same root word. If only we could have an identity that didn't force us to choose which people we should identify with.

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  • Constance

    Great article.

  • ‘It is sad that identity and identification come from the same root word. If only we could have an identity that didn’t force us to choose which people we should identify with.’

    So true Carole. The craziness is that when I talk to most people one on one, I realize that we ALL walk the borderlands. Our public face clings to group because it seems easier, but in the twilight so many of us surrender our selves in an unfulfilling effort to establish community and stave off the loneliness that is the human experience.