Was having a long drawn out conversation the other night about humanity, culture, sub-culture, ethnicity, race and color. These can mean so many things depending on the assumptions that we make or not.
Take for example, the group, "black people." In the U.S. domestic context that might mean something substantial, but in Kenyan domestic context, for example, it really doesn't mean too much unless you're having a distinctly historical or international conversation. Or how about the term "American" -- what happens the day America and its border no longer exist? Like every group, nation, country... this too is finite... and yes, "this too shall pass." The greatest humans seem to be those who realize both that symbols are tools to be used for greater purposes and that symbols are not idols to obsess over.
Many of the terms we use, in both their verbal and textual forms, to envoke a sense of place, group or images... firstly, are simply symbols, and secondly, they are pretty damn subjective indeed. The subjectivity of symbols can become powerful (not to be confused with the mythological term "objective") through collective agreement (or dictated authority) on what a certain symbol represents. In fact that is a powerful notion that I think often is evoked when discussing the word "nigger" -- that people determine the power of symbols when we reach collective agreement on the meaning of their symbols. The question there is two-fold: do you have the power to enforce your definition? And secondly, does a symbol proposition from a manipulated member of a people meet the criteria for the process of collective agreement?
For a free and powerful people, are questions of symbol validity -- such as, "what symbols matter most?" -- secondary to the process of collective agreement? I mean you can have your own symbols as individual or as cult, relative to a larger group, but for them to be powerful (i.e. to serve) must they not be isolated creations? And is the process of collective agreement itself secondary to the existence of a true collective? And what the hell is a true collective and who determines that? Any spontaneous grouping of people sharing a common bond?
For example, some might think of themselves as human first and foremost and designate all other symbols of their identity as secondary to that. Many would agree that knowing they are of an African linage (or knowing their linage in general) is empowering. Many would also say though, that declaring it instead of focusing on just being it, is as redundant as the Westerner calling the sahara, "The Sahara desert" -- since the word "sahara" already means "desert". Symbol confusion run amok -- even my spellcheck wants me to capitalize sahara.
It's widely accepted today that life, and thus humanity, originated from the land mass that today we call "Africa", so are all humans Africans? Even there we find potential symbol confusion: our common modern understanding of Africa is not interpreted through "African" eyes due to the dominance-through-destruction-then-claim-it-as-my-own practice of Western civilization. The etymology of the word seems wholly European.
I think in some ways we have to accept that part of our identity IS reactionary and that that's okay. We fight that alot, I think, because when someone calls you reactionary you react by trying to prove you're not reactionary, which of course is reactionary. There's this pressure nowdays to rid ourselves of everything reactionary -- that it's a sign of not knowing yourself or of not being comfortable with yourself. But if I reacted to nothing, I'd be some kind of void. I am who I am because of what I do proactively -- but also because of what is done to me: by nature; by other humans; by all external elements. It takes a level of humility to admit that.
So we kinda gotta live with knowing who we are in the grand universal sense (without our symbols) and knowing who we are in the physical world we exist in (with the help of our symbols), which is based largley on constant action, therefore on constant reaction. We HAVE to be able to balance and reconcile those two understandings simultaneously. This is not to say that no one is doing this. I think it's probably just the oppossite in the world. Only in racialised societies does this become a dillemma because "the majority" (whatever the race) often fails to accept that "the other" is capable of this type of balance because they feel threatened by any assertions or symbols that are not clearly patriotic or subservient.
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