Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mandate & Injunction

I am compelled to echo Rick Hertzberg and my several friends (each more literary than I) who duly insisted that I put aside my novel and my New York Times and read Zadie Smith's piece in the latest NYRoB, "Speaking in Tongues."

Do it now, please, and tell me what you think.


Blogger Annie said...

Thanks for posting this, Sam. I think it's a natural inclination for people to see things as binary, including when it's part of someone's identity. I'm the most "benign" example of a binary identity, an American-Canadian, yet that poses so many questions for people and inevitably someone will ask "so which country do you prefer?" People really expect an answer to this question, even after I go over my answer: For me, it's like asking someone "so, which parent do you prefer?" and not just because I have one Am and one Cdn parent, but because it's complex, I have a different relationship with each country, which changes over time; I've received nurturing and education in both countries; I have family, friends and allegiances in both countries, and have spent a comparable amount of time in both countries etc. So it's not to say that there aren't differences, but you just appreciate them for different reasons at different times. I say American-Canadian is "benign" only because the differences in these countries and cultures on a world scale are quite subtle, but it still poses some issues, questions and a plethora of jokes.

Obviously with biracial people, when the media, popular stereotypes and history reveal such striking dichotomies, it appears harder to grapple with, but it really comes down on the individual level to two parents (one of whom can even be absent in your life for a host of reasons). Obama is the perfect example of someone who doesn't hide the complexity of his feelings on a familial level and that is where most Americans can relate.

If ZS decides on inauguration day that she wants to be with a certain crowd in Harlem that reflects her mood and sentiments at the time, that seems perfectly natural (heck, who didn't want to be in Harlem that night?!). She might also go to a party held by the British Embassy one evening where she speaks in one accent and the next hangs out with a childhood friend where she slips into vernacular. Each of us does this, it's just not always fraught with the weight of history or the significance of social science reports. Every human has a hybrid identity. It is interesting to analyze which tendencies you follow at different times, but it's also important to recognize that it's beyond your control which aspects of your identity are valued at different times in different milieu.

26/2/09 9:31 AM  
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