Am I Who You Say I Am or Am I Who I Think I Am?

Friday I posted a quick piece on too strongly identifying oneself with external ideas.  One line was "You are not your skin color" which prompted two of my friends to respond (excerpted from Faceborg and names redacted because I didn't ask their permission to post but I think they'll both understand...):


I'm certainly not one to dismiss the very real experiences of either my friends or of people of color in general.  As a white male, I have never encountered these kinds of prejudices.  I never will.  The existence of a constant scrutiny scares the shit out of me in spite of my live out loud nature.  It does seem, in these two cases (and both reflect a fairly common response to racial profiling) that more than it's fair share of weight is being given to those who see us than how we see ourselves.

A brief caveat: I'm not in favor of a 'color blind' approach.  First, it's impossible.  Second, it denies us the rich and lush experience of experiencing each others' cultural and ethnic gifts.  Homogeny is just fucking dull; beige by itself is a drag (for that matter, any color by itself is monotonous...)  Cultural differences are the spice of life and, as someone who has eaten both tapioca root and unseasoned chicken, I'm a fan of spice.

Back to the question at hand: how much weight should we give to external perceptions of us versus the weight of our own self image?  How much should the opinions of others - both those closest to us and complete strangers - matter in terms of how we process and deal with the world at large?

In order for Hillary Clinton to run for president in the face of thirty years of people spinning that she is a lying, manipulative criminal without completely caving in requires an almost Herculean ability to ignore the aggressions of people with power and influence.  Millions of dollars have been spent in the pursuit of either investigating her or slandering her publicly.  She also has had to handle the relentless criticisms of the people she needs most - the Progressives voters - without letting it deteriorate her own self image.    

How much of the constant nastiness influences her self image and how she encounters the world?  Does she, as Trump does, surround herself with an echo chamber of YES Men and sycophants there to boost her need to rise above it or does she handle it on her own?  Does she carry around a built-in disdain for anyone she perceives is trying to marginalize her or has she managed to rise above it?

There is the idea to consider that we are generally poor judges of ourselves.  An anorexic looks in the mirror and sees a fat person regardless of the fact that her collar bone is protruding like a bizarre curtain rod for her skin.  A legitimate bully sees himself as justified in ginning up a crowd of Facebook followers to harass an enemy without an ounce of self reflective pause.  A zealot sees herself in the reflection of the store window and does not see a one-note nag but rather a warrior in the cause of social justice.

There is also the fact that most people who sit in judgment of us (using the criteria readily available to them including skin color, clothing choices, hygiene, social comportment, etc.) don't really know enough about us to level those snap judgments but do anyway.  Our assessment of these prejudgments are also often inaccurate in that we don't know if the highway patrolman is racially profiling you or is just being thorough in his job.  Assuming intentions is a dead end road and is often completely unhelpful.

I'll offer that the answer to the question is that I am both who I think I am and who you say I am but that it is a delicate balancing act to accomplish successfully.  If I spend too much of my formulation of my self image on who I see, the self delusion becomes self destructive in terms of my ability to engage with others,  If I invest your opinion of me too heavily, it is likely just as self destructive.

Thus the paradox of the echo chamber/bubble of whom I surround myself with - if I spend most of my time with myself or people who support me unconditionally, the image of myself is affirming but erroneous.  If I spend most of my time in the company of those who find me questionable or worthy of disdain, my self image is distorted to reflect only those aspects that are external and my reactions are to either buttress against them or capitulate.

Let it suffice to say that I refuse to see others as simply their skin color or the clothes they wear or how loud they may be as often as is possible.  I'm not always successful but it is the daily attempt to see both myself and the people around me as the sum of what we do and how we treat others that counts in the long run.  

Is your skin color your identity?  Not to me.  How you see yourself is your journey.

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