Monday, January 22, 2024

A Boy from Basswood

 

The older I get, the more labels I am acquiring.

When I was young, my father was killed in an accident, and my mother, sister, brother, and I moved to Winnipeg where my mother’s mother and all of her siblings lived. Seventy-five years later, if asked where I am from, I will still answer, “I grew up in Winnipeg, but I am from Basswood.”

This is a post musing about “labels,” “inner self,” “local,” and “context.”

When I was young, I had a naïve feeling of what it meant to be “fatherless.” Mostly, it had no daily importance. Except when it came to registering for things like school, or cubs. And not going to those “father-son” events that seemed so important.

Later I would also learn that though I was “fatherless,” I was not – and this was a very good thing – “illegitimate.”

When I was young, I had a naïve feeling that it was important to know where you were from. I experienced this because in my neighbourhood, almost no one was “from Winnipeg.” And where you were from meant something. It was not clear to me how it “meant something,” or why it “meant something.” But the labels for where you were from all “meant something.” And I was “from Basswood.”

Later I would also learn that though I was “from Basswood,” I was not – and this was a very good thing – “Polish,” “Jewish,” “Italian,” “Ukrainian,” or “from Toronto.” (Note: Actual labels have not been used.)

When I was young, I had a naïve feeling that it meant something to be a “boy.” It was not clear to me how it “meant something,” or why it “meant something.” But I learned – through acts of shaming and/or violence – not to play with girls, not to play like a girl, not to like what girls like, not to be “girly” in any way – like crying, or being emotional, or being soft.

Later I would also learn that though I was a “boy,” I was not – and this was a very good thing – “homosexual.”

When I was young, I had a naïve feeling of what it meant to be “poor.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was my first experience of “privilege,” or the lack thereof. In my neighbourhood, we were all relatively poor, and were all clear that more money was better.

Later I would also learn that though I was “poor,” I was not – and this was a very good thing – “lazy.”

For all of my young life, I was naïve about labels. Until, as a young adult, as an anti-war, university activist, we/I begin to hear about a new movement, “women’s liberation.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the beginning of a lifetime of collecting personal identity labels. “Male.” So that today, in 2024, at the age of 78, my labels are:

·       Male (He / Him)

·       Cis-gendered

·       Heterosexual

·       White

·       Neuro-normal

·       Able

·       Settler

·       Middle Class

·       University Educated

·       English Speaking

·       Western, First World

As I have aged, I have learned that it is a privilege to not be aware of privilege. And that whatever thoughts or feelings or responses I may have to becoming aware of my privilege is also a privilege.

I keep thinking there is something called “just being a person.” This is privilege-thinking.

In my old age, I keep wondering how do I be happy in the context of all my privileges.

In my old age, I’m very aware of how labels are used to exert social control: naming used as shaming. The social power of labeling as status degradation or status empowerment.

In my old age, I’m very aware of how labels replace individual identity with group identity, which complicates supposed individual agency / responsibility / integrity / authenticity. What does it mean to be authentically White, for example. Is integrity as a "male" different from "non-binary" integrity, for another example. Or are these questions, also privileged thinking?

In my old age, I’m very aware of the complications of scale. What exactly is an individual/personal morally responsible life in the context of historic and global systems/structures of racism, sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, etc.? I didn’t ask or choose to be born a boy from Basswood. And I didn’t ask or choose all the privileges / advantages that came with the various discriminations / prejudices / hierarchies / barriers embedded in the culture I grew up in. But as much as I seek to be a trustworthy ally in my personal choices and life, I am very aware that my personal choices have no impact on the systems and structures of privilege.

In my old age, I’m beginning to feel it is naïve to believe that individual actions – even lots of individuals acting collectively – will have any lasting effect on historic and global systems/structures. Only historic and global system/structural changes will have any lasting effect. As an individual, I have no idea how to get at that scale.

In my old age, I’m beginning to think that – even though the analysis that produces them is a necessary, good, and helpful thing – simply creating new labels actually continues and does not correct the harm that labeling does. Self-understanding and self-affirmation are a good thing. But these are not the corrective to climate disaster. The challenge of creating historic and global structures and systems that embody right relationships among all beings is not achieved through identity politics. What does?

No comments:

Post a Comment

A Boy from Basswood

  The older I get, the more labels I am acquiring. When I was young, my father was killed in an accident, and my mother, sister, brother, ...