When I was a kid, roughly 7 years old, my mother had these two friends that would come around every now and then. These young ladies were not attractive to me in the least bit. One lady looked like she may have been Native American or Puerto Rican, with a major nicotine addiction, she was a Pisces like me, and the other lady was Black, kinda resembled Arsenio Hall in the face and hairstyle, no idea what her zodiac sign was, because it wasn’t mine. They both dressed like Mr. T with the feather earrings and all that. At 7 years old I couldn’t quite call it, but something was different about them to my young mind. The Black lady seemed to be just a teaspoon less masculine than the Native American lady, but they both looked feminine during the week when they went to work. I don’t recall the circumstances around it, but it dawned on me one day early in the school year that they were lesbians.
Fast forward about 13 years, I remember meeting this extremely eccentric White aircraft mechanic when I worked on the flight line. He was like a cross between goth, street racer, and Richard Simmons. They called him Frenchie because he’d wear eyeliner and nail polish on the weekends. He would always say “don’t ask me, I won’t tell you”, when people asked about his weekend. The guy was funny as hell when he wasn’t doing dumb stuff. He was good at his job, but the shift supervisors weren’t much of a fan though.
What’s The Point?
Now, I’ll admit, these characters are a slight misdirect for the actual point that I’m making. That point being, which of the adjectives used to describe them, defines them, if any? Race is a social construct, gender seems to be optional, sexual orientation is a private matter, religion is a personal choice, career path is a choice, style changes, socio-economic status is circumstantial, attractiveness is subjective. Which characteristic states who these people are? Furthermore, which characteristics are truly important?
As infants, we come out not caring about much besides comfort. Over time we develop the attachment to things and people. Kids are little sponges that get filled up with the good and bad attributes from their parents and become products of their environment to a certain extent. Not sure exactly when we start dividing people up by adjectives, but it is inevitable that it will occur. How else are you going to describe people to others? Think about how short this post would be up to now if I left out all adjectives. It would be “my mother had these two human friends” the end. These adjectives are necessary to paint a picture, however none of them are the end all be all to who these people are.
What or who are you?
We naturally group ourselves and others into categories. We prejudge what that person may be like based on social or personal stereotypes of that category. Not even maliciously, we are all coded to prejudge for survival…some people just do so maliciously because they’re assholes. So, I’ll ask you the reader, what is the identity of a tall, gay, Black man, born in late October, who is a former professor and current politician? (That was random, no actual politician in mind). Should this hypothetical guy be defined by his height, race, sexual orientation, zodiac sign or his job? There is no wrong answer, but there’s also no correct answer. It honestly depends on who is evaluating him and for what purpose.
I’ve been told on several occasions that I’m Black before anything. Considering the country I live in, to most people that is likely true. To my daughter though, I’m dad before anything else. To my parents, I am their son before any other label. To the people I love and that love me, my race is not the first thing they’d say to describe me. That adjective would be relatively low on the totem pole for them. I heard a White lady describe me as a “handsome, buff, Black dude, the bald one” one time and I was flattered that she saw me in this way. She was embarrassed that I heard her, but it could’ve been a lot worse. That said, we don’t really have time to get to know people before we describe them, so it’s usually surface level, observable stuff. We’re all deeper than the surface or what is observable.
Sum of the parts
This world we live in is complex and it’s only natural that we seek to simplify things as much as possible. The problem is, sometimes we oversimplify, and miss the mark, or we don’t simplify enough, and still miss the mark. I am a human being, and that’s really the only thing that should matter when being judged by someone that doesn’t know me. I’m under no illusion that this will ever be the case, but what more is really required for basic respect and common decency? I believe we are hyper focused on the labels that separate us, while ignoring humanity which unites us. We are more than the sum of our adjectives, and greater still to any individual adjective used to describe us. I daydream about a universal understanding of this concept every time someone is the victim of a crime against one of their adjectives.