Sunday, 11 November 2012

Rejecting your labels




I watched the documentary Fix ME at the Palestinian Film Festival over the weekend. The director and main subject, Raed Andoni, said something in the film that resonated with me. He reflected on the categorisation and labelling of people. He hates being put into 'frames' as he called it. He despises being defined, pigeonholed, stereotyped and people expecting him to make certain films or do things a certain way. The reason why people put others into 'frames', he explained, is because it helps them understand that person. 

I found myself agreeing as I looked up at Andoni’s troubled face onscreen. It’s not that I’ve ever disagreed with those sentiments, because it seems pretty obvious, right? But it occurred to me just how much categorising bothered me. And it also bothered a close friend who pointed it out right after the film. People see others through One-Dimensional Tinted Glasses and expect them to be predictable and stay predictable for the sake of their own understanding.

We are more than labels and ideas and stereotypes and prejudices slapped onto us by others for themselves  given to us to assist their own understanding of who we are. And if you’re thinking "ha, that's fresh for someone who writes posts about Arab stereotypes", well, fuck you. I mean, if you can't see that they're ironic and satirical and poking fun of stereotypes, then you’re one of the most blunt, corroded and damaged tools in the shed (and you’re not even on any of the shelves of this shed – you’re a rusty pair of pliers in a biodegradable garbage bag sitting in the corner, waiting to be disposed, but the owner of said shed keeps postponing dropping it off at the dump). But I digress.

In regards to categorising and labelling and defining and constructing others, I'm not just speaking about hyphenated-collective-identity-politics or group stereotypes, but interactions on a personal, individual and micro level too. If there’s something that particularly stands out about your character or your interests or what you do, it stays with you because it’s the easiest way for people to understand you. Despite their intentions, our nearest and dearest friends and relatives, our mates and colleagues and neighbours and acquaintances and dentists and those people you once went to high school with or shared that one class with (and less than ten words) last semester all label you and sometimes look at you through One-Dimensional Tinted Glasses

It's not necessarily a terrible thing to label. We need to label things otherwise we'd be spluttering on salty tea a helluva lot. Or snorting lines of baking soda. It's just how we humans are. You know, first impressions and such. Deducing-shit-about-you and all. You live here or went there or dress like this or speak like that therefore you must be like this and this and this. And some of it can and does ring true and is right, but what's frustrating is people who do not – cannot – see beyond it, despite you allowing them to see beyond the set image they have of you. Not that 'the set image' is necessarily bad, just that there's more, and if they manage to get a glimpse into the second or third dimension, they’re taken aback by it.

Take me for example. I'm a Palestinian who strongly believes in Palestinian rights, equality and self-determination. I'm a young woman who strongly believes in women’s rights, equality and self-determination.

I’m those things (not just those things, though) and I feel that way about those things (and other things) and I’m not mysterious about those things if they happen to come up in discussion. So people immediately see me as feisty and bold and that I’m the revolutionary slash Leila Khaled variety. That I'm nationalistic when no, no I'm not. Yeah, sure, I can be feisty and quick-witted and political and defensive, but it doesn't end there. I'm also dainty and bubbly and who knows if I'm introverted or extroverted and does it even matter? I can be clumsy and confused and slow to respond, and I’m soft and sentimental and affectionate, inspired, jaded, motivated and demotivated and I don’t know how to say no when I should sometimes, and I’m not angry at the world, because too much anger is toxic, I'm just disappointed in how some things work (and angry sometimes).

Sometimes I just want to talk about how shit the Palestinian Authority is and how Oslo was a failure, and other times I just want to tell you that my earphones are tangled and could you please be a darl and untangle them for me. Sometimes I’m at rallies, and other times I’m either on the weird part of YouTube or I’m curled up watching Friends re-runs, gushing at Ross, and burning my fingers while trying to rescue a Tim Tam that fell into my cup of coffee (and then realising that I’ve gone through half a packet and telling myself that I don’t care about anything or anyone anymore and why don’t I have my own apartment in Manhattan again?).

And hey, as a side note while I’m at it, because this is my blog and not the New Yorker and I’m allowed to go on incoherent tangents whenever I like – I feel iffy when people I don't know well tell me that they admire my "passion for Palestine", like it’s some kind of sport or hobby and they’re patting me on the back for it. “Wow, I love how passionate you are about it”. You can be passionate about solving a Rubik’s cube and salsa dancing, about history or art, but having an opinion and being concerned about the mistreatment of people and demanding equality for them, whoever they may be, is some kind of display of passion?

That was cathartic. I forgot what I was saying. 

Ah, yeah, labels. I am more than them. You are more than them. Where was I going with this?

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