One L(ove)

December 28, 2008

Two-ness, Three-ness, Four-ness?

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 6:53 pm
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W. E. B. DuBois

W. E. B. DuBois

Last night, the girlfriend of a friend of mine threw a surprise party for him since he has now finished his applications to Ph.D. programs in literature. So as a way of showing my happiness for him, I decided to get him a gift for this achievement. Before heading to Rego Park in Queens, I went to the Borders store in Stony Brook and ended up getting three novels for him (if you’re of the curious sort, I got him Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, and Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal). While browsing through the titles in the fiction section, I couldn’t also help to notice a beautiful young woman with what seemed to be a five-year old child. The correspondence between these two totally caught me by surprise. The little girl says to our Zaria: “I don’t want to be American! I want to be Pakistani!” So our Anahit responds: “You can be both Pakistani and American at the same time. There is no conflict being both.” The little girl then says, “No! I want to be Pakistani!” To this, our Inanna exclaims: “Fine! You be Pakistani and I’ll be American!” And then our Astarte takes the young girl in her chariot to Sidon, I suppose. I was amazed by this conversation and many thoughts flowed through my mind there and also during the long and tiring drive to Queens. First, what in God’s name is wrong with five-year old kids these days? Jesus Christ! One claims that the good Lord saved him (reference: Jesus Camp) and the other is wrestling with how she should define herself through identity. When I was five-years old, the greatest agony I felt was when someone would change the channel when I was watching “Thundercats”. 

What I also thought about was W. E. B. DuBois’ concepts of “double consciousness” and “two-ness.” Basically, what double consciousness is when a person measures herself or becomes aware of herself through the eyes of others. It’s looking at oneself through the eyes of others who stare with “amused contempt and pity.” This sense leads to “two-ness,” which DuBois describes, in the context of the African American experience, as: “two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body.” This often comes when one is being forced to conform to the dominant society while wanting to cling on to the older identity. The inner struggle of minorities.

The dialogue that was taking place in the bookstore made me think of my situation three years ago. In July 2005, I got my U.S. citizenship. I remember sitting in the court with other immigrants that were going to become naturalized and was feeling a great sense of despair. I remember sitting there and asking myself, “What does this mean to my Pakistani identity? Will I lose it?” But another question bothered me even more. “What does it mean to be a Muslim and American at the same time? Is this a conflict?” The thing is that identifying oneself as “Muslim” in Pakistan is not problematic since that is the dominant soci0-religious identity in that country. Identifying oneself as “Muslim” in America, I felt at that time, was troublesome. The reason being because right outside the court, there were talks of racially profiling Muslims. In that same month when I received my citizenship, terrorists (in the name of Islam) bombed and killed innocent Londoners a week or two earlier. I felt that the “Muslim” identity of mine will come into a cosmic battle with my newly acquired “American” identity, all taking place within me since political pundits, radio talk show hosts, editorial columns, etc., were calling for young Muslim men to be racially profiled on trains, buses, and the subway. This meant me since I love trains and was bearded at the time. Innocent me! I had this incredible sense of “two-ness” where one of my identities that I wanted to maintain was being castigated by the identity of the dominant society. It felt, at the time, that these two identities were incompatible. I guess this is what prompted me to write an editorial for the school newspaper few months later, trying to understand precisely what it meant to be Muslim in America. I guess I indirectly explored these concepts of “double consciousness” and “two-ness,” in the context of the Muslim American experience, in another editorial. Now I feel differently. I feel as if there is no conflict between my “Muslim” and “American” identities. Of course, there are always in society that look at you with contempt because of my “Muslim” identity, but the thing is that not to let them get you down. Know what the law says, know your rights, know yourself, just know, speak up, have confidence and believe in the power of your own voice. No one deserves to feel uncomfortable, not only within the land, but also within oneself. I know there are others in the Muslim American community that have it worse. What I have in mind are Muslim women. They not only have to worry about the “Muslim” and “American” identities. But they also have to worry about their “woman” identity. They not only have to worry about the stereotypes that accompany them when it comes to the “Muslim” identity, but they must also battle the stereotypes that face them because of their “woman” identity. Now imagine, what they have to combat when it comes to defending their “Muslim woman” identity — which is certainly different from the “Asian woman” identity, “white woman” identity, “Latina woman” identity, “Christian woman” idenity, “black woman” identity, etc. So there is a sense of “three-ness” when it comes to some minorities, even four-ness!, and so on.  

What I also thought about was what I saw a week ago. It was extremely cold outside but I decided to go out anyway during my lunch break because who wants to stay inside the office when there’s a chance to catch life and voices not related to work within the air? I decided to go to the train station nearby, see the trains (I’m a weird guy but I love trainspotting), have my lunch, and read the copy of Pride and Prejudice hidden in my coat pocket. While I was reading about how Mr. Darcy is a total douche because of the way he acted in that ball in the beginning of the book, I looked up and saw a pretty Muslim woman (wearing a headscarf) with a white boyfriend. The first thought I had in my mind was, “Great! Now this will give the ‘brimstone Mutts’ reason to continue barking.” I noticed that she kept on looking around nervously whenever they hend hands. The sight of them honestly made me sad. They really made a cute couple. She was obviously worried about someone finding out about their forbidden love (well, from her side). What must she being going through? There she is, a Muslim woman in a headscarf, bound to get dirty stares. So she must embrace herself against the stares of others from the dominant society and measure herself against the standards of this society by making sure she doesn’t do anything to further increase this “contempt” or “pity” from them, while holding on to her other identity. Then there is the standard she has to measure within her own minority community — against the stares of others within that religious community (i.e., she must be a ‘good’ Muslim and not go ‘astray’). So when love gets thrown into the mix, mesdames et messieurs, things get really messy and complicated. What I felt between them was pure love, as opposed to socialized love. The latter is where a person conditions love by binding it to certain social factors such as “the other person should be of the same faith as me, race, nationality, language, live in the same region, have a certain wealth, etc.” (I fear that I’m going to get bad stares from friends who’ve gotten together, love each other to death, and happen to be of the same social identities. To defend myself, I’m referring to those who formulate these social notions of love prior to coming into a relationship. Pure love can definitely exist between two who happen to be of the same social backgrounds.) For the type of love the Muslim woman and her boyfriend exhibited went beyond social backgrounds and identities. But one couldn’t help but notice how uncomfortable, tense, and reluctant she got whenever her boyfriend’s hand searched for hers, and only let him take her hand after she looked around. Now, there’s a double consciousness within her own social identity. Isn’t that interesting? She’s worried about how people within her religious group will look at her if they discover her relationship. This is exactly like the plot of the Canadien film Sabah. An old identity that gives you comfort and you want to belong to because of its values but are at the same time in danger of being shunned by those who identify the same way. And there is me. Do I not also contribute to her sense of double consciousness when I sat there like an idiot, staring at her with “pity,” using DuBois’ words? Guilty me!

Jesus Christ! Five-year old kids shouldn’t be allowed to talk!

Currently listening to: Feist – The Reminder


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