Monday, April 21, 2008

A Minority View

Well, I'm back from my conference, refreshed intellectually, emotionally, and mentally, but unfortunately physically suffering from a bad head cold (that's what I get from very little sleep and more wine than I normally imbibe!)

One of the things I took away from the past four days was a renewed appreciation for having a "minority view." I don't necessarily mean my perspective as a racial minority, although I suppose there's that, but the perspective I have had, over the years, from being one of the "only ones" in the room--whether that is based on gender or race or geography or a host of other factors that have positioned me on the margins.

I think that a minority view has given me a broader sense of the world--certainly it has exposed me to thinking that I would not normally have experienced if I had continually found myself in a majority position. For example, take nationality. Yes, I'm in a "majority" position in terms of being an American citizen. And it would be easy to just say "We're #1! America is the world's superpower!" in this uncritical way, but having a minority position has made me see a perspective of U.S. nationalism that is not quite so one-dimensional or rosy. And has made me appreciate that you can critique something and try to make it better without throwing out the whole concept.

It has allowed, in other words, a complexity of thought that I don't know I would get if I found myself in a majority perpsective. And being at this conference, I was reminded of this because so many of my friends and colleagues working in Asian American studies are also "the only one" in their institutions, regardless of what their personal subject position might be.

So here's to those of us in the minority, in whatever way that might be. Maybe it's lonely sometimes, but there may just be more of us "minority" perspectives out there than we think--and I think our thinking has been better because of it!

5 comments:

Genepool said...

Welcome back! Glad you are feeling refreshed despite the sniffles.

One comment that kinda made me chuckle was that

"We're #1! America is the world's superpower!"

remark. When I was overseas I would hear American soldiers say things like this on foreign soil unabashedly at high volume and I would just shrink in embarrassment.

A fellow I knew went to a sidewalk sketch artist while I was stationed in Turkey. He was one of those artists who does the caricatures and his interpretaion of this guy was just spot on. It showed him with the usual exaggerated facial features, but it also showed him standing on a U.S. cargo plane peeing on the country of Turkey below.

The guy got mad and stomped off, I paid 5 bucks for it and hung it on my dorm room wall. It was probably his first exposure to a majority perspective where he was the minority! Ha!

Anyway, heres to you swift recovery. Cheers!

MixieLyon said...

Heh. I really like this concept. When I was a kid, my friends were all social outsiders - we were all different kinds of outcasts, but banded together as a survival trait. By 8th grade I called us the "Fringers," mostly happy on the fringe of society, so long as the majority left us the hellalone. But yeah, "A Minority View" was really what we were cultivating.

I think it's sometimes easier to identify and ditch prejudices and privileges when you have that minority POV - or at least, if you're open to identifying personal privilege to begin with, it might be easier to do that if you're already used to empathizing with others who aren't just like you. I definitely had my biases growing up, but I think I tried to start discarding them earlier than my agemates. If you're part of the majority/view yourself as "normal/average," it has to be a little harder to gain the awareness - more social risk, less experience with the outright disapproval that comes with bucking the status quo, maybe.

Jennifer said...

Genepool,
Thanks for the welcome back note and for sharing an anecdote that is SO GREAT (and yet SO SAD!)--I'm glad you kept the caricature--but of course, I do wonder what your colleague thought about you posting it up for all to see--and most especially, did he ever grow a sense of irony? Ahhh...irony...if only we could give it in pill form to people--I think it would help improve world relations enormously. Plus, a good dose of learning to laugh/make fun of oneself.

Mixielyon, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I think you are right that having a minority pov sometimes does allow us to recognize privilege and to create alliances across boundaries and outside of our own "identities"--it sometimes doesn't always work out that way (ie: I sometimes assume that queer allies will be anti-racist, and sometimes they aren't, although a good majority are, and the same can be said for people of color--they aren't always queer friendly), but I think that it's at least a step in the right direction--you know?

And I love the name of your high school group--Fringers! The thing about high school is I think that most of us felt on the outside or were clinging too tightly to the middle out of fear, which also makes you feel on the outside. Such a weird time in one's life!

Tami said...

Jennifer,

Get out of my head! I am and have been "the only" a lot, and you know, I kinda like it. It does get lonely sometimes. I realized recently that I feel a little disconnected now that I have moved to an area where I am both a racial and cultural minority. I am desperately looking for fellow Fringers where I am. Until then, it's great to connect online.

Welcome back and feel better soon!

Jennifer said...

Tami,
I totally laughed when I read your comment, "Get out of my head!" because that's the feeling I have SO OFTEN when I read your blog posts! Esp. about politics and Obama--the post you had about feeling "bitter"--I SO related to that (but didn't get to comment because it was during my 24 hour window of internet access while I was in full conferencing mode).

Anyway, thanks for the get well wishes--I think I'm finally on the mend, and yes, I'm glad to have connected with fellow "fringers" on-line!