Don’t Judge My Labels

I have been having a major debate with myself over the last few years, and my brain has been struggling with what seems to be a severe identity crisis. My identity as a woman/person/scholar just seems to be one giant contradiction!

Ok. There are a few things I consider myself to be. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like in the world of academia and the societies we live in (mainly in the West), people feel the need to label themselves. We have leftists, conservatives, Marxists, feminists, postmodernists, the list is growing every day. Everybody wants to fit in a box or at least identify themselves with one or more movements. Whether they really believe in these philosophies or whether they just think it’s cool, that is debatable. The question is how much do these ‘labels’ define me? And how accurate are they for someone like me? 

Anthropologist. Feminist. Africanist.

I am an anthropologist. I’ve talked a little bit about this. My bachelor’s and master’s are both in anthro. I am a black, African, female anthropologist. That is probably one of the BIGGEST contradictions you will ever hear in your life! If you know anything about the discipline, you’ll know that it was developed by some old, white, European men (no offense guys). It grew out of colonialism. It has a history of racism and exploitation. Early anthropologists were interested in the ‘savages’ and ‘natives’ of the non-West in Africa, Australia and Asia. They wrote about the weird languages they spoke, weird beliefs they had, weird morals, weird kinship patterns, and generally all things ‘weird’ and ‘primitive.’ They ‘studied down’ and were critical of ‘the other.’ Basically, traditional anthropology has a pretty bad rap.

Feminist. Ok, this one is extremely challenging. I could probably have a whole series of blogs about this. As you probably know, second-wave feminism exploded in the U.S. in the 1960s. It was a white, middle-class (and straight), American women’s movement. Talk about contradictions: I’m not a white, middle-class, American woman so why do I find myself identifying with women’s lib? Granted it has become more inclusive over the years and there are many different types of feminisms. Obviously I recognize the social and cultural inequalities women experience universally. I value the need to break down these inequalities among and across genders, the need to get rid of all the ‘isms’ like sexism, racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism, ethnocentrism, etc. That is all TOO easy to say. But so many of these things I find myself struggling with.  

Africanist. I love Africa, I love my heritage. I’m not an Africanist by training. Apart from my lived experience there, I know so little about Africa, I should be embarassed. I have spent most of my life studying in American or Australian institutions. Our history is completely erased from those curricula. I’ve only taken one class on the history of Africa and that was just the basic stuff. Everything else has been my own research, lots of essays which are based on my own interests. I suppose quite a few of my master’s subjects have focused on health and development issues on the continent, topics that I am most passionate about. But can I truly call myself an Africanist?

There is still SO much more to say about these things. I don’t know that any of these identities (and they aren’t necessarily completely distinct from one another) will ever be reconciled in my consciousness. I feel like a walking contradiction. You will probably notice.

But don’t judge me.

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~ by misswretched on July 31, 2008.

2 Responses to “Don’t Judge My Labels”

  1. Okay so I feel like I’m going to be commenting on every single post that you write b/c they are thought provoking.

    First off, I wish you were here so we could have these types of discussions in person. I’m picturing a black sex and the city type of scenario (fancy designer clothes/accessories, good wine, great friends, and interesting conversations), but I digress…

    To the topic at hand, although you may see yourself as a contradiction, why not see yourself instead as the new face of what an anthropologist is, and who a feminist looks like and represents??? It’s time we have our say about our culture, too often we have been forced to look and ‘learn’ about ourseleves through the eyes of old white men; its we re-defined who we are and how ‘others’ see and understand us. So I say go ahead on girl (i mean lady, wouldn’t want to offend your feminist sensibilities) and break the stereotype, work on becoming the new face of what it means to be an anthropologist who isn’t just black, but is African.

    Okay I feel like I sound like a life coach or something, you may have to start paying me to post my comments!!! Keep up the intersting topics at hand…damn you make me want to start a blog too

  2. […] to study ’other’ people  ’correctly’) in such a bind, and I must admit irks me greatly as I have written before. If you would like to see for yourself, there is a whole site dedicated to ‘the indigenous […]

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