Monday, March 14, 2016

Better Stories

I got a little worked up this morning after reading an article entitled 'Who is an African?' by Dirk Hermann and Mzwanele Manyi. I believe identities are stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world. I believe the first question we should answer is whether our stories do any harm? The second is whether they are helpful. It is tough to argue we should look for the facts, because that runs counter to how almost anyone thinks. Most of us start with how we feel, and then look for evidence to support that. In my life, any genuine fact finding efforts have tended to continuously unravel my world view. Continuously challenge my assumptions. Continuously leave me feeling like I know less about how things work than I thought.

I am busy reading two historic books, partly because they are so deeply connected. The one tries to unravel the mystery of the conflict in the Middle East (From Babel to Dragomans). The other looks at a 5,000-year history of Africa. There are huge gaps in my knowledge. There are huge gaps in our knowledge. What I do find interesting is just how interconnected history is, and just how separate it is.

 

One mistake that seems to have been made in us understanding ourselves is believing there is just one 'civilised' way to see the world. Seeing the world as a progression from savagery to the one true way. This lead to civilising missions and empire building.

The other mistake we seem to have made is that there is an inherent, biological, spiritual or any number of other real difference between us. So fundamental that any differences are not voluntary or built up over time, but inherent to our being. That we are defined... permanently... by the things that separate us.

We have always learned from each other. We learn as we go. We learn from the past. We choose the story that defines us now. Part of my story is my surname. Black. My blog is called 'Swart' Donkey because Swart means Black in Afrikaans. I am not Afrikaans, but there is a story (I chose to accept) about why that came to be a nickname. I take pictures around the world doing a Yoga pose called 'The Scorpion', and post them in an album on facebook called 'Where in the world is the Black Scorpion'. There is a Blackbird Bakery in Crystal Palace where I live. Yesterday I saw Black Dog Video near the AirBnB where I am staying in Vancouver. This morning I chose to go to the Black Frog Pub for lunch. We can create whatever connections we like to make us smile.


At the Black Frog, I had Perogies. After she said they were a Ukrainian dish, I asked the waitress if there was any Canadian food we should try. I loved her answer. She said that Canada is a nation of immigrants. There is no national dish. The dishes are made up from the flavours of the world. It is hard for us to let go of borders even when we learn they are new. When we learn they are stories. Even when tearing them down changes our story.

Yummy Perogies, wherever you are in the world

What we believe will always be a story. It's just up to us to make sure it is a good one. A good story that is open to being challenged and improved. Borders are stupid. They are a story that doesn't work. Not believing in them doesn't make them disappear, but we can slowly chip away at the problems they create. 
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