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Unity Through Differences

AntoniaAC's picture

As humans with multifarious backgrounds, we each have been given both predestined as well as self proclaimed identities. Social constructs were formed centuries ago as classifications from individuals to box groups under a given label. These imagined identities have helped to unify groups as well as isolate others based on social standing in our society at large. Personally, my struggle for honesty and self identity has caused me to ponder relations and commonalities among people and constructed groups. Mary Louise Pratt in her piece “The Art of the Contact Zone” questions how groups should be integrated with one another and coexist without becoming conformist and assimilating to social “norms.” 

Unlike June Jordan, Pratt and myself both feel the need to preach our differences without animosity and to promote acceptance of one another without scrutiny. Pratt affirms that social constructs of race, gender, and ethnicity have formed walls made for barring inclusion. She condemns assimilation but her insight goes deeper. She asks her audience to transcend the labels and bigotry through education and connection. My own discomfort in my racial identity was in consequence to the alienation I had created between my culture and self. My backward thinking sparked by a negative experience with my latina friend was called into play. My friend may have played a role in my fear of acceptance but it was my own self deprecating acts, not a lacking external acceptance, that made me feel less than latina. Pratt challenged my previous mindset with an example of putting, “ideas and identities on the line,” in her class when she forced, “all the students [to go] face-to-face [with] ignorance and incomprehension” (39). Through confrontation these students were given the opportunity to understand their differences and make 

radical change to how they pass judgment on another person or group. This idea of a “contact zone” advocates for groups to connect in light of defined difference. For many people, judgment comes from an unknown fear or phobia of a new experience but through receptive discussion positive change is possible. 

“Safe houses” which is a term brought up in reference to women studies and ethics studies are not only wonderful but also mandatory for students to learn about minorities and embrace the differences rather than persecute them (40). These classes, much like “Changing Our Stories,” are incubators for thought and consideration of identities. Pratt’s class acts in, “subordination,” to oppressive majorities, and provides groups that need acceptance “healing and mutual recognition,” while providing the privileged students with, “understandings, knowledges, [and] claims on the world that they can then bring into the contact zone” (40). 

June Jordan’s argument states that when people assume, “automatic concepts of connection” “race and class and gender absolutely collapse” but Pratt makes the case claiming these groupings are infact connections. Merging the two concepts, I believe, that not all connections are as strong but because of a universal and institutionalized prejudice for all things not cis male, heterosexual, and white a common struggle does cause unity. Pratt says this unity must, however, be used for progress to redefine these traditional hierarchies and reassess our relation towards them and other humans. 

The world, while divided by nations, continents, and oceans, is intersectional and all experiences reverberate throughout the many imagined communities that make up the diverse human race. Pratt through the education system seeks to expand her students individual knowledge of life. Identities are created by differences of appearance but segregation whether initiated by others or the group itself holds no bearing to a possible solution. That diversities 

must be observed but walls of bigotry may not be erected to overcompensate for previous grievances. My rejection of a set identity was possibly made out of a desire for independence. However, through the new lens of contact, I see there is a need for alikeness in specific communities, and as a result I have a better grasp people’s association with specific labels. Before entering into a conversation on identity, it was my inclination to want to break down identities out of fear of blanketing categorizations. However, upon further analysis I have come to see unity in commonality and unity in difference. Both offer insight into others’ worlds and allow for safe dialogue on delicate topics like race and gender. 

Andrea Gibson in her poem “Etiquette Leashes” says, “May we rush into the streets to do the work of opening each other’s eyes.” This line speaks volumes of Mary Louise Pratt article“The Art of the Contact Zone” and my reexamination of identity invoked by reading it. It is our moral obligation imposed by our interconnectedness with the rest of the human race to listen, teach, and accept one another. No one person is the same as another, and no one experience will be felt or handled in the same way, but with the help of one another life just might be bearable. Both Jordan and Pratt advocate for connection and communication, and I, too, affirm this notion that people must work together. Whether that means crossing identity lines and taking women’s studies classes or having basic honest dialogue in class all acts of defiance against prejudice are pointed in a more inclusive society. The thing holding humans back from radical social acceptance is our preconceived perceptions of one another based on minor details such as skin color, gender, or sexuality. 


Works Cited 

Gibson, Andrea. "Etiquette Leash." Pansy. Write Bloody Publishing (2015). Print. 

Pratt, Mary Louise. "Arts of the Contact Zone." Profession (1991): 33-40. 

Jordan, June. “Report from the Bahamas, 1982." Meridians 3, 2 (2003): 6-16.