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Collective, Creative, Independent Identities: Shared Diversity as Opportunity

The Unknown's picture

            One of the ways I have been most challenged in this class is finding the middle ground or the shared understanding between an ecological interpretation- one that often looks at connections, webs, entanglement, and similarities and celebrating difference, diversity, and uniqueness. I think about these ideas when considering appropriation and incorporating other cultural, religious, ethnic, racial customs/practices into the dominant culture. Though we learn early on in biology that most of our genes, what comprises us, is made up of many other organisms and we are all more alike than dissimilar, we are also taught to preserve individual and shared cultural/religious/ethnic/racial/class identities. In some ways, one could argue that I, as a white womyn have no right to learn and use the traditions of cultures, such as Native Americans, especially since I am apart of a race that killed, enslaved, and committed other human rights abuses against this culture. Yet, it is outrageous to say that these other cultures/races/ethnicities do not have insights to offer that I have not explored or we (as white people) have not considered. This is especially significant today when we (the humyn race) are trying to reinvent and reshape our lives to be able to combat/slow down/ face/ find solutions to climate change.

            It is fairly obvious that white people, specifically white people in the United States have contributed more to increasing the effects of climate change than many other cultures/countries/continents combined and yet here I am asking if there is an opportunity to “steal” or incorporate how others work beside/with/intertwined in their “environment,” and I use this term broadly, so that we maintain the diversity of life, ideas, and wonder on this increasingly uninhabitable planet. On a more practical level, in a classroom, if I encourage students to celebrate the variety of backgrounds they come from (I have always thought it was strange that we talk about a person’s background as singular.) are we urging them to think of themselves as distinct, separate, unique? Does this viewpoint exclude or restrict identities and opportunities for growth and change?

            I have often heard and myself talked about individuality and thought that it is a Western idea, but still celebrated some of its manifestations. We talk about each bringing our own set of beliefs/ideas/customs, yet are they really “ours”? What is lost when we continuously use this language of ownership? Whose culture? Whose race? Whose ideas? Who deserves attribution?

            Allegra Tomassa Massaro, someone I admire and I have looked to for guidance, solving seeming unanswerable questions, and I am proud to call a friend has complicated my understanding of what gets lost/confused/disrupted when an idea/practice/belief is adopted, yet she has also encouraged me to celebrate the different ways people identify.

            We often talk about starting over, from a blank slate. Some think that every institution continues, reinstates, and reforms inequalities and I would even argue materialism which is one of the causes of climate change. Yet, maybe this is where the ecological thought answers our inhibitions. Maybe one of the secrets of education, starting young, before children are taught that they are powerless and play into reinforcing, startlingly strong systems is the opportunity to show students how connected they are to other events and that actions create ripple effects. Could this be a form of uniting, celebrating, and empowering these growing, learning bodies and minds that we must educate and learn from?