I am E Pluribus Unum. So are you.
I think we all, in some way or another, seek to find our identity in life. Who we are meant to be, what we are meant to be, and how we relate to the world at large. We try to find meaning in the world, in ourselves, in our work, and our relationships with others, religion, politics, sexuality, and gender.
We find these categories and start marking them as if we’d been handed a survey of demographic information or a census of sorts that goes far beyond some governmental survey. These categories make us feel safe, it makes us feel valid, and part of communities and groups of people with whom we identify. It’s a personal quest that people embark on somehow, some form or fashion that usually starts with asking oneself, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of all of this”
It brings order to the chaos of life, or at least, it tries to. It takes away the loneliness of life, in some regard.
Especially now, in the age of DNA testing and the internet, we’ve been able to assemble an even more significant amount of information and share that experience with a broader range of people. The obscurity of life has diminished.
As a citizen of the United States, a nation built by immigrants and slaves, identity and searching for it feels heavier. In a country obsessed with ‘race’ that suffers from self-inflicted wounds of racism and, most recently, tribalism due to discrimination and lack of identity, I am starting to uncover who I am. Or instead, I am discovering where it is I’ve come from.
My early years of life was chaos. I was handed labels from other people around me for years, ‘name,’ ‘male,’ ‘baptist,” white/caucasian,’ and so forth. Everyone gets a label, markers identifying who and what they are. The chaos happens when you receive other brands from other people, ‘faggot’, ‘poor,’ ‘working class,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘fat,’ ‘average student,’ stupid,’ ‘saved,’ and so forth. Cruel labels from a harsh world where your identity is up for grabs. Tags both malicious and benign or well-meaning but abusive in other ways given to you by those surrounding you.
But we grow. We change. We evolve into ourselves and out of ourselves and search for more than what we had. This change comes from experience, education, spending time with ones-self learning about life through the act of simply living it.
Yet, at a certain point, we start trading these labels in for others like baseball cards or Pokemon cards at some unseen cosmic comic book store. A lot of it has to do with accepting or rejecting the premise of the label itself or making a choice to change them. Some of these label changes will be permanent, ‘faggot’ for ‘gay’ for instance. Some of these will be temporary, ‘soldier,’ ‘airman,’ ‘student,’ ‘unemployed.’
Unfortunately, some of the labels that we give ourselves in our lives will be harder to shake off, ‘worthless,’ ‘unloveable,’ damned,’ ‘baptist,’ ‘saved,’ ‘conservative,’ ‘republican,’ ‘white,’ ‘nobody,’ These labels, at least for me, were so heavy because they come with some built-in baggage to them, and were so contradictory to themselves and to the ultimate truth which was how false they are. Or, perhaps, that the label itself was or is meaningless. There are no real parameters. “Saved’ for instance. What does that mean? “White’ what does THAT mean? ‘Conservative’ What am I conserving? Whales? Trees? Salt? Electricity? The White, male, protestant, privilege? What?
In this day and age of QANON and ProudBoys, conspiracy theories, flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, and so forth, it’s hard to find some empathy for people who align themselves with social malignancy. These real threats to America itself and the world are like cancer to the body. In our post-truth world, with national security figures selling the country down the river, and a president who refuses to admit he lost, hatred and anger are festering. And it’s hard to compassionate to people who seem to have abandoned their minds completely.
But what if the labels they had to work with, that was projected onto them by the outside world, were terrible, to begin with? Let’s start with the brand, ‘white.’ What does that mean?
Think about it. What does it mean? On a census form/ job application/ etc. , it would say, “White/ Caucasian/ Non-native”.
According to Google, “Caucasian” means “White Skin/ of European Descent.”
I want to hold us there for a second — white Skin/ European Descent. The term “White People” did not exist before the formation of this country. It was a way to unite non-black, non-Asian, non-native peoples together. Since there is no pan-European culture, no pan-European language, art, or belief, this country’s powers had to establish a link to unify people here to maintain control over people of color. In that process, ‘white people’ abandoned their inherent diversity for a label with no history, no culture, no faith, no language, art, philosophy, etc.. At the same time, it stole black bodies in Africa and did the same thing to them.
I am in no way saying American’s have no identity. But White people aren’t the only Americans. We are a nation of immigrants. They bring life into our veins. They breathe breath into our lungs. They bring their world into our world, and all things are made new. That has always been our truth; it has ever sustained us — E Pluribus Unum — From many, one.
And yet, while these immigrants come bringing home, culture, and art, and more importantly, a link to their past, white people and black people suffer from lacking all of that — one by theft, and one by choice — linked together inextricably by men hundreds of years ago.
With so much information at our fingertips, with the creation of DNA testing now available for home purchase, with Ancestry databases, and so much more, it no longer has to be this way. “White People” and “Black People” can determine who they are and where they come from. Their past, roots, heritage, diversity, and culture can be handed back to them. The labels given to you by others can be traded in for meaningful ones with depth, and language, and art, and history, and some of it may surprise you.
For instance, I discovered recently (as of 48 hours ago) that I have a cousin or an uncle (great, great, great, something or other) who was beatified in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. George Napper, a derivative of Napier, was executed by King James in 1607 for the sin of being a priest. He was martyred and made beatified by Pope Pious XI. For someone with MY history, that’s not only amazing, but it’s also ironic and hilarious.
((I was raised Fundamental Baptist. We were raised to not like Catholics and use the King James Bible only))
These proud boys, etc. et al., fear their label. They fear karma because of that label. Retribution. It started with Barack Obama, who at the end of the day, despite the insane amount of bullshit, and the fact that liberal progressives hated him, was a moderate centrist. The biggest scandal was he wore a tan suit. That fear led to Trump and Trumpism, which brought that label and all the weight and history of that label, roaring back from history’s shame. And now? They’re losing their fucking minds. So much so that they’re practically babbling word salad all over the internet and trying to piece it together to bring order to the chaos between their ears.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It may not solve racism per se, but we all get to make choices in life. And we can choose to turn inward for truth, literally inside of our DNA where exists music, art, language, dance, literature, going back thousands of years, and shrug off the implications of a really shitty (and historically recent) label that’s hurt people including the ones wearing it.
I am Scottish/ Irish American. I am a writer. A husband. An artist. I am a Lutheran. I am Queer. I am alive with so much rich history, meaning and struggle, and hopes and fears and lives in my veins. I am E Pluribus Unum, and so are you; you don’t know it yet.