Thandie Newton and Otherness as a Blessing

Posted: August 31, 2011 in christianity, culture, diversity, multiethnic, personal, theology, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

The other day I was watching the Pursuit of Happyness and I
was struck by Thandie Newton’s portrayal of Christopher Gardner’s(Will Smith)
wife. She really was mean. Really mean and hopeless. And not only that but I discovered that she was not African American but British. She definitely portrayed her character well. There was an accent but definitely not enough to hinder the story or look corny. Only a few scenes in the movie but well acted. So I decided to look for other movies that she had been in and I found this brilliant TEDTalk she did earlier this year on Otherness and her experiences being bi-racial and also being an actor portraying different “others”.

I love how she talks about our selves as transitory and not
static. It is a beautiful picture of a cruciform life.  Guess what? Jesus was right. We die only to live again. We lose our life in order to save it. I wrestle with identity
issues as I have never felt perfectly at home in any particular group. But I
think she hits it on the head. Her talk pushed some thoughts to the surface for
me concerning the self and identity. If it is true that we are never born with
a self and that our self is developing over time then o define our “self” at
any one time is futile because we are constantly changing and constantly dying.
Some of us deal with change faster than others and some of us do not like
change. The ones who deal with change faster because either they have to or
they like to have a harder time giving a static definition of self. The ones
who do not like change and do not want to change give a much more static
definition of self. So my thought is the more that we are open to change the
more we become “the other” on the margins of society. Becoming the other on the
margins of society means that we have much more to give. More life. More empathy. More creativity. It’s because there is no “self” to get in the way. Over the years I have been a hip hop head, a criminal, a class clown, a preppie, a graduate student, a preacher, a husband, a father, a missionary, and a whole lot of other things but I think no matter what God has made me the “other”. And now that I finally realize this is a
blessing and not a curse I do not want to squirm out of it but to love it,
embrace it, flourish in my otherness. It is one of the ways that I can imitate
Christ, the totally Other who came and lived among us (John 1:18)

  1. “So my thought is the more that we are open to change the
    more we become “the other” on the margins of society”

    I like that a lot…reminds me of reading Lakoff and Johnson concerning an embodied spirituality: “Our body is intimately tied to what we walk on, sit on, touch, taste, smell, see, breathe and move within…from birth we have the capacity to imitate others, to vividly imagine being another person, doing what that person does, experiencing what that person experiences…this is a form of transcendence, a form of being in the other.”

    • mayotron says:

      Steven. I think that is a very insightful quote. It really shows that the self has very porous boundaries and that our “self” is constructed by our social context. I think the bigger question then becomes “When God sees us what does he see? A fully formed self? A totally other? A work in progress? Something like Him or something altogether different? This is good stuff.

  2. JasonsBlogg says:

    Awesome post! This is very (philosophically) interesting. Since this is my academic epicenter I will chime in. I agree with Newton that the discovery of ones ‘self’ is epistemologically subjective. No one else can really identify if I am my former ‘self’ or newer ‘self’. I can barely do that. lol. So what we know is subjected to what we experience. However, a murderer cant get off from a jail sentence by claiming that he wasn’t him “self”. So we are one with our selves and are accountable for ourselves. This motivates me to submit my “self” to the Creator God with faith that he will change my ‘self’ into what he desires.

    In regards to the God question: what does he see? In philosophy we have the Dualism view that says we are both mind (soul) and body; this makes up our ‘self’. So if God see’s us as such, both soul and body, and if he created us this way, then he has seen us this way from our inception to this very day.

    • mayotron says:

      This is not only related to philosophy but also your latest post regarding blackness. What is blackness? I mean what is the boundary? Even genetically we are all from Africa and I have more in common on a DNA level with many Norwegians than other African Americans. What is my African American self and can it be defined by skin color?

      On another note philosophy is definitely your academic epicenter. I mean you speak it like it is your heart language. I wonder what kind of worship would really speak to your philosophical soul. LOL

      • JasonsBlogg says:

        I like that.

        The question of “What is blackness?” I addressed the woes of blackness from the exterior level and how it affected the interior, but it sounds like you’re saying “what does that mean from our interior to the exterior?”

        The potency of my African American “self” became measurable upon its inception. We couldn’t measure something that never existed. This brings objectivity to the nuances of anthropology. Forgive my obscurity, but I what I mean is answering the question, “what is blackness?” is the same task as answering the question, “what is whiteness?”

        (Creationism perspective) Adam and Eve had kids that had kids which became nations. Were all connected through Adam and Eve but were disconnected in various ways.
        ~Human species versus Human ethnicity (one in many)~

        However, when we get specific (African American “self” or defining “blackness”), we would have to have a particular angle. Because what is ‘blackness” amongst atheist African American’s versus the theist? What is ‘blackness’ amongst educated African Americans versus the non-educated? Or rural versus metropolitan folk?
        ~Human ethnicity versus Human culture~

        So one who possesses blackness is one who has a combination of physiological African dominance and communal African awareness and acceptance. (I think 🙂 LOL

  3. mayotron says:

    Mmmm. Preach! That’s some good stuff. I think the physiological piece is something that would be negotiable because nobody is really the color “black” just like no one is really “white”. Also the communal African awareness and acceptance is one thing but in our context (African American) we have to allow for the American side of the culture. Dubois talked about the “double consciousness” that we have as a people and I wonder if part of our lack of identity comes from embracing only the African side or only the American side or not really embracing or defining either.

    Thanks for these comments. You raise my thoughts to higher levels!

  4. mayotron says:

    BTW You should go to USC or some school and get a philosophy degree. Has anyone ever told you that??? LOL

  5. JasonsBlogg says:

    LOL! I feel you! But can one truly claim to have ‘blackness’ and be taken seriously if they were not in fact ‘black’. I know none of us are actually black (although a young lady recently told me that I was actually black), but our appearance plays a part our claim of having blackness.

    (I am considering SC but Im scared that I will not be as anointed! LOL!)

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