Are We Relatable?

August 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Relatable; what does that mean exactly? Someone once told me she and I weren’t relatable- a great guy, yes; someone she couldn’t see a life without, but I was now not relatable. This was also after learning her racist mother didn’t want her dating a brown-skinned person like myself. And this was also after realizing she couldn’t even acknowledge our relationship to the world (i.e. facebook). But I knew what her words meant. It was a hard pill to swallow, but this wasn’t a fight worth mounting. But that afternoon phone call had had me thinking over the years about what ‘relatable’ really means for us as human beings.

What does it really mean to say “we’re not relatable?” In that phone call, I understood the inference perfectly. What I don’t get is why we’re so quick to resign to what we perceive as safe corners when we’re confronted with what we imagine isn’t… just… like… us. I have only to look at my kids to easily conclude that this isn’t some sort of innate thing we’ve carried through our genes. There’s 7 (two I have yet to meet) and for the five I’ve known very well, they’ve always been blind to color. But at some point, I imagine middle school and high school will try to corrupt them into thinking there really is an ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and those differences need to be acknowledge with clearly defined “relatable” and “not relatable” boundaries. Thankfully, I know that won’t work with these kids- certainly not with a family backbone that wouldn’t allow those influences.

Again, what does it mean to be relatable? I’ll start with myself to see if this whole idea of relatable is as nonsensical to you as I now imagine it to be (after examining myself). Ok…here goes:
– I’m not Christian, and I never will be. [:gasps: I do that, too, every time I admit that to myself.] 😀
– I love country music. I like bluegrass, jazz… yada-yada…I even like some heavy metal…go figure!
– I would comfortably tell a woman that I’ll never let her beat me in sports, and will try my best to make sure that never happens; but I’ll also fit your definition of a feminist, and I’ll encourage my girls to beat me in everything, and be the proudest for their doing so.
– I’m argumentative. I’m difficult. I’m kind. I’m nurturing. I listen very well (sometimes too well). I like things my way. I can be very compromising if you know which buttons to push. I’m normally shy and your classic introvert. I’m also the total opposite given the right setting and which of my buttons you manage to push.

See where I’m going with this? If you’re any bit like me, you’d realize you, me, and everyone on this planet are walking and talking contradictions. A lily-white, pasty, red-bread racist/sexist/homophobe politician you’d find had this insatiable appetite for curvy brown-skinned women, or has had a gay lover on the side throughout the 20-year picturesque family unit he’s paraded about for us. And not to make it seem I’m harping on whitey, but there’s lots right here in Ghana I could mention…like the father figure who’d preach endlessly about the Bible and Christianity only for you to find out he’s been trying endlessly to bed your girlfriend for the past year. Now, on the surface, you could easily call these men and many like them relatable, but are they really like you, or does that one or two seemingly similarities automatically make them in your mind just like you?

I went to this get-together Friday night at a hotel in Osu with my new friends (and neighbors!). It was a nice place and impressive when you consider how well they’ve utilized the small space they have. It was also nice seeing and meeting new people. In one night I might a Cameroonian, Canadian, Israeli, French, German, and White South African, and that was just the handful the buzz from my glass of merlot braved me to talk to. There were some 60-or-so people networking. It felt very much like high school with lil’ clusters of people stuck in their singular orbit because they wouldn’t dare break off to see about those that didn’t look relatable. Then there were the roamers like my American friend who marveled you with her natural ability to suck any living souls into her bubbly and audacious personality (can’t say the same for the other Americans who were glued to each other the whole night). Those girls reminded me of an NYU group I met months before at the mall that were shocked that I approached them. Anyway, that evening got me thinking about why we’re always inclined to stick to what on the surface looks like our own kind- the relatable person- when it’s very possible that that connection is probably only skin deep. Even that skin color thing is unreliable. Africans are so genetically diverse that there’s a good chance I have more in common with the white people that night than the black ones. I also may not have had very much in common with those 60-something Germans and those stiff Englishmen, but I’ll bet we’d easily find commonalities given a few minutes of chit-chatting- after all we really are walking contradictions.

So how do were get this “given” when we have the ‘are we relatable’ blinders on? I thoroughly enjoyed those expats I met over the weekend, but I wonder if locals will ever have the opportunity to interact, socialize, and learn about these same expats in the brief time here in Ghana. And for that matter, will the same opportunity materialize for them about locals if we continue to allow this self-taught inclination to stick with those just like us.

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§ One Response to Are We Relatable?

  • Jeena Effoe says:

    I actually think it quite natural to gravitate to whom we feel we have things in common with: apperance, culture, language, same interests etc…. However there are some outliers in every situation…. Some people that grew up in varied circumstances and have cultivated tastes based on their environments.. These folks, dare I say, like yourself will then gravitate to more diverse circles. Sometimes the others realize they have commonalites with you, but still rather prefer sticking to their own preference….. it is a harsh reality. I’ve learned after most of my life wanting to different and mesh the impossible, to just enjoy places where I fit better, learning to gravitate to those that understand me and have a desire to have relationship over those that misread me and need coercing. The friction of such is quite irrelevant.

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