Lately I have been thinking a lot about the concept of politics and social identity in relation to a successful, healthy relationship. First, I would like to define what a healthy relationship means to me. It is one where the two parties are committed and loyal, but self-aware enough to take care of themselves, and to support each other when the other person’s needs aren’t met. These needs may be emotional, locational, physical, etc. and they should never force either person to compromise his or her identities or values.
This is the part where it gets complicated: I am a brown, Arab, Muslim woman. My experience has largely been shaped by these identities, whether I want to fully acknowledge that or not. Within that, my experience with each of these identities is unique in that no one else has lived through them the way I have. I can relate to other Arabs, other Muslims, other women of color, and other woman, but I will never be able to entirely because that is the nature of being a human being: each experience is unique. (We can get into a debate over how problematic pluralistic rhetoric is, how “all lives” is a dangerous basis for social justice issues—but that is for another piece). So even with people who are physically, religiously, and culturally like me, there are a lot of differences.
Imagine, then, how amplified these differences would be when engaging with a white man, i.e. someone who has never been the recipient of systemic oppression; who has never dealt with microaggressions that are deeply rooted in white supremacist ideals; who has never been through experiences similar to my own, whether cultural or religious or sociological. How would that go? How would we connect? He would, at most, be able to sympathize with my plight, to hold me when I am in pain; he would tell me that what matters in the end is the person I am, and he would list all the qualities that make me the person he loves.
But this is where I get angry. Do those qualities matter to a world that only sees my gender, my skin, my religion, my unpronounceable last name? No. They do not. Therefore, even in loving situations, in proximity, he is distant. He can never know. And this reality extends beyond romantic relationships, and out into friendships, work relationships, and so much more. How do I connect with someone who is human like me, and inevitably has their own struggles when all I can think about is that they can never actually know in their heart of hearts what it feels like to be me.
This sentiment has resulted in very severe feelings of isolation on my part: that there is no one who understands what it is like to live this life. What is scariest of all is that I can never know where my heart lies: how will I compromise in order to understand the person, should I end up loving a man who has no concept of my experience? How will he attempt to understand me? There will always be that meeting in the middle, that place where I have to go, and in order to, I must let some of those microaggressions go, I must find room for grace—I must be okay with being the educator at times.
And it hurts to have to write that. It hurts to know that there will never be someone who just understands, that there will always be explaining to do. This thought makes me wish that I wasn’t as aware of my own oppression as I am. It makes me wish I could revert to my initial state of ignorance so that I could simply live my life in peace, thinking obliviously that if I work hard, I will prosper. But I am not ignorant. I am aware—too aware. And my qualm becomes about what am I willing to abandon in order to preserve my sense of self as the woman that I am without forgetting that the other person should also work to meet me in the middle. In all honesty, this is a difficult subject for me to explore because as of right now in my life, I have chosen solitude. I have chosen loneliness. I have chosen to preserve my sense of self through myself, and I don’t know if I want it any other way.
by FATEMA ELBAKOURY