September 2015

The Taxonomy of Boxes

by Melissa Kandido

We check them off or fill them in. Female or Male. Namibian or Foreign. White or Black. Straight or Gay. The dichotomy of choosing what we are versus what we are not is not just cumbersome, it can be daunting. Moreover, it is misleading, limiting and often misinformed. The list of how we categorize ourselves seems neverending.  I feel frozen in all of these choices. It could be due to my indecisiveness. But it also could be that we, as people, were never meant to fit into boxes or categories and subsections of humanity. For, when we enclose a space around ourselves, we are isolating our beings from the influx of ideas and other identities. It seems to place a freeze on the flow of ideas, because when I say I am something, it tells others what I feel that I am NOT.

I struggle with this boxing of who I am often. I most often want to draw my own non-rectangular shape and fill it in with “yes” or “both” as the answer. Sometimes, I think about “all of the above” or “none of the above” type of sarcastic responses as well. That way, I think, the people reading my sheet can be frozen in shock or disbelief.

However, I am not the only one who navigates between, among, and through the either-ors. Those with one Black parent and one white parent are, indeed both/and. Those who fall somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale live between the either/or dichotomy of sexuality. Those who are born to Namibian parents but are raised abroad can feel both of this nation and not of this nation, simultaneously. This is why boxes don’t work—they misinform and limit all of the experiences that make us who were are.

An example of being frozen in our categorization of self, when I state that I am a tomboy, I am also informing others that I am not someone who is extremely feminine. Yet, I am female. When did I internalize what is or is not feminine? Someone told me I was a tomboy around the age of 9 and to me, it was a compliment – it meant that I was athletic and strong, and so I owned the label that went on that identity box.  Why did my gender taxonomy determine what amount of femininity or masculinity I felt I should display? Furthermore, because I was raised pre-Title IX and female strength was never televised, I saw few Venus Williams or Mia Hamms; I was compelled to admire the male athlete.

Now that I am an adult, ‘tomboy’ still feels frozen in my building of self-identity, but I am rarely needing this label as mother, educator, dancer, poet, artist seem to trump the tomboy box. Furthermore, my parenting style, my educational philosophies, my study of specific dance styles, my drive for spoken vs. written word and my multi-disciplinary approach to art further exposes the superficiality of the named identities.

Nonetheless, I get it. Categories can be a simplification technique. If we can put a label on humans, it allows us to move through the world efficiently—categories organize the world around us. There is an incredibly poignant radio show called Invisibilia produced by National Public Radio. Invisibilia is focused upon the invisible things that affect our everyday lives. “The Power of Categories” is a show I recommend and encourage all of you reading this article to spend time listening to: http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/384065938/the-power-of-categories?showDate=2015-02-06 It is thought-provoking, artistically produced and the best radio show I have ever heard. In fact, if you can, stop reading this and go listen to the show. Then, return to the final paragraph of this article.

Despite my ability to find purpose in categories, I abhor the taxonomy of humanity. When we live, we live beyond our walls and outside of the boxes and labels. My tomboy-ness is not something that is as evident as my female-ness or my white skin. As I walk along the streets of Windhoek, I could feel judged by my boxes, for I engage this place as a foreigner, and ex-pat, an immigrant (all categories with various connotations, mind you.) Yet, I try by all means to reach outside of my box and connect with those whom I share air, share space.  I refuse to be frozen in spaces that diminish my ability to explore more of who I am as well as in the humanity of this community. Now that spring is coming, we are defrosting and dancing and defrosting into our new spring selves….

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