Tuesday August 11th
Through the Other Side of the Looking Glass
- Someone asked me today how I first started speaking at conferences. My first instinct was to say that it was at a meetup, but it actually comes way before that. The first time I learned to speak in public, was in Church growing up.
- You see, I used to read a lot in my Church; I was often asked to read the first or second reading (which usually precedes the sermon). I have vivid memories of, for Confirmation, having the Bishop stop me and ask me to re-read parts of a reading I had been assigned to read because “I read so beautifully”. At the time it was embarrassing for me, because of a long story that involves my parents wanting me to be confirmed in the place I was born, and my not living there anymore, and being treated as a teenager as an outsider (including being teased and bullied) in that community. They made fun of me because I wore socks instead of stockings, and my mom went out of her way, when someone at my school told me why they would laugh at me behind my back, to get me a pair of stockings to wear to church the following Sunday. Eventually I realized that nothing I could do would stop them from bullying me and feeling like an outsider, so I went right back to wearing socks. It was a lesson I learned about being true to myself. But that is besides the point.
- Later on, I did have the maturity to realize why I was bullied, and to simultaneously appreciate the importance of why my parents wanted me to participate in Confirmation there. It’s helped me understand other situations where I have been an outsider, also, and to continue to learn how to keep to myself when I am ostracized by the common group.
- But back to reading. Reading is tied to colonization for me not just because of our British history (as I am from a British colonized country), but because of the structures of power within my country, which permeates itself through our churches.
- It is very much a mainstay of our culture, and that has continued even today as some of the most powerful persons in my country (not in terms of visual power, but power that demonstrably runs our country in hidden sight) attend the same churches. Churches in my country are not just about “your relationship with God”, but rather are highly political and show your network, access to power and your own status in society.
- You see, in my home country, where you went to church would indicate or hint to others what kind of job you had, what part of society you affiliated with. When my dad was growing up, there were areas that were gated communities for expats, and these white bodies filled the churches within these gated communities. These gated communities were heavily policed; you had to belong there and have a high paying job in one of these expat companies to attend their churches. It goes without saying that the priests were often white. Even further, if you were a non-white priest, you might be dismissed; that community might not want you, or see you as a puppet and be quite dismissive towards you. It’s absolutely fascinating, and demonstrates the systemic structure of power wielding itself in hidden sight in my country. My dad recalls quite a few times being stopped at the gate to the place where he belonged, because he did not look like he belonged there. My grandfather, you see, worked at one of those oil companies, and was high up, even though he himself was black. This gave him a certain degree of privilege, and his family lived within the compound of a primarily very privileged area. So my dad had access to this growing up, and had to wrap his head around what it meant, in the middle of the Black Power movement in my country, to compound things.
- The churches and attending these were a sign of status; you were somebody important if you happened to attend certain local churches that were filled with expats, often headed by a white priest.
- Interestingly, after the expats left, after the oil disappeared, these structures remained. Certain churches still kept with them a certain amount of prestige. My dad reminds me that in some churches, the black communities took over, and they formed their own congregations, and had their own priests. However, in some communities, even when the black communities took over, they too formed their own structures of a hierarchy of networking and power. It’s a fascinating byte of history in my country that has not really been explored to my knowledge.
How does this come back to today
- Today, I am back to the world of reading and presenting again; I have made about five slide decks in the past week. This time, it is for the world of Academia, another world where you need to belong or gain approval or clout to be heard. It is like being part of that gated church community all over again; like a church I couldn’t walk to, because we all had to have cars to gain access (no buses come here), and we all had to speak with a security guard at the entrance to state or show how we belonged.
- It’s funny how life repeats itself.
Today when I read a book, or present
- When I read a book or give a presentation today, you know a bit of the history of my speaking in public. It’s interesting how something so simple can be so complex. Reading and speaking in public for me is embedded in my country’s history of segregation, power, and religion. Who knew?
- It reminds me of the works of Breton and the art of Magritte I was exposed to growing up, and in college. When we ascribe labels to things, are they really as they seem? Or do they have other layers we do not see? Is it just a representation, or is it something else, a puzzle to unlock that tells us more about the world around us, if we care to see?
I am in love with mappings
- I think back and realize that a lot of my exploration with Haskell, drawing, welding, etc, was my passion for mapping. I think constantly about how ideas map themselves from one context to the next. Literature can be mapped onto a pop-up book. Mathematical notation can be mapped onto a Categorical Diagram, or to music. To me, a lot of it (including talks) is about mapping ideas, and mapping those ideas onto your audience. It is a lossy process, in that some information does or might get lost along the way by the very medium you use to perform those mappings, but it is still a representation, a thought, an idea.
And that’s it
Written on August 11, 2020