Out of the two Ted Talks we had to watch over our miny break, “Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself,” by Thandie Newton, was the one that really stuck with me. This talk really struck me because I found it relatable to my personal experiences. Everyone has a self, but you are not born with it. When we are born and as we grow up, we are filled with ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong, how to act, who to be, and how to be the best we can. So, really isn’t self just a projection based on other people’s projections? This got me thinking , because it is so true. It’s human nature to want to be liked and to fit in. Therefore, isn’t who we are based off of the interactions we have with other people’s selves?
What is self anyways? Is it who we really are or who we want to be? Growing up, like most other teenagers, I experienced bullying; I was too fat, I wasn’t smart enough, my completion was too dark, I had a high pitched voice, I looked like a “scum-bag”, my hair was too long, I watched the wrong TV shows, listened to the wrong music, and read the wrong books. My self was constantly being attacked and it would constantly change and eventually die, but with the death of one, another was created. You see, self is never static, it is always changing and developing in a desperate attempt to fit in. As Thandie Newton said, “How many times would my ‘self’ have to die before I realized it was never alive?”
Self tries to fit in. Self likes to fit in and see its self being replicated. It was just like me, to try to fit in and be cool. Just like self, I had a craving to belong. That desire to fit in proves the existence and importance of my self. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to interact with other people or come about new ideas. The thing is, I found that my self began to be defined by otherness. Because other people didn’t like my self, I changed it. It got to the point where I didn’t even exist in the social world anymore because I was trying to be everything but myself. There was no Tyler James McDonald, the only thing there was, was otherness. I was an unrecognized nobody compiled together by other’s ideas of self.
It wasn’t until my junior year in high school, when I began to feel comfortable with myself, but it wasn’t long lived. During this time, I got the opportunity to attend a Career and Technical High School of Technology for Digital Media and Animation. I was opened up to a whole new world of expression, a world I was unaware of before. During my two years there, I got deeply involved in photography. I felt like I was on top of the world when I would do a photo shoot. I found myself completely engulfed in my work and loved doing it. I was really successful in photography as well, but at the time I didn’t know it. I competed in a nation wide competition known as Skills USA. At the regional competition I came in third. I felt extremely defeated, but luckily enough my score advanced me to the states competition where I took first. Advancing to Nationals, I felt so confident with myself. I felt like I knew exactly who I was and who I wanted to be. When I didn’t win the competition at the national level, or even come close to placing, I felt defeated. It was like a piece of me had died. Even though I was so connected and confident in myself prior, at the end of the day I had lost exactly what my self actually was. I was no photographer. How could I be? I couldn’t even win a national competition.
After this, I left photography alone for a while, subconsciously, I put myself back into the state I was in before, where I didn’t know what my self was anymore. The only thing left that I could be identified by was my race. I learned today that race doesn’t define self. What is race? Is it skin color? No. There is actually more of a genetic difference between a black Kenyan and a black Ugandan then there is between a black Kenyan and a white Norwegian. You see, race is an illegitimate concept based on fear and ignorance. This information would have been devastating to know back then, because if I didn’t have race to identify myself then what did I have?
Now that I look at it, the only reason I was so successful in photography was because of my thirst to discover my self. If I thought that I already knew myself then I wouldn’t have attended the Career and Technical High School. Self is just based off of value systems and a physical reality that we created. Our brain uses the idea of self to get our minds off of the idea of death.
During the summer months before college, I truly discovered my self. People in my hometown knew of my success in the Skills USA competition. I was bombarded with requests to take senior pictures, maternity pictures, and wedding photos. It was at this point when I was literally like “fuck it.” I didn’t care any more. I didn’t want to fit in or be the best. Photography made me happy and I loved doing it. This is when I discovered my essence- or my oneness. When doing photography, I feel so connected; to myself, to my clients, to the wind and how it manipulates the environment, to the light and how it reflects off of different surfaces, to the ground that I am standing on, and even down to the air that I breathe. I am aware of everything round me. You see, the key to establishing oneself is through awareness, and through awareness, you develop your essence.
Don’t be ashamed of your self. I no longer am. Live from your essence and incredible things will happen. Instead of living with a whole bunch of selves conflicting one another, let our selves live together, un ashamed, and with each other.