I think everything I’m saying is obvious, but you never know in this world. In any case, things that are known don’t suffer from being articulated again. So, here we go.
As far as I can see, if anyone truly professes to be fighting for a cause that is in any way bigger than them, it is necessary to realize that exceptions simply cannot be the solutions to the problems. What we really should be making our main goal is not to be exceptional, but to be perfectly ordinary. Does that sound strange? Let me break it down.
A lot of the oppression and marginalization we fight is systematic. That means it’s all entrenched in our societies, which in turn means that there are definitions of normalcy from which the oppressed or marginalized are excluded. Progress is only made when that is no longer the case – when those we (used to) think of as the oppressed and the marginalized are included in this definition of normalcy.
For example, I, Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, am a Ghanaian, female student in a higher education institution. And, although we certainly still have a long way to go in terms of African educational gender gaps, the fact that a Ghanaian girl goes to college is not mind-blowing news. It’s not something for my country or continent to throw a party over. Several African girls go to college or university each year, and it is probably a noble cause to make sure that this phenomenon continues to get more and more normal as time progresses.
It seems to me that, at the very least, the societies I have been exposed to have developed some internal conflicts about the idea of being unique, exceptional, “other.” At the same time, minorities and the marginalized seem to be fighting to be recognized, liberated, integrated, no longer “othered.” I suspect we are becoming increasingly confused about “normal.” Do we like it or do we hate it? We despise normality for the things it excludes, yet the core of our missions at the very least should be achieving the status of normativity. This doesn’t mean changing ourselves to conform to existing definitions; most of the time, the trouble is that the thing that marginalizes us is something that is unchangeable about us.
I want to acknowledge that there are quite clearly moments when distinction is a necessity. As a matter of fact, I think it is crucial for difference to be recognized – and thus emphasized – even before it can be integrated. For example, black hair products, in a section distinct enough for black people to be able to find what works best for their natural hair colors and textures. The problem does not arise with the fact that something is labelled specifically by ethnicity but so usual, with the notion that white hair is “default.” “Majority” need not always be synonymous with “default.”
What I’m trying to say? Our mission is, or should be, to expand normal. It seems obvious enough, but frequently, our actions suggest that we’re not aware of this. We often praise exceptions not just for their merit but for the actual characteristic of being an exception. We are proud of someone who is “the only black woman in…” or “the only trans person in…” And then we’re so caught up in acknowledging the exception to ingest that the fact that our hero(ine) is an exception is troubling.
So. Be like Ava DuVernay. She’s lit.