This is not the original post I intended to write. But in light of recent events in the United States, I am impelled to say the following.
Many times, I have encountered the idea that the “musts” we often grow up with are not that great. There’s something freeing and seductive about this idea. I admit, I’ve been enthralled by it more than once myself. Let’s face it: the social obligations exacted by family and history can be very…to say it politely…confining.
However, there’s a lot to be said about the confines not being of our own making. That’s something we’ve all recently learned through news stories in these here United States (namely from the state of Florida). While we do our best to oblige, be responsible, do our due diligence, fulfill our duties, what are we giving up, if anything?
“We owe it to our ancestors and to the sacrifices they made, to continue to achieve higher goals, while maintaining our identity.”
Pretty tall order. The weight of it is, at times, crushing. And confusing. I can no longer deny that I live in a society that has made it abundantly clear that certain people’s identity, who you are by virtue of your body and your cultural and social heritage, is something to be feared, ridiculed, ignored, or considered less than worthy of polite company/benefits of society/even existing. For a while there, I felt almost convinced by the arguments that we live in a post-racial society, that the Dream could be realized within my lifetime. I was so acutely aware of the effort I was expending to resist, they seemed so reasonable. Then July 13, 2013 came. The wispy ghosts of racial inequality and discrimination in America, specters that I sometimes had to see through the corners of my eye, became flesh, stood in front of me, and slapped me in the face. I knew they were there all along, hence my resistance, but I didn’t realize that I was pretty far along the slope of slipping into a lull, enticed by promises of respectability, status, earned benefits and merits, and the privileges I have come to take for granted.
How does one go about “continu[ing] to achieve higher goals”? With great dignity, strength, and perseverance. Translation: it will not be easy. But you gotta do it. Ugh, easier said (or written) than done. How could there really be earned benefits and merits if the game is rigged, and has been all along?
When I think of obligation and duty, I often get the message that these are things best left behind. Even more so if they are well-worn tools of oppressive social systems that perpetuate unacceptable inequalities. (e.g., “We came to America to make our own destiny!” “Blaze your own trail!” “You decide the course of your life, not your parents!”)
Yet still… I see obligation and duty as the primary reasons I do what I do. I have obligations to my spouse, my children, my mother, my kin, my friends, my coworkers, and my colleagues. I have duties to people who have placed trust, belief, and investment of time, effort, and money in me, whether professionally or personally. Sometimes I don’t quite know how to act on these senses of duty and obligation, but I feel strongly that I must express and do something about them, nonetheless, to fulfill and repay the promise (which is a particular type of debt).
What, then, is the obligation and duty to be upheld when others have made it unequivocally known to you that you don’t count and won’t amount to a whole lot? No matter how hard you try. Obligation and duty are not dirty, but they do pose important questions, filled to the brim with the usual notions of reciprocity and gratitude, but also loyalty and trust.
By the way, I am not posing rhetorical questions. I have no answers. I am seeking them.