I just turned 26 last week, marking my third consecutive birthday spent in London. As I get older I find myself constantly search for a means of defining myself which encompasses my intersecting identities. I wonder how I can navigate, analyse and interact with the world around me in ways which don’t simply reflect and reinstate pre-existing Western and kyriarchal structures. A friend said yesterday that it is quite weird for Americans to think that we’re not allowed in certain countries, in reference to our continued restriction to Cuba.
As I reflect on it, however, it’s not that strange (to this American at least), to not be allowed into certain spaces. My life has been a continual process in understanding what spaces I can inhabit and in what context. What does it mean when I can walk safely through parts of London considered “dangerous” or “unsavoury” due to my appearance and how this is then identified and read by others within this environment? What does it mean that this Africanised, “Othered” appearance has both helped and harmed me in various places, tying me to the intersecting histories of black, brown and white women who have moved through European landscapes? How do I properly assess my identity and its relationship to urban spaces when I am viewed through the prism of others’ systemic and cultural prejudices and assumptions. Depending on the country I have been a spectre of Josephine Baker, an example of American imperialism or a lowly immigrant worker. My presence has been both an indicator for Yankee individualism or foreign anonymity, both rendering my body an object in how it is consumed by cultural fears and desires.
So I wonder, is it truly possible to understand an environment properly when so much of it is tied to my physical form, whether through race, nationality and gender? Along with this, how does my use of technology complicate my spatial relationships and understandings? So much of my travels have been influenced by what I have found online, making my understanding the world both limited and opened. I then continue the process by writing, classifying and discussing online my experiences, which helps to create a virtual environment and idea of urban space that is both a reality and completely fictional. I hope that my writings are at least complex and varied, allowing a world of narratives and identities to coexist within the same (digitised) space, even though at the moment they are just hinted at. A week after my birthday I wonder once again who I am, and if it is possible to perform ethically and authentically as an international citizen without creating a single, flat narrative of what I witness and experience.