thandie newton embracing otherness, embracing myself


  embracing otherness. when i first heard this theme, i thought, well, embracing otherness is embracing myself. and the journey to that place of understanding and acceptance has been an interesting one for me, and it's given me an insight into the whole notion of self, which i think is worth sharing with you today.


  we each have a self, but i don't think that we're born with one. you know how newborn babies believe they're part of everything; they're not separate? well that fundamental sense of oneness is lost on us very quickly. it's like that initial stage is over -- oneness: infancy, unformed, primitive. it's no longer valid or real. what is real is separateness, and at some point in early babyhood, the idea of self starts to form. our little portion of oneness is given a name, is told all kinds of things about itself, and these details, opinions and ideas become facts, which go towards building ourselves, our identity. and that self becomes the vehicle for navigating our social world. but the self is a projection based on other people's projections. is it who we really are? or who we really want to be, or should be?


  so this whole interaction with self and identity was a very difficult one for me growing up. the self that i attempted to take out into the world was rejected over and over again. and my panic at not having a self that fit, and the confusion that came from my self being rejected, created anxiety, shame and hopelessness, which kind of defined me for a long time. but in retrospect, the destruction of my self was so repetitive that i started to see a pattern. the self changed, got affected, broken, destroyed, but another one would evolve -- sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all. the self was not constant. and how many times would my self have to die before i realized that it was never alive in the first place?


  i grew up on the coast of england in the '70s. my dad is white from cornwall, and my mom is black from zimbabwe. even the idea of us as a family was challenging to most people. but nature had its wicked way, and brown babies were born. but from about the age of five, i was aware that i didn't fit. i was the black atheist kid in the all-white catholic school run by nuns. i was an anomaly, and my self was rooting around for definition and trying to plug in. because the self likes to fit, to see itself replicated, to belong. that confirms its existence and its importance. and it is important. it has an extremely important function. without it, we literally can't interface with others. we can't hatch plans and climb that stairway of popularity, of success. but my skin color wasn't right. my hair wasn't right. my history wasn't right. my self became defined by otherness, which meant that, in that social world, i didn't really exist. and i was "other" before being anything else -- even before being a girl. i was a noticeable nobody.

  我在70年代英格兰海边长大,我的父亲是康沃尔的白人,母亲是津巴布韦的黑人。而想象我和父母是一家人对于其他人来说总是不太自然。自然有它自己的魔术,棕色皮肤的宝宝诞生了。但 从我五岁开始,我就有种感觉我不是这个群体的。我是一个全白人天主教会学校里面黑皮肤无神论小孩。我与他人是不同的,而那个热衷于归属的自我却到处寻找方式寻找归属感。这种认同感让自我感受到存在感和重要性,因此十分重要。这点是如此重要,如果没有自我,我们根本无法与他人沟通。没有它,我们无所适从,无法获取成功或变得受人欢迎。但我的肤色不对,我的头发不对,我的过去不对,我的一切都是另类定义的,在这个社会里,我其实并不真实存在。我首先是个异类,其次才是个女孩。我是可见却毫无意义的人。

  another world was opening up around this time: performance and dancing. that nagging dread of self-hood didn't exist when i was dancing. i'd literally lose myself. and i was a really good dancer. i would put all my emotional expression into my dancing. i could be in the movement in a way that i wasn't able to be in my real life, in myself.


  and at 16, i stumbled across another opportunity, and i earned my first acting role in a film. i can hardly find the words to describe the peace i felt when i was acting. my dysfunctional self could actually plug in to another self, not my own, and it felt so good. it was the first time that i existed inside a fully-functioning self -- one that i controlled, that i steered, that i gave life to. but the shooting day would end, and i'd return to my gnarly, awkward self.


  by 19, i was a fully-fledged movie actor, but still searching for definition. i applied to read anthropology at university. dr. phyllis lee gave me my interview, and she asked me, "how would you define race?" well, i thought i had the answer to that one, and i said, "skin color." "so biology, genetics?" she said. "because, thandie, that's not accurate. because there's actually more genetic difference between a black kenyan and a black ugandan than there is between a black kenyan and, say, a white norwegian. because we all stem from africa. so in africa, there's been more time to create genetic diversity." in other words, race has no basis in biological or scientific fact. on the one hand, result. right? on the other hand, my definition of self just lost a huge chunk of its credibility. but what was credible, what is biological and scientific fact, is that we all stem from africa -- in fact, from a woman called mitochondrial eve who lived 160,000 years ago. and race is an illegitimate concept which our selves have created based on fear and ignorance.

  19岁的时候,我已经是富有经验的专业电影演员,而我还是在寻找自我的定义。我申请了大学的人类学专业。phyllis lee博士面试了我,她问我:“你怎么定义种族?”我觉得我很了解这个话题,我说:“肤色。”“那么生物上来说呢,例如遗传基因?”她说,“thandie 肤色并不全面,其实一个肯尼亚黑人和乌干达黑人之间基因差异比一个肯尼亚黑人和挪威白人之间差异要更多。因为我们都是从非洲来的,所以在非洲,基因变异演化的时间是最久的。”换句话说,种族在生物学或任何科学上都没有事实根据。另一方面,我对于自我的定义瞬时失去了一大片基础。 但那就是生物学事实,我们都是非洲后裔,一位在160 0xx年前的伟大女性mitochondrial eve的后人。而种族这个无效的概念是我们基于恐惧和无知自己捏造出来的。

  strangely, these revelations didn't cure my low self-esteem, that feeling of otherness. my desire to disappear was still very powerful. i had a degree from cambridge; i had a thriving career, but my self was a car crash, and i wound up with bulimia and on a therapist's couch. and of course i did. i still believed my self was all i was. i still valued self-worth above all other worth, and what was there to suggest otherwise? we've created entire value systems and a physical reality to support the worth of self. look at the industry for self-image and the jobs it creates, the revenue it turns over. we'd be right in assuming that the self is an actual living thing. but it's not. it's a projection which our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death.


  but there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite connection -- and that thing is oneness, our essence. the self's struggle for authenticity and definition will never end unless it's connected to its creator -- to you and to me. and that can happen with awareness -- awareness of the reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood. for a start, we can think about all the times when we do lose ourselves. it happens when i dance, when i'm acting. i'm earthed in my essence, and my self is suspended. in those moments, i'm connected to everything -- the ground, the air, the sounds, the energy from the audience. all my senses are alert and alive in much the same way as an infant might feel -- that feeling of oneness.