The Multiplicity of Belonging

October 18, 2018

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Last night was the second and probably last debate between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz. I have always had a strong interest in politics from my early days and one of my double majors is International Politics. As much as I would dearly love to see Ted Cruz being shown the door, I just don't think there are enough people in Texas that disagree with how Ted Cruz approaches things. No matter the result of the Texas senate election in November, Beto has become somewhat of a progressive rock star and many people all over the country are very excited in Beto's future in national politics. I was reading an article from Quartz about why Beto is so popular. The author brought up a fantastic term, the Multiplicity of Belonging. The writer hypothesized that Beto is so popular and inspiring because he connects with so many different backgrounds and interests. A punk rocker, an entrepreneur, a civil servant, etc., Beto identifies with many different groups. How many groups resonate with Ted Cruz? Vampires and Bond villains are the only groups that come to mind. In digging deeper into the concept of Multiplicity of Belonging, it turns out it was rooted in a study of biracial people and how they identify with their different backgrounds. Of course that got me thinking about this late into the night and I was fleshing out my thoughts on this concept and seeing if it was congruent with what the professionals and researchers at Duke University psychology department believed.

 

Beto is fluent in Multiplicity of Belonging out of his own volition. He chooses to relate to vastly different groups of people and find ways to bond and connect with them. Bi-racial people often do not have a choice. If they are of a black parent and a white parent, it is decided for them what they are. Now an interesting thing about international adoptees, and I think especially the ones from Korea brought here to the US, is that for most of our lives we have struggled to obtain a Singularity of Belonging. And there are two spheres of influence that provide two very disparate results in that quest. In the inner circle of influence is close friends and family. To this circle, our efforts of a Singularity of Belonging is completely recognized and validated. No one flinches when an adoptee with the last name of MacGregor proudly claims Scottish roots. They aren't given a funny look when they talk about their Uncle Angus or the culinary wonderment that is haggis. (Side note on haggis. Many advocates of haggis would probably tell you not to judge until you've tried it. I have not. And I still judge that it's a gastronomic abomination. Why? I don't need to try child pornography to know that it's disgusting and immoral. That's right, I'm comparing haggis to child porn. And I think I'm completely justified in doing so. I'm a big fan of most things Scottish, particularly single malt whiskeys. But no culture is perfect, and Scotland needs to atone for haggis in a big way.) Anyway, the adoptive family fully acknowledges that ethnic and cultural background. People aren't referred to as "your adoptive great-grandfather." He's just your great-grandfather. Simple as that. 

 

Now in the second circle, which is everybody else, the experience is a little different. The Singularity of Belonging is challenged. People cannot be what is incongruent to the naked eye. So a KAD that claims Scottish heritage is looked at like they're completely batshit bonkers. Then come the uncomfortable questions that follow. Did Uncle Angus ever spend any time in China? Did Great-grandpa Hamish not like local Scottish lasses? A good way to stop these sorts of questions is just to pull your cell phone out and start recording these people asking these questions. Guaranteed that they will suddenly have a tax audit that they really need to take care of immediately. But the questions are somewhat understandable. How can someone who clearly looks like the belong in one racial group stubbornly claim an identity that isn't matching with their racial appearance?

 

Many adoptees have spent their entire lives trying to get the larger circle to accept what the inner circle already knows and understands. That nurture surpasses nature and that your ethnic/racial background is deeper than biology. I have always had a reluctant Multiplicity of Belonging, and it's only now that I understand just how lucky I am to have this. It is, I believe, why I am a Democrat and a liberal. I can understand groups of people that many Americans of a Singularity of Belonging cannot. East Texas is a wonderful place to observe a vast majority of people acting as one. If you're a guy, you have a beard, drive a pickup truck, wear camo to restaurants, and think that socialists need to take their stinking hands off your social security. If you're a woman, you have a beard, drive a pickup truck, wear camo to restaurants and think that socialists need to take their stinking hands off your social security, just with a metric fuckton of makeup on. Ok, maybe that isn't true. If you're a woman, you can't wait to become a grandmother, boys will be boys, and the world would be better if Jesus was just allowed back into society again. The vast majority of people feel that way because they have never really known people outside their circle. I mean, yes, they would do the exact same thing that Guatemalan parents would do if their children's lives were at stake and try to get into Canada. But it doesn't happen to them, so they just don't understand why those damn dangerous asylum seekers just don't stay put. They don't know the fear that people of colour have when the police pull them over. Just obey the fucking law and there won't be any problems. They don't know what it's like to love someone that society says they shouldn't, because too many of them just will never have that experience. Queers, lesbians, homosexuals - these are anathematic to the rules of what "God" says is the right way of living. 

 

Most of the biggest critics of socialized medicine have never left the US. They have never lived in a country that has it. I have. Twice. It's a little bit different than what Fox News says it is. But that doesn't matter to a person that has a Singularity of Belonging. All that matters is what fits in their carefully constructed world. I used to look at that model with envy. How wonderful it must be have such certainty about the way things should be and not question anything. I grew up in a community awfully similar to East Texas. You replace the brisket with scrapple, and you pretty much have Kutztown, PA. That region went heavy for Trump, too. I don't go back to Kutztown because the mindset is too narrow. Yet, I have friends from both of these regions. Many of my friends are exactly how I described them above. We will even gently discuss politics. But the reason why I have friends here is because I'm similar enough that it doesn't make it too weird. And I have cowboy boots now, too! 

 

The circles that I fit in to are varied and wonderful in their own ways. I retained my love of cufflinks from the financial services circle. I love offensive and obscene jokes because of my rugby circle. And my newest circle, Korean adoptees, has shown me that there are so many of us struggling with our identity, where we come from, and what it means. The Multiplicity of Belonging that makes Beto so popular is an effect that has more positives than negatives. So what if people ask ignorant questions? Who among us hasn't at one point or another? Because my circles are so diverse, I can see other perspectives better than many others can. No, I would never kneel during the anthem. But I can sure as hell understand why someone would. People like Ted Cruz and many East Texans never will. And they are quite happy about that. That's cool, but I believe that the lack of diversity in their lives makes them poorer culturally. And just remember, conservatives hate poor people. 

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