Forming an Identity

Coming into my final blog post of the semester I was unsure of what I wanted to write about. For most of my previous blog posts I had a general idea either from a class period or from something I thought about while reading of what I wanted my blog post to be about. This final post came in the moment as I was listening to music while doing work and happened to be listening to a song called “Chum” by one of my favorite rappers, Earl Sweatshirt. Listening to this song clarified something I had been thinking about in The Broken Earth Trilogy since we started reading The Fifth Season. 

One of my favorite song lyrics comes from “Chum” when Earl Sweatshirt says “too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks / from honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks“.  I was always impressed by this line because it turned my attention to a problem I couldn’t relate to, and didn’t fully know existed. I don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed or seen as an outcast because of my skin color, but I had obviously been aware that this happened to minorities. However, when I first heard this song I was forced to contemplate the place of people of mixed race in America and the unique problems that come with being part white and part black. The couplet as a whole represents for me being two seemingly different things simultaneously. Earl sees himself as both black and white and has to reconcile this difference, but he also is someone who excelled in school and was involved in crime at the same time. He takes two scenarios that most people don’t see as compatible to show the internal struggle that can come with trying to manage what most people consider two identities.

Years after initially hearing this song I learned what W.E.B. Du Bois’ double consciousness was and the song made more sense to me. Du Bois describes double consciousness as “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body“. I always took Du Bois’ evaluation as an inability to embrace both the “African” and “American” halves of African-American into one whole. It always seemed to me that Du Bois was explaining the difficulty of not feeling fully one or the other and as a result not feeling like African-Americans belong to either group. I remember talking about double-consciousness in the English 203 class I took with Dr. Doggett and he said one of the ways African-Americans have worked to alleviate this problem is by embracing both halves as one.

However, after reading the trilogy, I think a major problem in the Stillness and for Earl Sweatshirt is not necessarily double consciousness, but rather what comes after double consciousness has been alleviated. Earl Sweatshirt’s problem of not being accepted by either black or white people doesn’t seem to occur because he does not feel wholly one or the other, but rather because he has embraced both halves of himself and other groups will not accept him for that. Being “too black for the white kids” signifies that Earl has embraced the “black” half of his identity while “too white for the blacks” signifies that he has also embraced his “white” half. Earl is not the one who is struggling to reconcile his multiple identities; the groups around him are the ones who cannot accept the identity he has formed for himself. By embracing both halves of his mixed ancestry, Earl has worked to alleviate the double-consciousness in his own mind but the society around him continues to pull him different directions because they cannot accept his mixed identity. The inability of others to accept this mixed identity causes him to say in the next couple lines “I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened, it’s evident / In them eyes, where he hiding all them icicles at?”. Hiding “icicles” represents holding back tears and through this description and the rest of Earl’s inner turmoil it is clear that society’s inability to embrace both of his halves has caused him strife even though he has reconciled his twoness.

Within the trilogy itself, it was Ykka who I was reminded of after hearing “Chum” again. She seems to me to be the perfect example of someone who has embraced her identity as an orogene while also fully embracing her place in Castrima. Ykka’s status as an orogene is tested in The Obelisk Gate when Rennanis threatens invasion and for many people in Castrima, “orogene” begins to represent an identity separate from their own. While Essun does not dislike Ykka’s devotion to Castrima, she still finds it hard to sympathize with due to her own experience. Ykka is similarly pulled two different directions by the two identities she has embraced. Ykka may not feel a total neglection by others as Earl does, but her twoness is just as apparent. “Chum” gave me a lot of insight into what it means to be mixed in society and I think it applies a lot to The Broken Earth trilogy as well in terms of conceptualizing why it can be so hard to be accepted in a group. The slightest thing that sets someone apart from the whole can be used to disregard that person altogether. When an individual has fully embraced both parts of themselves, it becomes harder to have that whole identity accepted by society.

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