Ceci n’est pas des gens.

February 17, 2014 “Legacy Wins.” by ruddyroye@instagram

 

As complex as people and the world and the universe are, on almost every level, there always seems to be this pressure for things to be definitive. We want something static, something stable and immutable that we can pin down for the purposes of understanding it, and this spills over into identity and culture, which, if you think about it, is kind of silly. If we’ve already established that no two people are exactly alike, that even identical twins have subtle differences, then there’s no way to draw an entire people with a broad brush and think it fair or truly representative. I guess I get it, though, moreso when looking at the Black diaspora. Stuart Hall’s quoting of Frantz Fanon rings true — “colonization […] turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.” So, of course, there’s somewhat of a scramble to piece together and (re)create a history, a past, some proof that you existed and were important before you were even told that you didn’t and you weren’t. But subjecting anyone’s identity, let alone that which covers a multitude, to a solid thing, a held constant, is unfair, smothering.

In light of all this, I truly love Stuart Hall’s article, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”, because it allows for the quilting together of an elastic identity — wiggle room, growth, breathe-ability. There’s a past to lay claim to, a present to exist in, a future to look forward to, and all of those intertwine with places, times, histories, realities, and become the amorphous thing (rather than the solid thing, I guess) that we can call our identity or identities. There is always the “oneness” that he speaks of, this shared past of Africa and enslavement and displacement, of new lands and new peoples that we lived on and with in various capacities (I love, by the way, that he emphasizes that not having a direct lineage in slavery does not necessarily extract slavery from one’s identity), but there is also where we are now, what we have made of ourselves, where we are going.

This is why Ruddy Roye’s Instagram account struck me as such a beautiful model of what representation and identity means in terms of the Caribbean and in terms of the digital. Unlike other platforms (blogspot, wordpress, tumblr, hosted web domains, etc.), Instagram leaves no room for visual personalization as far as the site is concerned. Everyone gets the exact same layout and format, so all markers of difference come in the text (your username, display name, bio, and various picture captions) and the pictures that are posted to the account. But what the Brooklyn-based photographer¬†does post gives the viewer a glimpse not only into his own life (as in the picture of himself with his son, or the various pictures of places he passes as he goes about his day), but into the lives of other people he sees, his relatives, the people he knows, and so on and so forth. There’s a gorgeous collection of photos that start with a portrait of his mother and ends with a photo of come boys playing in the ocean from his trip to Jamaica, which are the most obvious model of Caribbean identity in a digital context, but, in reality, the entirety of his account shows what Hall was getting at. Here we see a man, who identifies as Jamaican. But what we see of him ins’t just him, or a representation of him in a picture. We see what he cares about. We see what he¬†sees. What see what catches his eye, what projects he’s working on, who his friends are, the lives of the people around him, the places he goes, what he does, and all of these are his identity, fragmented into crystallized moments instantly shared with his awaiting audience. His identity doesn’t lie just in what you or I or other members of the African diaspora might share with him, but also in his unique path and lifestyle and actions… with or without a filter.

One comment

  1. Naia, this is a lovely point you make here about identity and the role of visual storytelling that Ruddy Roye’s Instagram account makes very clear. Identity is a very subjective experience and much like Halls interpretation leaves much room for personalization for one to choose what is inspirational and representational. I found this digital element to be of particular interest as a photo album into what Caribbean identity means to this self described “activist”. He is trying to change the static images people have of Caribbean people by putting on display the people in his life, what he comes across through his own lens.

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