it gives your life so much death of the author

While I wait for the book, the more I think about it, the more fitting the name “third culture kid” (TCK) is for what’s wrong with my life. Aesthetically, I really don’t like the way it sounds to say “Hi, I’m a third culture kid.” Still, it describes my specific childhood issues better than other self-diagnoses I’ve entertained. I spent a lot of time today watching TCK stuff on Youtube, when I should’ve been doing other things. It was like “Sorry, job, grieving. BBL.”

I have extreme cultural alienation problems, and so does everyone with a similar background. Of course. These kids remind me so much of myself:

Notice how they seem so smart and worldly and wise beyond their years about loss and feeling left out? They’re 10 years old and concerned with psychological coping strategies. Everyone is proud of them for stoicism. They lose all their friends at once, more than once, have to be permanent outsiders, and can’t have pets (it would be selfish to complicate the family’s travel arrangements with an emotional companion). Still, they talk like adults, in several languages, and have 4.0 GPAs. How adaptable they are!

It can give you a really bad case of social anxiety and teh awkward. You can’t rely on habit or intuition as much for social interaction, so you have to consciously process social cues, like an autistic person:

“You can’t imagine that someone would pet you as if you are an animal.” LOL. Soooo much “can I touch your hair?” growing up:

Here’s a black German lady explaining how black people in the German media are usually cleaning ladies or prostitutes, and that some acting roles are explicitly “whites only” (closed-captioned in English if you need it):

My cultural background resembles hers more than whatever people think “African American” culture is.  This girl has “acting white” issues because she grew up around white people in America:

I can assume people are making incorrect assumptions when they meet me:

I’m trying to write a story about the first time I held hands with a girl.

Simple enough, right? It is, after all, something most people have done. I want to convey the experience of transitioning out of blissful, undefined childhood. I want to capture the sense of coming into consciousness, of being brought into orbit, of standing on the verge of an awakening.

But, I keep getting lost in random tangents that are necessary to anyone reading my story. I was in fifth grade. I hadn’t seen my parents in five weeks. Forty other missionary kids and myself were huddled around a hexagonal wooden tower with television screens in each panel. We were watching an edited version of Dances With Wolves, in which words and entire scenes are blacked out. I searched the blackness desperately, because subliminally I knew there was some vital correlation between what it was hiding and what I was feeling. Oh, and all this happened in a forest somewhere in Kenya.

So by the time I get to the handholding story, I’ve found myself writing paragraph after paragraph attempting to preempt erroneous assumptions. Because I don’t want my readers to interpret “white,” “Kenya,” and “boarding school,” as “colonial,” “exotic,” and “privileged.” I can find no momentum, no traction, and I feel powerless to tell the simplest of stories.

It gives your life so much death of the author.  By the time they’re adults, TCKs can explain the life-ruining aspects:

Al Jazeera had a whole 40-minute panel discussion about it, which was great:

The mixed-race person in Florida was having a tougher time of it, unsurprisingly. Notice how much emphasis there is on reverse culture shock? Here I am, writing about how much I relate to a bunch of foreigners on Al Jazeera. For a huge number of people, some of whom I’ll have to meet personally, identifying with anything on Al Jazeera means I want to sacrifice the babies of 9/11 firefighters to an un-Christian god. Here’s a forwarded email I got from an in-law in 2010:



This is so “Unbelievable”….

In Houston Texas …

Harwin Central Mall: The very first store that you come to when you walk from the lobby of the building into the shopping area

Had this sign posted on their door.


Feel free to share this with others.
Imam Ali [of the seventh century] flew one of the planes into the twin towers.


we’re not in a

Religious war?????

In 2004, my girlfriend was Persian. 9/11 was scary for her family because they had to rush home in case they were attacked by white people for no reason. I was visiting the in-laws, and the husband of the email-sender asked if I was seeing anyone. I explained, and he was overly-quick to say “I don’t have a problem with that.” Ok…

There are people who hate me just because growing up near imperial military outposts taught me that foreigners are people, too. The DoDDS curriculum was all about exposing you to Roman mythology and taking field trips to the temples, learning Italian, hearing Italo Calvino short stories and making masks for Carnivale.

It’s true that globalization is an imperialist bullshit story. There’s no more credible source on the matter than Zbigniew Brzezinski , writing in The Choice:

International power…still needs social legitimacy. That legitimacy
is required both by the dominant and the dominated. The former crave it
because it gives them the self-confidence, the sense of mission, and the
moral conviction to pursue their goals and to assert their interests.
The latter need it to justify their acquiescence, to facilitate their
accommodation, and to sustain their submission. Doctrinal legitimacy
reduces the costs of the exercise of power by mitigating resentment on
the part of those subject to it. To this end, globalization is the
natural doctrine of global hegemony.

I respect Brzezinski for being completely open about his reptile nature.  The bases I grew up around served to keep the communists in check, or as home base for electronic warfare planes. Long-distance trade has been around for a very long time, though. At least globalization implied that foreigners were humans on equal footing with us, in theory. America was adrift for lack of an enemy in the 1990s.

It’s the truth that a lot of these problems come from being surrounded by ignorant people. In The Utopia of Rules, David Graeber makes an excellent point about this (credited to bell hooks):

One of the central arguments of this essay so far is that structural violence creates lopsided structures of the imagination. Those on the bottom of the heap have to spend a great deal of imaginative energy trying to understand the social dynamics that surround them–including having to imagine the perspectives of those on top–while the latter can wander around largely oblivious to much of what is going on around them. That is, the powerless not only end up doing most of the actual, physical labor required to keep society running, they also do most of the interpretive labor as well.

It’s exhausting, which is why some of the people on the Al Jazeera panel are so exhausted. The social difficulties come from assumptions other people don’t even know they’re making. The point of the term “black people” is that it erases all kinds of cultural distinctions. Slave purchasers in the Americas didn’t need to know anything beyond “black people are slaves.” Ship captains understood the local nationalities, though:

At that time the captain and the doctor assessed that individual’s age, health, and working capacity, according to the criteria of his employer. He would also “read” that person’s “country marks,” ritual scars distinctive to each West African cultural group, and he would, based on experience, ascribe likely behaviors rooted in stereotypes–Igbos, the wisdom among captains went, were prone to suicide and must be watched; Coromantees were rebellious and must be chained; Angolas were passive and need not be chained.


Richard Simson expressed this clearly in his late-seventeenth-century ship’s log: “The means used by those who trade to Guinea, to keep the Negros quiet, is to choose them from severall parts of ye Country, of different Languages; so that they cannot act joyntly, when they are not in a Capacity of Consulting with one an other, and this they can not doe, in soe farr as they understand not one an other.” Royal African Company surveyor William Smith expressed the same idea. The languages of the Senegambia region were “so many and so different,” he wrote, “that the Natives, on either Side of the River, cannot understand each other.” By taking some “of every Sort on board [the slave ship], there will be no more Likelihood of their succeeding in a Plot, than of finishing the Tower of Babel.” This, he noted, “is no small Happiness to the Europeans.”

Mari Ruti explains what this all has to do with Lacanspeak (also see here):

Here we come against one of the limitations of Lacanian theory, namely the fact that Lacan’s adamant critique of the narcissistic tendencies of the ego makes it rather difficult to appreciate instances where the ego has been so profoundly wounded by abusive or oppressive interpersonal relationships that its capacity for narcissistic fantasies has been destroyed. While Lacan is correct in being suspicious of the ego’s capacity to mislead the subject to think that it is more coherent or powerful than it actually is, his theory is less useful when it comes to cases where a damaged ego misleads the subject to believe in its own worthlessness or insignificance. This explains why Lacanian theory is not particularly effective when it comes to understanding the debilitating effects of contingent (circumstantial rather than constitutive) forms of trauma. The notion of learning to live with one’s lack or insecurity takes on a wholly different valence when the lack or insecurity in question emerges from past neglect, abuse, or oppression.

In instances that involve the forceful robbing of the subject’s sense of self-worth–as in the case with subjects who have been devastated by painful formative experiences or whose sense of inadequacy arises from inequalitarian social arrangements–it may be necessary to reconstitute the ego before embarking on a critique of its ontological status. It is equally possible, however, that individuals who have experienced a high level of trauma possess a heightened awareness of the manner in which lack and insecurity constitute an inescapable component of human existence. The question may be too case-specific to resolve on a purely theoretical level.