Gross Manifestation of Power: My Dual Vision in a Divided Country.
I step inside and become two people.
The awareness of one’s own duality is a constant conversation, a dialogue between you and your environment. It’s navigating using two different compasses.
To be both white and other is something one can feel.
The gaze of others becomes a sensation. I imagine receiving glances when one is more homogeneous is a quicker affair, the darting eyes on their mission of retrieval alight and register, decide.
The eyes that find ambiguity linger, evaluate, leave and return, unsure.
“Does he belong?” “ What is he?”
Since the pandemic came to SF, I’ve been running on the beach less, as the peace I once found there is disrupted by hordes of people that flock in and fill the wild spaces on all days now. I have taken to running through my own neighborhood and those nearby, only venturing to the parks near dusk where they once again become the kind of sylvan oasis I feel free in.
I’m unused to spending the daylight hours in the area I live, frankly it’s not my favorite part of the city. Wealthy and white, it’s a space that feels less like my eclectic, multicultural hometown, and more like a tech campus merged with the Hamptons or Nantucket.
In such restrictive surrounds, otherness is very distinct.
On a day like today, it feels more so.
Walking into a small gourmet shop in the afternoon for some post-run refreshments is an everyday occurrence for me, and normally I find being an anomaly enjoyable, satisfying, but not today.
I feel raw and sensitive to everything around me. In the space of a day and a night, I’ve watched white power flex itself.
I’ve watched a woman in Central Park weaponize her assumed innocent maidenhood, projecting pallid purity to dominate a black man, and I’ve seen a white police officer in Minneapolis become a weapon, a force of destruction, constricting the life out of a pleading black man.
Days like this, being Other takes on an aggressive hardness for me, it takes very little for me to perceive a slight and pounce.
To be mixed is to subvert, to be part White is to take the familiar and pull it into the foreign.
This is something that can be pleasurable, on a sun-drenched beach in Spain, in a nightclub in SF a decade ago, on a boat in South East Asia. But here, now, on a day where I’ve seen the gross manifestation of power and privilege languorously stretch and gloat like a blanched beast, I don’t find it pleasant.
When I have freedom of movement and breath, when the news hasn’t reminded me of the dark underpinnings of our society and I don’t feel confronted, it’s fun.
I run in sandals modeled after the huarache sandals worn by the Tarahumara natives in the Copper Canyon area of Mexico. They allow for a leaping forefoot run that bounds past the insulated, sneaker-clad gait of many other runners, confined in their bulky footbeds and rigid, linear stride.
I like to throw signals around, the vaulting agility of a native and the flashing hazel eyes of a European. I have loved flicking past people, my shorts rolled up to reveal a flaring band of creamy thigh above sand-colored calves, a kinetic Pantone strip of colonial gradations.
Today though, I bare my mercurial signifiers like a warning. I drown the distinctions others depend on in my lagoon eyes and coldly clear transatlantic diction.
Some people are sensitive to my presence, they become activated by it, their rarefied air disturbed by my movement through it, especially when both my body and mind are revealed near them.
Long curly hair, shaggy from the lockdown, sandaled feet, dirty from running through grass, I walk into the neighborhood shop and become an interloper, someone who should be watched, interrogated.
“Can I help you.”
It’s stated, it’s not a question but a demand.
He’s pale, presumptuous, perfect.
I smile behind my mask. I move into a slat of light and my eyes turn green and gleeful, “I don’t know, can you?”
The expression I get pleases me, startled dishwater eyes flutter above a surgical mask.
I’m two people, and they both like it.
Even my European heritage is a realm of archaic shifting sands. Mediterranean on both sides, Jewish on one. Jews possess a fairer-skinned ancestry, but one that holds the memory of being hunted, caged. There is no part of me that doesn’t usually feel some deep ancestral surge of delight when I shift the perceived power paradigm after a careless overstep, today however, it feels muted, hollow.
I’m only able to do this because of my proximity to European features and specific class-signifiers, there’s no true reprisal for someone invested in the old power relations of White and Other.
I’m simply deemed a fluke, an exotic oddity that confounds but doesn’t upend.
I’m beige, not brown, I have a private school voice. There’s nothing to my subversion but flaunting and a flouting of clumsy assumption.
The dynamics are the same as they ever were for black and brown people, being a perplexing rarity only highlights the dominion of these structures.
I have always been resistant to identity politics, but to me that is about maintaining sovereignty of one’s own mind, and not allowing internal estimation to be dictated from without. For me, that is the essence of individuation, examining layers of constructs imposed upon the individual and becoming your true self.
It is not about denying the fact that we all exist with outward identities that are perceived and can be treated with respect relative to perceived power.
Days like today jolt me from my solipsistic engagement with these outer forces.
The truth is, my body was knit together in the womb of a white woman, the clothes I wear, the voice I have, the area I live in, they signal access, safety, integration into the spheres of the dominant culture, not outright rebellion.
My defiance is haughty pageantry, it does not confront the true demons of our society, it dances beside them, two-faced and smiling.
I think of all the times in my life where I’ve brandished my rareness, smug in the face of those that wished to assert power. I watched their faces as they recognized that they could not win, could not make me bow, break me, have me.
What were the energetic repercussions of those encounters?
Was there a lesson learned, or did those would-be oppressors simply find someone with less advantages to assert their power over with more ferocity? Did I simply feed the collective shadow with my aggressive imperviousness?
I feel ashamed of having used my relative power and privilege to protect myself, to exhibit my otherness just to defend it with sameness. To get off on it, just petty preening in a world where the darkness of our culture’s abyss is devouring people.
Those of us who straddle worlds can often see what others cannot, but there are also layers of vestigial reactiveness that must be seen within to be shed.
A fixation on centering myself in the crux of conflict just to prove to myself that I can overcome. I can see that in myself now.
What was born of survival became a ritual of self enhancement.
The focus on self can be a blind spot to the suffering of those without formidable fortification. I think the more spaces a person inhabits, the more subtle and myriad the areas for shadow to collect can become, reservoirs of old wounds and echoes of monsters vanquished.
I believe we can heal ourselves with honest introspection. Instead of being lured by the atavistic urge of self-shielding, we can look outward at the real wars still being waged, to lend our voices to those we can see struggling with our dual vision.
Maren Zweifler enjoys teaching Yoga with a focus on free movement and intrinsic shapes, emphasizing spinal fluidity and innate, primal posture. Deeply inspired by movement systems that embrace nature like Sridaiva and Continuum Movement. He completed a 500-hour certification in SF and has taught both there and in Austin where he honed his skills teaching private classes tailored to the individual needs of his clients. He created a wellness/yoga program at a non-profit. These experiences allowed him to explore both the unique individuation of the physical experience in one-on-one sessions, and the commonalities of the human form that can be witnessed in large groups. You could connect with Maren on Instagram.