That’s My Thing!

Have you ever seen someone else get mad about someone stealing their “thing”?

Well I was that someone.

As a kid I got extremely frustrated when someone else would “copy” me. Which I now know was kinda petty bullshit on my part. What about me did I feel other people were copying?

  • A Pokemon cereal box toy
  • Legos
  • Liking super-heroes
  • Drawing cartoons
  • Guitar
  • H&M clothing
  • Basketball

To my embarrassment now, whenever other kids did something that I considered my thing I became indignant. So I handled it the only sensible way a kid would and called those kids “posers”. Of course they must’ve only been copying me to try to be cool, like me. It felt like they were some how stealing from me.

At this point a mature person might be thinking: “Bruh, did you actually think that guitar, super-heroes, and basketball were proprietary?” Yes, yes I did. And I acted like it too. This foolish thinking and my childish response was based on conflating my hobbies/interests with my identity a.k.a. “my thing”.

1. an interest, habit, or hobby that a person or group defines their own identity by.
“Avocado toast for brunch is my thing!”

“It is obviously not the ideas themselves that are dear to us, but our self-esteem which is threatened. . . . The little word ‘my’ is the most important one in human affairs, and properly to reckon with it is the beginning of wisdom. It has the same force whether it is ‘my’ dinner, ‘my’ dog, and ‘my’ house, or ‘my’ father, ‘my’ country, and ‘my’ God. “
– James Harvey Robinson, The Mind in the Making– Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence people Part 3 Principle 2.

I felt it was so important to protect these things because they were who I was. Or rather who I wanted to be… I wasn’t that great at guitar and didn’t commit to practicing enough to get passed novice level. That didn’t stop me from doing a guitar themed science fair project 3 years in a row and have it be the decorative centerpiece at my Bar-Mitzvah. I liked that identity but didn’t actually practice enough to gain mastery so instead I resorted to deterring others from pursuing the skill and usurping my status (in my head) as the guitar guy. Sounds foolish, right?

But how many people do you know that say things like:

“You call yourself a Rams fan?! Name 5 players on the team.”
“Oh you’re an Odesza fan? How many concerts have you been to?”– your friend’s friend at the party

Welcome to the, not subtle at all, fine art of gatekeeping. (See r/gatekeeping, for more good quality humor that only redditors will get.) You can hear this type of social episode happening all the time once you learn to spot it. For the most part gatekeeping is just laughable. However, sometimes it can have more serious implications.

“You’re not American. Aren’t your parents from Canada?”
“Real men don’t apologize.”
“I can’t believe she wore that, shes not even Native American.”

These fictional examples demonstrate how gatekeeping can be used to alienate, stereotype, and attack people. Which many would consider, not cool. Nationalism, gender, and cultural appropriation all have been hot topics recently and all boil down to one thing: identity.

Is gatekeeping ever called for?

It seems natural to feel contempt for people who put on airs, act snobby, or who are straight up phonies. Is it okay to wear a dark-side of the moon t-shirt if you haven’t even listened to the album. Is it okay celebrate the win of a team that you only watched play in the finals? Should we burn all the fair weather fans and band-wagoners at the stake?! Probably not… but, maybe calling them out isn’t the worst.

source: Only real fans know which episode this is

Perhaps these are based on a fundamental human emotional sense of fairness. Calling someone out for being a bandwagon fan, or accusing someone of cultural appropriation is a form of saying: “That’s not fair for you to get the social benefits of that identity without earning that right.”

Sport’s fans squabble over the years of team loyalty “suffering” as a fan of a struggling team, “It’s not easy being a Clipper fan”. Kinda like how music fans also brag about when they started listening to the particular artist. “I was listening to Macklemore WAY before he was big.” — Translation: “I am a true fan. I earned this status because I took a risk on something unpopular.” In capitalist speak: “I invested when the stock was cheap. Now that everyone’s buying I should get some payout.” In playground speak: “I found it first. Its not fair for everyone to get to use it when I did the work of finding it.”

Could the root of these emotions be similar to the feelings of injustice a minority group toward a majority group borrowing their culture without having to deal with the negative treatment toward that culture?

Perhaps this is why “Cultural Appropriation” is only considered problematic when the culture is adopted by the dominant culture.

“the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. […] a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating, minority cultures, notably indigenous cultures and those living under colonial rule.”Wikpedia/Cultural Appropriation

The rhetoric sounds like “you can’t do that because it’s our thing”. This recent sociopolitical flare up is a new flavor of the complex and ongoing ethical controversy of intellectual property. How do we protect both our values of identity and free speech?

So what gives you the right?

If we do assume that a certain culture or social practice can be owned. What are the qualifications?

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”Constitution of the United States of America. Amendment 14. Section 1.

Sports fans seem to agree. People often justify legitimate fan-hood by locality and or familial inheritance.
“Well I grew up in Boston” or “My parents were Bengals fans”
Which is kind of crazy to think about how this is the same argument people use for rights to wealth, ethnic identity, and legal status such as citizenship.

This topic is likely strongly related to the social influences of in-group/out-group behavior and definitely calls for more thinking and discussion.

tl;dr: Don’t foolishly make your identity about your interests. You don’t own them and by accepting that, it’s easier to chill out and enjoy sharing them. Identity is powerful and maybe shouldn’t be built on things so fragile and arbitrary.

So what should we base our identities on especially in a world of 8 billion humans?