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May 27, 2019 | by  | in Features Splash |
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My Name is My Name

CW: Partner Abuse

Ownership is a concept I struggle with. I’m 21. I modestly own a few cameras, the odd kitchen appliance in my flat, and a wardrobe of clothes I’ve accumulated over the last four years. These things are mine to do whatever I want with. I could paint my breadmaker black and set it on fire if I wanted to, no questions asked. Some of my friends have cars, but they’re bought by their parents. My classmates and distant friends live in some of the most flash apartments, again paid for by their parents. On the other side of the coin, I have friends who are owned by their partners. Through emotional, physical, or financial abuse.

The state of possessing something, whether it’s free or not, is something we experience everyday. From groceries to clothes—possessing and disposing, buying and selling—we live and die by barcodes.

I’m standing in the Moore Wilson’s bulk checkout line. *beep* Barcode by barcode is swiped as the conveyor belt transfers the possessions from that of the company to the customer. We, the customers, are oblivious to the length of time our ownership will last. From the plastic of a toothbrush to the polycarbon in your phone, you will dispose of your possessions one day.

The only thing you will own forever is your name.

During the abolition of slavery, my ancestors were given the name of their slave owners. A reminder to the definition of ownership and its longevity. A mark that was made skin deep. A brand that identifies the claim of ownership. A barcode, if you will, permanently tattooed onto the back of their necks.

We all have a barcode. It’s arguably our most valuable asset. It carries financial value, social reputation—and, potentially, shame. Your barcode may share similar lines and spaces as those of your family. Yet unique numbers set us apart from family members who sit on the same shelf. Our last names can possess multiple meanings across a variety of contexts. In your hometown, your last name could be a representation of your grandparents who were active community members. It could be the symbol for an occupation, or the service your family provided to people.

But my last name is not my name.

I don’t know where I’m from. I actively skip the conversations about my ancestry, because it’s something I’d rather not know. Sure, hometown and place of birth are easy answers, but I can’t exactly trace back four generations willfully. Living in this absentia is bliss, but also black. I have nothing to subscribe to and no promises to fulfill. If my barcode was just fabricated in order to claim psychological ownership for an eternity, what affiliation do I have to it? Is it no more than my mother’s handwriting of my name on my backpack in intermediate?

The world we live in has a faster pace than ever before. Our parents were able to acquire many different assets. A house, a car, long-term investments. If you talk to any regular at your local RSA, they’ll let you know that “in the good old days”, things lasted a lot longer.

From milk to a telephone, we are the first generation to be aware of the fact that all of the things around us are finite. The lifespan of everything (outside of us humans) is getting shorter, and everyday we are confronted with the idea that all man-made structures have been created to break, to one day perish and malfunction, in order for us to purchase something new.

Meanwhile, our names will never die; the letters are chiseled into stone that will last centuries. Planted into timeless conversations and stories that will be told at cookouts and barber shops. Cursed or praised, they will remain in history for at least a few generations. Which, if i’m completely honest, sounds pretty fuckin’ cool.

I can wear my barcode proudly, as a tainted piece of art. A symbol of finding peace with being ‘a mongrel’. I look at my friends and whānau from Kaitaia, who proudly wear their names as a kind of tā moko, sharing the stories of their family. Some tragic, others triumphant. As I stand in the bulk food section, I realise the barcode doesn’t set me apart from anyone else. It’s unique in its creation and it’s mine.

I can live with the barcode on my neck and pay homage to it, the fact that my identity is unknown. In many different ways, my life is a living blessing and nightmare. The feeling that all physical labour I do is for the profit of an idea, not a family name or lineage. The same numbers and lines, that are carried around proudly by others, are blurred for me. Between the blurred lines, I find solace in absentia.

In 2013, Pusha T released an album titled My Name is My Name, an album released with monochrome images that asserted himself in the rap game. An album that showed he had peaked, completely owned himself, and was celebrating that fact. On the back of the album art, Pusha is seen in a completely white room, the only thing visible the white reflection on his skin and his eyes. On the other side of the album is the barcode. Whittling himself down, Pusha defines himself as the black lines in his barcode; his new identity.

Having no identity to subscribe to grants me the feeling of freedom when I wake up in the morning. The surname I carry is fabricated and means nothing, yet everything to me. The name is absent, but the numbers matter.

My purpose in life is to buy back my barcode, the black and the white lines. Make it my own name. To create value and reputation for my last name.

To make myself my only possession.

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