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Staceyann Chin is a Jamaican born lesbian, spoken word poet, artist and activist. She has written a number of poems addressing issues of race and sexuality as well as a memoir titled, The Other Side of Paradise, an unforgettable story that documents her experiences growing up in an unfamiliar and dysfunctional home in Paradise Jamaica. Told with humor and courage, her memoir speaks of home and self discovery. She  has appeared on television and radio stations, and performs both nationally and internationally.  Her work specifically speaks about the intersection of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and sex. She speaks against the patriarchal, heteronormative, racist and misogynist society with strong visually linguistic writing and fueling rage. A common theme in her work relates to the notion of the unspoken identity.

In her poem, Feminist or Womanist, she states:

“And while we’re on the subject of diversity, Asia is not one big race, and there’s not one big country called ‘The Islands’, and no, I am not from there. There are a hundred ways to slip between the cracks of our not so credible cultural assumptions about race and religion. […] The truth is I’m afraid to draw your black lines around me, I’m not always pale in the middle, I come in too many flavors for one fucking spoon. I am never one thing or the other” (Feminist or Womanist, Chin).

We are a fundamentally visual society; we understand our environment based on what we perceive. Often times, judgment of another individual is based on physical connotations that allude to stereotypes related to ones physical appearance. These stereotypes create unfinished stories allowing many individuals to “slip between the cracks” and remain “unclassified” in an inherently classifying society. Staceyann brings an awareness to our individual uniqueness and inherently changing individuality; affirming that there is no need to put labels or lines around ourselves because in doing so, we restrict and confine ourselves to wear only one of our many masks.

The importance of Staceyann’s piece, Feminist or Womanist, is to bring awareness to the unspoken identity. The unspoken identity is the part of us that no one physically sees but exists; it exists in our deepest understanding of who we are as individuals. Without this understanding, we slip through the cracks. Classifying unspoken identity should not be seen negatively but rather as an opportunity to understand and respect the diversity that lives in all of us. There is a fine line between understanding and listening, and pieces like Staceyann’s force the viewer to listen. I encourage you not only to listen but to look in the same way you would look at an individual for the first time, making the same judgments and perceptions. However, most importantly, take a second look and allow the individual to speak for ze, his or herself. Allow the individual or the performer to not be judged by preconceived notions of appearance or identity, but rather, by the content in which is spoken. You may find that there is more to it than meets the eye.

Karen Osovsky | @karenosovsky