Semantics of “Reflect”

Posted on February 15, 2010 by


In discussions of identity politics, folks often use the verb “reflect.”

“Reflect on your experiences as a transvestite hooker”

“How does your work reflect the mixed race experience”

It’s such a lazy, hazy word when used in the progressive, identity politics context.

For me it always triggers images of Mulan staring at her face in the water.  And occupying the ears is the accompanying, infamous, insta-classic  “when will my REFLECTIONS show, who I am, INSIIIIIDE…”

In the progressive, identity politics context, to “reflect” is to recall past episodes and look at the goods and bads of those episodes.  Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

What I do have a problem with is “reflecting”, or “reflection” meaning that recalling past episodes equates to looking at yourself at a mirror as you are now.  When you’re looking at your past, you’re looking at what’s already happened.  You’re not doing that when you’re in front of the mirror.   Instead, you’re staring back at something dynamic and always changing.

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