The Ethnographic Gaze and Authority at the Micro-UN

Posted on June 1, 2012 by


Do my roommates Ibrahim, Gilbert, and my other roommate know I write about them? A questioned posted by the original Lakewooder and good friend Big Des on the Low Low.


Sad to say.

It’s not ideal if a bit sneaky and dishonest.

I would like to tell them eventually;  When I eventually tell them, I don’t know how they would react, perhaps indifferent, perhaps less trusting.  Mostly, I hope it’s when I’m in a position to help them.

Many an Anthropologist has used information they’ve taken from the natives and imposed their own accounts of what has happened in a place, giving themselves the “eyes of god.”

The reason I write about my roommates:  I am compelled by their stories and conversations.   I consider them not only good friends, but people from different worlds with real wisdom and substantial experience to share.

In the work I do as an Anthropologist, I try to make visible and audible what has been invisible and inaudible.  By making my roommates somewhat visible and audible through these writings, I’d like to think I’m inserting cultural value and sentimental meanings into people who in the American contexts would be considered “ordinary.”

At first glance at any of us, not much of society would give any of us a chance.

A big black dude.

An aging Mexican guy who talks like a white guy and looks kind of “off.”

A short white guy who also looks kind of off.

A short Asian dude with Samurai hair.

Our appearances can be intimidating, scary, or just plain weird, and it’s part of why I’ve been so compelled to write.  We aren’t the people succeeding.  We aren’t the people failing so badly.  But our situations in life, our living situation in this house isn’t the type of life that I could read about in popular discourses save for overly-simplified short lead-in blurbs in newspaper articles.

We are all united in that we all make very little money and bring very little here to our respective rooms here at the Micro-UN.  We’ve each got our hopes and dreams, hoping we could make it, but we are each held back by…everyday life.

Four different, single men from four different worlds in four different stages of life altogether in one house.

Maybe I’ve over-romanticized them and have said things that they would not share otherwise.  There are moments of tension between Ibrahim and Gilbert though they do find a way to get along.

Maybe I’ve over-romanticized myself and have left some parts of my life out.  I do spend a lot of time in my room, usually on the computer I type this.  I hoard.  My door isn’t always open, sometimes intentionally shut.  I occasionally don’t pick up my hair in the shower.

I’m a firm believer in the idea of “cognitive justice”, which is to say that I’m always in awe of and in search of the things that people do know and the talents, skills, assets that they do have.

I know that people have faults and all kinds of deficits, and I try my best to acknowledge each of their faults without harping too much on them, but the reason you might get a positive spin on them is because I do think readers would benefit much more from learning about what these people from different worlds do have to offer.