Activist, advocate, filmmaker, and Unsung Baltimorean emerita Kalima Young told the following story at the debut of Full Circle Storytelling on December 13, 2011. It’s a funny and incisive illustration of the different ways we talk about ourselves to others.
Also, she is a superhero.
My Origins as a Retcon
My name is Kalima Young and I am 36 years old. I was born in New Haven, Connecticut and raised by a single mother of four in West Baltimore. I went to Baltimore City Public Schools. I graduated from Goucher College and Towson University. I work at MICA.
That is my origin, truncated but true nonetheless. Here are my origins as a retcon.
My name is Kal-El Ma. Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows this. I am a daughter from the House of El. My home planet, Krypton was destroyed and I, along with my brother and cousin were sent from Krypton to earth. While my brother, Kal-El was raised in Smallville, Kansas by a farmer and his wife, I was raised in West Baltimore by a single mother of four. …Bla Bla Blah…you have all heard the rest.
My origins as a black woman, lesbian, professor, activist, superhero, and filmmaker changes depending on the company I keep. I am a professional retconner.
I’m going to give you three scenarios of my Retcon in action.
Scenario 1: Courting a fellow community activist for potential collaboration
Oh, you want to know about me? Well, I grew up in West Baltimore. Yeah, Walbrook Junction. Yes- there is a lot of drug dealing in that community. We lived on Baker Street, near the 8th Branch library in an end unit row house. Crack heads and their dealers used to line up on the side of our house everyday for their drugs and my mother would boil pots of water and throw them out the window onto the drug addicts. They’d scatter like roaches. It was hilarious. What was that? Yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do to improve this city. Oh- you do want to work together. Great.
The conversation ends and I’ve established my street cred.
Now for the RETCON.
Scenario 2: Attending a conference
Oh, you want know about me? Well, I grew up in Baltimore but I’ve lived in other places for short periods of time because of one of my previous jobs. Yes, but Baltimore isn’t that bad. Don’t believe The Wire. You can walk down the street without being accosted. Sure, yes, drug addiction is tragic but many blue collar cities suffer from similar socio-economic challenges. We must work on structural interventions to address the intersections of race, poverty and class that plague the city. Oh- you have paper idea? Sure, let’s talk about it. Great.
Scenario 3: Surviving a Zombie Attack
Hand me the gun. Don’t just stand there whining. Where you’d grow up? Montgomery County? I grew up on the Westside (RELOAD). What? Stop crying. It’s coming right at you. BLAM BLAM. Stop crying. A little zombie blood splatter on your face is nothing. Watch your back. BLAM. Shit, these zombies are nothing. My mom used to throw boiling water on hordes of crack heads when I was kid. What? WATCH OUT! BLAM. We make a good team.
All three of these scenarios are true.
A Retcon isn’t a lie. It’s not being lazy. It’s being strategic about how you frame your life in the context of the world you are playing in. Many people get tired of having to Retcon. Audre Lorde sums up this pathos in the following quote: “I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self.”
Yeah, sometimes it gets tiring. Playing the oppression game…my blackness, trumps my gayness trumps my fatness trumps my super hero origins. It’s useless to fight the Retcon.
Many people get angry when you do the Retcon. They look at you and they look at your resume or your work and they’ve summed you up. Captured your mythos. Canonized your life history through their lens.
But I’ve found that when I control my Retcon, no one can claim my story but me. He who controls the spice, controls the universe.
Up Up and Away….