A meditation on the semantics of identity
When you’re applying for a visa to the United States, you’ll fill a lot of forms that ask for basic identity information: name, date of birth, gender, race. Under “race” your options usually are: White, Hispanic/Latino, Black, Asian, American Indian, Hawaiian Native. So which one am I?
Well, I would consider Iran to be in Asia and all Iranians definitely identify themselves as Asian; but I understood that “Asian” in the English language typically refers to East Asian people and not Middle Eastern. Another option would be to check “White” since Iranians/Persians are considered Indo-Europeans and identify as White; but I also know that calling someone “White” in the United States is not just referring to the color of their skin, it’s more a reference to one’s social class and culture they grew up in.
If the Race question had an “Other” option, I would check that one off and if they didn’t, I would end up checking either “Asian” or “White”; while knowing that no one in America would categorize me as either.
It’s a Semiotics challenge for a Middle Eastern. The Signifier and the Signified of my identity would dynamically change based on who’s asking, where they’re asking it, and the context of the conversation; while the subject of the question, my racial identity, would stay the same.
“Semiotic Couplet” was my first attempt at expressing this dichotomy, that a categorical label of a subject can be both True and False at the same time, depending on how you frame the semiotics of that subject. I went to the M&M Store in Times Square where you can get any color of M&M you want and use a printing machine there to print any text you want. I got x100 white custom printed M&M candies that half of them read “I’m Black”, and the other half reads “I’m White”.
“Semiotic Couplet” is just that, a short semiotic poem, a limerick, or a structuralist quip. The words printed on those M&Ms can be True or False based on how you define the signifier and the signified. What is “Black” or “White” referring to? Are they talking about the candy’s exterior shell, or the chocolate interior? Or maybe they’re talking about the color of the text that embeds them?