A Review of Thandie Newton’s talk in TED talks on Otherness

Thandie Newton starts her talk (TED talk) about otherness with the notion of the self. She argues that the self is separate; there is separateness instead of oneness. She bases her argument on the fact that newborn babies believe themselves to be part of everything. In other words, there is a sense of unity and oneness. As the babies grow up, they start to lose that fundamental sense of being completely in accordance with everything around them. We, then –as babies in the early stages—she argues, start to name, associate and connect things with ourselves in the process of building ourselves—identity. And that’s where the “self becomes the vehicle for navigating our social world”, she says. She claims that the self starts its self-formation by projecting it on other people’s. Thandie Newton starts her instigation with very important questions which doubt the identity of the self: “Is it who we really are? Or who we really want to be, or should be?” she examines.

Thandie Newton, a British actress of Zimbabwean mother and a British father, talks about how she found it difficult to grow up in this mixture of projections. As it is so, she grew up with confusion, “anxiety, shame and hopelessness” that affected her characterization. This created a repetitive pattern that made her start to understand the unbalanced state of the self; “Sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all. The self was not constant”.

Her mixed origins made her feel that something is not right with her existence. She “didn’t fit”. This made her search for stability and ‘appropriateness’. She makes a good analogous relationship between her “real self” and the “other self—character” she first acted at the age of 16. She finds it easier to control, steer and give life to the character she acted more than her ‘real self’. She finds it hard to go back to her “gnarly, awkward self”.

At the age of 19, as she applied to study anthropology at the university, she discovered how the projections of others made her misnomer what’s race. She then discovers through her professor that race as a concept in itself doesn’t exist; “race is an illegitimate concept which our selves have created based on fear and ignorance”, states.

However, she still acknowledges the wounds like bulimia and “the desire to disappear was still powerful” that remain within her ‘self’. Thandie raises the detrimental effects of value systems on physical reality of the individual. Among these systems, industry creates self-image (self-projection) that seems to be an actual living. In fact, she argues, it’s but a projection, an image that is created to “in order to cheat ourselves from the reality of death.”

Thandie Newton, in elaborating her talk on otherness, argues that the anxious and insecure self; the self that lacks substance, could be a worthy self and “a source of enlightenment” instead. When she understood that her self is a projection with a function –just like any character that she acted in films—she “stopped giving it so much authority”. She is no longer ashamed of herself; she respects herself, gives it its function and its due. In other words, she wants to say that she found the essence of herself. She now discovers the truth. She doesn’t mistake any projection of the self with the real living self.

Thandie Newton concludes with strong messages calling for unity and connection. She says, “If we can get under that heavy self, light a torch of awareness, and find our essence, our connection to the infinite and every other living thing.” She says that we could achieve this only by the death of the self and the embracing of otherness. We then can “appreciate the privilege of life and the marvel at what comes next”. All that we need is being aware of the self.

BY ABDERRAZZAK BADDOU

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