Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Embracing otherness.

  • When I first heard this theme,

  • I thought, well, embracing otherness

  • is embracing myself.

  • And the journey to that place

  • of understanding and acceptance

  • has been an interesting one for me,

  • and it's given me an insight

  • into the whole notion of self,

  • which I think is worth sharing with you today.

  • We each have a self,

  • but I don't think that we're born with one.

  • You know how newborn babies

  • believe they're part of everything;

  • they're not separate?

  • Well that fundamental sense of oneness

  • is lost on us very quickly.

  • It's like that initial stage is over --

  • oneness: infancy,

  • unformed, primitive.

  • It's no longer valid or real.

  • What is real is separateness,

  • and at some point in early babyhood,

  • the idea of self

  • starts to form.

  • Our little portion of oneness is given a name,

  • is told all kinds of things about itself,

  • and these details,

  • opinions and ideas

  • become facts,

  • which go towards building ourselves,

  • our identity.

  • And that self becomes the vehicle

  • for navigating our social world.

  • But the self is a projection

  • based on other people's projections.

  • Is it who we really are?

  • Or who we really want to be, or should be?

  • So this whole interaction

  • with self and identity

  • was a very difficult one for me growing up.

  • The self that I attempted to take out into the world

  • was rejected over and over again.

  • And my panic

  • at not having a self that fit,

  • and the confusion that came

  • from my self being rejected,

  • created anxiety, shame

  • and hopelessness,

  • which kind of defined me for a long time.

  • But in retrospect,

  • the destruction of my self was so repetitive

  • that I started to see a pattern.

  • The self changed,

  • got affected, broken, destroyed,

  • but another one would evolve --

  • sometimes stronger,

  • sometimes hateful,

  • sometimes not wanting to be there at all.

  • The self was not constant.

  • And how many times

  • would my self have to die

  • before I realized

  • that it was never alive in the first place?

  • I grew up on the coast of England

  • in the '70s.

  • My dad is white from Cornwall,

  • and my mom is black from Zimbabwe.

  • Even the idea of us as a family

  • was challenging to most people.

  • But nature had its wicked way,

  • and brown babies were born.

  • But from about the age of five,

  • I was aware that I didn't fit.

  • I was the black atheist kid

  • in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns.

  • I was an anomaly,

  • and my self was rooting around for definition

  • and trying to plug in.

  • Because the self likes to fit,

  • to see itself replicated,

  • to belong.

  • That confirms its existence

  • and its importance.

  • And it is important.

  • It has an extremely important function.

  • Without it, we literally can't interface with others.

  • We can't hatch plans

  • and climb that stairway of popularity,

  • of success.

  • But my skin color wasn't right.

  • My hair wasn't right.

  • My history wasn't right.

  • My self became defined

  • by otherness,

  • which meant that, in that social world,

  • I didn't really exist.

  • And I was "other" before being anything else --

  • even before being a girl.

  • I was a noticeable nobody.

  • Another world was opening up

  • around this time:

  • performance and dancing.

  • That nagging dread of self-hood

  • didn't exist when I was dancing.

  • I'd literally lose myself.

  • And I was a really good dancer.

  • I would put

  • all my emotional expression

  • into my dancing.

  • I could be in the movement

  • in a way that I wasn't able to be

  • in my real life, in myself.

  • And at 16,

  • I stumbled across another opportunity,

  • and I earned my first acting role in a film.

  • I can hardly find the words

  • to describe the peace I felt

  • when I was acting.

  • My dysfunctional self

  • could actually plug in

  • to another self, not my own,

  • and it felt so good.

  • It was the first time that I existed

  • inside a fully-functioning self --

  • one that I controlled,

  • that I steered,

  • that I gave life to.

  • But the shooting day would end,

  • and I'd return

  • to my gnarly, awkward self.

  • By 19,

  • I was a fully-fledged movie actor,

  • but still searching for definition.

  • I applied to read anthropology

  • at university.

  • Dr. Phyllis Lee gave me my interview,

  • and she asked me, "How would you define race?"

  • Well, I thought I had the answer to that one,

  • and I said, "Skin color."

  • "So biology, genetics?" she said.

  • "Because, Thandie, that's not accurate.

  • Because there's actually more genetic difference

  • between a black Kenyan

  • and a black Ugandan

  • than there is between a black Kenyan

  • and, say, a white Norwegian.

  • Because we all stem from Africa.

  • So in Africa,

  • there's been more time

  • to create genetic diversity."

  • In other words,

  • race has no basis

  • in biological or scientific fact.

  • On the one hand, result.

  • Right?

  • On the other hand, my definition of self

  • just lost a huge chunk of its credibility.

  • But what was credible,

  • what is biological and scientific fact,

  • is that we all stem from Africa --

  • in fact, from a woman called Mitochondrial Eve

  • who lived 160,000 years ago.

  • And race is an illegitimate concept

  • which our selves have created

  • based on fear and ignorance.

  • Strangely, these revelations

  • didn't cure my low self-esteem,

  • that feeling of otherness.

  • My desire to disappear

  • was still very powerful.

  • I had a degree from Cambridge;

  • I had a thriving career,

  • but my self was a car crash,

  • and I wound up with bulimia

  • and on a therapist's couch.

  • And of course I did.

  • I still believed

  • my self was all I was.

  • I still valued self-worth

  • above all other worth,

  • and what was there to suggest otherwise?

  • We've created entire value systems

  • and a physical reality

  • to support the worth of self.

  • Look at the industry for self-image

  • and the jobs it creates,

  • the revenue it turns over.

  • We'd be right in assuming

  • that the self is an actual living thing.

  • But it's not. It's a projection

  • which our clever brains create

  • in order to cheat ourselves

  • from the reality of death.

  • But there is something

  • that can give the self

  • ultimate and infinite connection --

  • and that thing is oneness,

  • our essence.

  • The self's struggle

  • for authenticity and definition

  • will never end

  • unless it's connected to its creator --

  • to you and to me.

  • And that can happen with awareness --

  • awareness of the reality of oneness

  • and the projection of self-hood.

  • For a start, we can think about

  • all the times when we do lose ourselves.

  • It happens when I dance,

  • when I'm acting.

  • I'm earthed in my essence,

  • and my self is suspended.

  • In those moments,

  • I'm connected to everything --

  • the ground, the air,

  • the sounds, the energy from the audience.

  • All my senses are alert and alive

  • in much the same way as an infant might feel --

  • that feeling of oneness.

  • And when I'm acting a role,

  • I inhabit another self,

  • and I give it life for awhile,

  • because when the self is suspended

  • so is divisiveness

  • and judgment.

  • And I've played everything

  • from a vengeful ghost in the time of slavery

  • to Secretary of State in 2004.

  • And no matter how other

  • these selves might be,

  • they're all related in me.

  • And I honestly believe

  • the key to my success as an actor

  • and my progress as a person

  • has been the very lack of self

  • that used to make me feel

  • so anxious and insecure.

  • I always wondered

  • why I could feel others' pain so deeply,

  • why I could recognize

  • the somebody in the nobody.

  • It's because I didn't have a self to get in the way.

  • I thought I lacked substance,

  • and the fact that I could feel others'

  • meant that I had nothing of myself to feel.

  • The thing that was a source of shame

  • was actually a source of enlightenment.

  • And when I realized

  • and really understood

  • that my self is a projection and that it has a function,

  • a funny thing happened.

  • I stopped giving it so much authority.

  • I give it its due.

  • I take it to therapy.

  • I've become very familiar

  • with its dysfunctional behavior.

  • But I'm not ashamed of my self.

  • In fact, I respect my self

  • and its function.

  • And over time and with practice,

  • I've tried to live

  • more and more from my essence.

  • And if you can do that,

  • incredible things happen.

  • I was in Congo in February,

  • dancing and celebrating

  • with women who've survived

  • the destruction of their selves

  • in literally unthinkable ways --

  • destroyed because other brutalized, psychopathic selves