It was a steamy August morning, and I was sitting across from a friend in Argo Tea. My iced Teapuccino was too sweet, too vanilla-y, but I still liked it, and my friend was sucking down a magenta-colored pomegranate Tea Squeeze. While I was dressed casually in a sheer Forever 21 blouse and navy shorts, my friend was rocking a crazy cute LWD (little white dress). We had started off chatting about the developments in our careers, our relationships, and of course a bit of gossip; but eventually the conversation veered itself into the mystical, and we began avidly discussing concepts of human intuition, analytical psychology, synchronicity, and the expansiveness of consciousness. I was so engaged in this conversation that two hours later I only checked out of it for a second, and it was in that second I was struck by how the scene looked and sounded from the outside:
“Yeah, so many people just live their lives and they never stop to realize that it’s their soul that’s guiding them,” I said, slurping my milky melted ice cubes. “You got that awesome job, girl, because you are ready for it. Like, your soul knows it’s time.”
On the train ride home I couldn’t help but visualize the scene over and over. I saw it through the eyes of the graduate student to our right, or the suited couple behind me. I imagined myself eavesdropping on two pretty white girls dressed like an Old Navy ad, downing over-sugared tea concoctions, and pontificating on how important their souls are.
And I thought, if that’s not the definition of basic bitches, I don’t know what is.
A term first used in rap, it was somehow usurped by and for white women to describe their overwhelming capacity for sameness. A girl is basic if she is devoid of an individuality because she likes the things all the other white girls supposedly like: boyfriend jeans, Pinterest, Uggs, Real Housewives, stuff in mason jars, nail art, Target, and of course, fall. It’s not wrong to like these things, it’s just that when yet another ombre-haired white girl who’s wearing an H&M sweater and eating an organic salad claims part in this love fest, an eye-roll is inevitable, and pretty much involuntary.
And that was all well and good while it remained superficial. I could take the insult when it attacked my preference of clothes, coffee, TV, hairdos, and even my pumpkin fetish (which I still maintain I had before everyone else, and I will never renounce my unfailing love for that tremendously versatile, gourdish fruit!). But eventually, along with this idea of sameness, came the assumption that basic women cannot think for themselves, that they are incapable of self-autonomy, intelligence, or any unique characteristic. Then, naturally, this speculation arched over into the personal and spiritual side of their lives. That’s when I began to feel that irksome sense that something about it was really, really not okay.
I’m sure everyone has experienced a taste of this. We’ve all opened Facebook to see some girl’s post of scripted, calligraphed letters saying something like, “Your heart knows the way,” on a smeary watercolor background. We’ve all passed a couple of Lululemon-ed girls in the street asserting, “I think the universe is telling me to give up dairy.” When we see and hear these things, again it conjures the eye-roll. We connect these things mostly with white women, and so associate it with being basic, and then dismiss them as both stupid and ingenuine, all in a split second. We instinctively mock their convictions because we’ve learned to mock their preferences and behaviors. But these trends shouldn’t be treated the same. The original is surface level; being called basic is hurtful but tolerable. The latter is deeply personal, and allowing it to happen is damaging to individuals, as well as society at large.
So where do we start looking to solve this? I think we should go all the way (way, way, way) back to Nietzsche’s infamous declaration that “God is dead,” in the 19th century. Since then, and even before, the discussion about God has been stigmatized. Less and less people subscribe to a specific religion, and if they do it’s often more so culturally than spiritually, especially among the younger generations. Talking about spirituality is so taboo it’s often one of the last things we come to know about someone. (There’s a bunch of reasons why this happened, but two of the main ones are the perpetuation of the idea that believing in God is juvenile or antiquated, and the explosive expansion of scientific knowledge. But hey, that’s a whole other essay.)
What most people don’t know is that Nietzsche didn’t mean it that way at all. When we return his statement to its context, he’s saying that people have murdered God by supplanting Him with greater idols (money, science, power, take your pick), and that without God what moral and psychological repercussions will we have to face?
Now this is not meant to be a “Bring Jesus into your life!” rally. A person’s belief or nonbelief is her business alone. But all this is incredibly important on two levels. 1) We all know how uncomfortable and judgemental this taboo is. We all know how embarrassing it can be to bring up our personal convictions, as well as how quickly we get the squeamish, awkward feeling when we listen to other people discuss theirs. 2) More and more people are abandoning structural religion, and so they seek wholeness through a vague and individual kind of spiritualism, which is a process that they should be encouraged to explore. As you could probably tell from my anecdote, I am definitely guilty of the second. Throughout my whole life I have struggled to find solace in a spiritual truth, not because I need to believe in a higher power, but because I know instinctually (as many, many people do) that I at least have to look.
And it’s wrong that I feel ashamed of actually being brave enough to do that. As a global society, considering God and the spirit has moved lower and lower on the totem pole of importance, and who knows yet which of those repercussions Nietzsche so feared actually came into fruition. (That, too, is a whole other essay.) But the trivialization and shaming of those who are seekers, despite how basic (or soul-basic, as described above) they may be, is hurting us as individuals, as well as hampering the emotional growth of our society.
I think back to that August morning and I realize that what stayed with me was the embarrassment afterward rather than the rewarding conversation with my friend. I was so scared that people were judging me as personality-less, moronic, sickeningly typical, that I felt as if maybe I shouldn’t have been honest about my convictions, fearing that invalidating eye-roll. We are so terrified, especially as women, to be lumped into the category of basic, stupid, flimsy, etc., that it can overwhelm our choices and experiences. Still, it’s a fight, most of the time, we can accept.
But in the realm of the spirit, where everything is sensitive, precarious, and hanging from a solitary spinning thread of faith, we must have the freedom to believe. We must not be judged superficially for something profoundly personal. We must tolerate and listen to people’s beliefs so that we can encourage a world of courage where people seek that spirituality so many of us desperately need. And even if the eye-roll is coming, and even if she’s soul-basic AF (which she might be), she still shouldn’t be diminished.
So I’ll take all the eye-rolls coming my way when I order my beloved pumpkin-spice latte. But, please, with all due respect, leave my soul alone.
Photo by Clement