/ˈav(ə)rɪdʒ/ Noun. Verb. Adjective
by Maria Alejandra Linares Trelles
February 5th, 2022
Illustration by Joseph P. Sgambati III
Height––the distance from the ground where your feet stand, where we are all anchored, our common point of departure. You only have one height at any given moment and in one dimension, one linear direction. However, like most measurements, isn’t it also relative, referential? I’m the average height for people in Peru yet I’m seen as short. I don’t reach the highest cabinets and sometimes furniture does not adjust to my height. I inhabit the spaces of Peru having to stretch the limits of my extremities. In this sense, height is also a rule that is imposed through standards benefiting those who are not average, but “ideal”.
Weight—the force with which the ground pulls you towards itself. On this planet, weight is an absolute measure as well, a singular metric at the given moment it is taken that remains constant no matter the medium. In any case, the subtleties of height seem easier to grasp than weight. A kilogram of feathers is the same as a kilogram of stones. But as for body composition, weight disaggregates in fat and muscle, which although can have similar weights, have completely different volumes. One’s eyes aren’t equipped to gauge accurately someone’s weight as they are in calibrating their height.
While referring to measurements registered or formally procured through devices, in a visually centered world such as ours, the eyes are our primary tool for calculating those metrics and they are not precise. They are informed by beliefs, biases, prejudices, by inherited rules that guide the way we interpret height, weight, the spectrum of dark and light… Even if we try to move away from them, we are tethered to the “average”.
The status quo.
Do the average hold the power? Or is it just the illusion of the average?
The average lies elsewhere; in Western ideals, of Europe, of white supremacists, of persistent coloniality.
I come from a diverse country, shaped by the racial dynamics of almost 300 hundred years of colonization. In this history, the colonized average—indigenous, brown-skinned, non-Spanish speakers—transformed into the “other” to be stripped from power and dignity. Here Power does not look average. It claims an autonomy of the people, the majority, the average, but is inherently not. The average lies elsewhere; in Western ideals, of Europe, of white supremacists, of persistent coloniality.
Meanwhile, the real average remains underrepresented and undignified, while their humility is exalted as a quality, a personality trait to strive for and hold close, a keen strategy for sustained oppression. Humility has been interiorized as acknowledging that you are not as good as you think. In fact, you shouldn’t think you are any good, let alone good enough. Therefore, to speak of your success or be self-promoting becomes an undignified, dishonourable vice to inhabit. What I call a form of ‘Catholic guilt’ that limits you by convincing you that you are never good enough.
Contrary to this, dignity as in the “dignified” always accompanies great titles: the president, the leader, the cardinal, who keep being humble, perform humility, because in that lies their power. They don’t need to ‘self-promote’ because everyone else is already talking about them, all the time. While and although persons––the historically powerless––that look and are from the real average are gaining more space, they are still miles away from being “dignified.”
Dignity accompanies power. Power defines dignity.
Could we contest the apparent objectivity of the average? Could we find diversity in our (idea of) average and celebrate it? Could empathy help us realize there are no absolute averages? We would need more than empathy, one that goes beyond the “feeling” and turns into action… radical empathy. And it must be demanded of those we consider “dignified”, those who, as many of us do sometimes, demand empathy for themselves but forget to employ it with others.