Reflection on Prof. Homi K. Bhabha’s Paper: Our Neighbours, Ourselves

Bernadette D’Souza | USA

Reflection on Prof. Homi K. Bhabha’s Paper: Our Neighbours, Ourselves

Your Holiness Pope Francis, Your Eminence Cardinal Peter Turkson and esteemed colleagues:

It is indeed my pleasure to be amongst you all to present my reflection on Prof. Homi K. Bhabha’s article, Our Neighbours, Ourselves.

I must admit that the paper, as well as Prof. Bhabha’s presentation of it, were quite challenging for me to wrap my head around. It is not every day that I find myself reading Hegel, and I was reminded why I pursued a career in law rather than philosophy, although I do think that the two are not-so-distant cousins. That being said, the framework that Prof. Bhabha lays out for understanding community, hospitality, and to some extent one’s own self, resonated with me in a couple of different ways.

My first level of interaction with the piece was very personal, and the concepts of being both the “other” and the “same”, as an immigrant to the U.S., resonated with me deeply. I experienced and continue to experience this tension, as a postcolonial subject. I was born under the colonial rule of the Portuguese in Goa, and I experienced first-hand the liberation of Goa. Later in life, coming to New Orleans, adopting many of the cultural mores, and becoming deeply involved with community, I still strive to preserve my own cultural roots, through food, celebration, family and faith. This to me is exemplary of the “paradoxical community” that Prof. Bhabha discusses. I am an integral part of the community, being entrusted by the community to decide some of their most intimate disputes as a family court judge, yet I am still “othered” in many ways, as an immigrant, as a woman of color, and as a former colonial subject.

The piece also speaks to me as a judge. Moving beyond the personal “who” of my identity to the more categorical “what”, I see much of what I do every day reflected in the “dialectic” that Prof. Bhabha discusses. Ideally, the judge sits in the liminal space between two subjects, the parties of the lawsuit. The judge is called to be what Bhabha calls “the Third”, or the observer. The black robe we wear is meant to suppress any inkling of an identity beyond that of an arbiter of justice, sitting in the space between two dialectically opposed subjects, plaintiff and defendant. I am asked to sit in this space, but also, like Prof. Bhabha discusses at the conclusion of his paper, to move in and out of this role. As a judge, I am also called to empathize with each party, to an extent. I am asked to be objective, but to see both sides. Seemingly one and the same task, but upon closer inspection, vastly different.

After reading up on dialectics to better understand Prof. Bhabha’s work, I came to realize that the courtroom operates dialectically every day. The plaintiff has a “thesis” or what we would call their theory of the case, and the defendant has their own antithesis, an opposed theory of the case. Ideally, as the “Third”, I am able to see both of these positions, and synthesize some resolution. Ideally, I can bring both parties along with me into the liminal space of the observer, and they are able to confect a consent judgment between themselves, resolving the contradiction that brought them to court in the first place. We can think of the family as the most insular and tight-knit form of community, and it too is sometimes a “paradoxical community”; however, using a dialectical framework, the paradox can start to be understood, and resolution might follow.

I hope and pray that I have not grossly misapprehended the work of Prof. Bhabha, but regardless, it spoke to me personally and professionally, and has given me new perspective on my work and my “self”. Thank you all so very much for participating in this exchange of ideas, and challenging me to think in new and interesting ways.