Identity? What Identity?

It is interesting that on my earlier entry on mixed race heritage, people have written me saying that we create our own identities.  I agree but I don’t think it’s ‘natural’ or pre-determined, or ‘the way it is.’  As I had said in that article, every identity is a static ‘thing’ that is grafted onto us, into us, and through us.  With this graft, people and systems do things to us.  In this array of ‘things’ that we are considered to be, we ourselves, supposedly create a thing that we can apparently hop in and out of when it disagrees with other’s assumptions about this ‘thing’ that we call ourselves or they call us.

Whenever it is convenient for us, or for the ‘other’ who calls us or assumes us to be that ‘thing’ – whatever it is, we can say ‘no, that’s a stereotype.’   So what is this identity that is mediating mutual experiences of us, me, I?  It is a mediation, a curtain, if you will, a whole set up of configurations that depend on the textbooks we’ve read, things we’ve been told, the experiences we’ve had in relation to those things we’ve been told.  Some of those ‘things’ solidify.   Then, further, we start to make it about blood and bones.  This is, in social science language, called ‘essentializing’ and ‘essentialism.’  This is ‘who I am.’  Or more often:  ‘this is who they are.’  But we hop in and out of the particulars of that identity, don’t we?

It’s a complete waste of time!   But what is even just as dangerous, is to say  the very liberal, hippy-ish thing: ‘I‘m beyond identity, I’m not an identity.’  If we look closely at this, it is a form of resistance against being boxed into a set of categories and therefore, prejudices.  But it is just as dangerous in that people who say those things, resort (usually, not always and/or in every case– that is why I say ‘usually’) to downgrading traditions, norms, histories, cultures.  They may say things like: ‘we’re just all human.’  If we are ‘just human,’ what does that mean?  Usually, I’m very experienced at being on the receiving end of this so bare with me……. usually this means being the dominant-as-normal.  In the United States, it is whiteness or blackness or Latino-ness, or Asian-ness.  We’re back to essentialism, but this time, it is NOT MARKED but is a silent ‘normal’ that is not universal.  But it is said as universal.  I’m just human, you’re just human.

To me, this means ‘quit being so black.  Quit being so Japanese.  Quit being so Armenian.  Quit being so Polish, quit being – quit being – quit being.

Difference is silenced along with this.  Difference, in the liberal sense, is so often seen as a variation of whiteness or any other dominant; or as a hindrance to the human (i.e. – the dominant white normal)  that we supposedly all are.  Everyone has the same morals underneath it all; everyone has the same desires underneath it all; everyone wants happiness underneath it all.

Identity, as in many things in life, are contradictory.  In a certain perspective, I say that identity is a political tool.  Always.  Even if there is no one else around, if we say we are an identity, then what internal boundaries and suppositions and thoughts and modes, do we take on ourselves without thinking?  How?

Do not mistake me to say that I am preferring no-identity, which I critiqued earlier above.  What I am deconstructing are the obstructions that let us pre-determine a static notion of self and other.  We have heritages, we have commitments, we have traditions, we have ancestral histories, we have legacies of values which we determine in life to be beneficial to us or not or we endure or not or if we change them slightly.  Time moves us.  Identities are political.  The only reason someone would call themselves ‘mixed race’ or ‘Asian’ is because it is easier to do in conversation.  But they have come from the categories given to us by the larger culture, the rulers, the governments of nations.

If you go to other nations and go to rural areas, and speak with elders, they remember their earlier lives when many people were considered to be of a certain language and region, or of certain customs or spiritual practice, and most often a combination of those.  Sometimes, as in earlier British Isles, people were named by their professions in relation to the rulership (that is why some people were named Baker, Carpenter, etc.)

Kurdish identity had to come for survival.  It was being killed off by the rulers, made ugly and not compatible with the nation-states that governed the people.  But those who call themselves ‘Kurdish’ are diverse.  Most of them, when left to their own devices, call themselves by language groups and regions, not religions and ethnicities.

What I point to is the un-questioned norm and its brutality and prison-like conditions for the psyche and for efforts toward liberation and justice.  We look down or up on ourselves and others; we look with pity at others or ourselves based often on identity.  We look life and people into these identity categories.  Then we forget about them if they are identities that do not do any good for us or supposedly have nothing to do with us.  Especially if it is another nation, or a demoted and marginalized ethnic group.  For dominant groups in most countries, if one looks closely, we see that the people whom the ancestors of the dominant group committed the most viciious and homicidal crimes upon to create the nation, is the group either most often ignored and criticized, or assimilatable and romanticized.  Often both at the same time.  Identities re-create this over and over.  There is no liberation there.  Within that space where the identity that struggles for survival meets the dominant, there is a struggle that needs to be lessened when the struggling group must both save themselves from their cultural norms disappearing; and also learn the dominant modes and codes of behavior in order to survive and fight against the tide.

Identity, then, can be used strategically, but not be a controlling factor that stigmatizes the self and others.  Identity may be a mediating structure of historically made-up assumptions and definitions that we psychologically travel through unconsciously, it doesn’t have to be an iron cage or ‘real.’  It is only a political reality.  This leaves the person or group’s heritages, cultural traditions, inheritances, goals, aspirations, etc.  Not identity.

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