Are You What You Claim to Be? The Question of Identity

Mamos Media

Alieu SK Manjang

In their interactions with others around them, seldom do people trouble themselves to ask the extent to which their actions are in conformity with the ideal social values and norms that are integral to the identity of the group they claim their belonging to. Despite this, people engagements with others are packed with locutions and expressions through which they consciously or unconsciously communicate to others their identities e.g: I AM MANDINKA or I AM A JOLA. Yet tailoring this identity claim to their actions to reflect the basics of what is known to be a Mandika- for instance- remains a huge challenge for many. This begets the question of who do we see in our actions relative to our identity claims?

This juxtaposition between identity claims and performances attracts discussions among contemporary sociologists as the hypothesis that people’s actions are bound to be defined by the way they identify themselves is being challenged by the observed world. Observantly, people’s verbal emphasis on their identities is rarely linked to their actions. In other words, existing is a divergence between their claims of who they are, and their actions, which is supposed to be a natural expression of that claim.

In contrast to the wide-held belief, these identity claims e.g. I am this relative to others, are inherently our social realities, and it is not deemed socially unhealthy except it is stained by prejudice, intolerance, and sense of supremacy vis-a-vis other social groups. Likewise, it is not reckoned to be antithetical to the co-existence of different social groups under one parasol that tailors these social groups together by virtue of geography, shared history, and destiny; hence the notion of nation-state is nothing but a collection of heterogeneous groups with a shared destiny. This reality has qualified the task of constructing a coherent national identity, which recognizes the multiplicity nature of the social fabric of a state, a noble commission for any responsible democratic country. The same rationale stands behind promoting diversity and multiculturalism that has been inserted into public policies of many democratic states.

Despite this explicit recognition of the multiplicity of social groups with their distinctive heritage, cultures, and traditions, existence is the cleavage between our identity claims and performance. Generally, globalization, the impacts of which are being reinforced by education, migration and exposure to media, is extendedly accounted for such social phenomenon. The continued exposure to alien cultures and ideas through education, media, and migration have unarguably distanced people from their roots and cultures, as the newly acquired knowledge through these means becomes a standard to judge the validity of one’s culture. These have collectively stripped many from their cultures and values as whatever symbolizes one’s culture are considered traditional and undesired, while the alien culture becomes modern and irresistibly desirable.

Sub-servant to this factor is the state and interest groups’ endorsement of languages, norms and values of certain social groups within localities as standard for conducting business, functions of civil services to the extent that internalizing those languages, values and norms become parallel to the proof of one’s belonging to a country. This acculturation doesn’t not only ridicules one’s attempts to embrace cultures distinct to the group he or she belongs to, but it also permits others to negatively label such instinct self-consciousness action as tribalism. Thus, collective efforts of groups to reaffirm their identities, through preserving, recollecting, and maintaining their indigenous knowledge, values, and other heritages, are depicted as proactive measures to establish their supremacy over other groups.

In the view of the above, and as the issue of identity is being forcedly presented in our social and political discourses, the question of who do you see when you act should be reviewed to know the extent to which your unconsciously detached from your identity as a result the above-mentioned factor. To this end, the relevant questions to be asked should include: Is the language you use for communicating with your immediate family a demonstration of who you are? Is your way of life a reflection of who you are? Is the way you dress for festivities a replication of who you are? Is the list of your entertainment in the form music, drama etc. a communication of who you are? One cannot continue to claim to be what he or she does not perform. Identity transcends emphasizing your identity in utterance i.e. I AM THIS AND THIS; rather it is a communication of who are you through performances and actions.

These discrepancies and ironies in our life can be addressed if we become conscious of our actions. More importantly, developing a critical approach to what we read in books; learn in schools; watch on Media, and experience in our daily lives will enable us to circumvent wholehearted emulation of others in the name of modernity and awareness. In most cases, what is presented to us as standard in our localities or seen on Media as universal or experienced as normal must be products of other’s cultures? Therefore, while we can continue to learn from each other, there is an equal need to be systematically aware of the extent to which your self-presentation is a reflection of your onward belief of who are you.

Likewise, the notion that living in the West gives one’s freedom of the will should not be restricted to freedom to emulate the values and culture others at the expense of yours. Doing so means, you are denying yourselves the freedom and responsibility of advancing and reviving your culture. Additionally, there is a need that intellectuals start to make inquiries into the ontological and epistemological status of the concepts of freedom, globalization, and other modern terms that continue to strip people from their identities. Failure to do so, the possibility is higher that we continue to be carried by a strayed boat amid the influx and wholehearted internalization of other’s enshrined values.

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