Day by Day Daily Cartoon by Chris Muir

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The nature of identity

Typically, amnesiacs on TV are shown to ask "Who am I?" as the first question out of their mouths when they come to. For any number of reasons, the show usually then revolves around them trying to rediscover their memories, so that they can recover themselves and reclaim their self-identity.

This post is not so much looking at identity as how the world sees it, or what the legal definition of it is. What I am trying to discover here is how we perceive identity - that is, how do we see ourselves?

The nature of our identity is of primary importance - if we know who we are and why we are, then we can have a better idea of where we want to go, or what needs to be done to get us to who we want to become. The question then arises: who are we, and how do we construct our identity?

It's a complex issue. The Judaeo-Christian view of Man is holistic and threefold; body, mind and soul. We are expressed in three dimensions, that is to say; physically, mentally and spiritually. None of these are more important than the other - you cannot function as a proper human being without any of the three. So naturally, one would hope that people understood and accepted their identity as holistic in nature.

Alas, this is not the case. As we know, many people make a single facet of their being an identity unto itself. Bad enough that someone else does it to you, but to do it to yourself...? An identity is not a simple thing. I am a Chinese by descent (and if I had a choice, that too), Malaysian by nationality, male by right of XY chromosomal pairs, fat by genetics and behaviour, omnisexual by impulse and heterosexual by choice, a marketer by education and trade, a Christian by God's grace, an Anglican by birth, baptism and confirmation. That does not even begin to sum up my identity, or how I see myself, not by a long shot. I have yet to describe my temperament, my likes and dislikes, my hopes, dreams, goals etc.

But here's what really gets me. I am no stranger to discrimination; you cannot be a Chinese Christian living in Malaysia and say honestly that you have never been discriminated against in a systematic, non-personal way. And indeed, by no means am I race-neutral or colour-blind or what-have-you; Chinese are the superior race and destined to conquer the world one way or the other (although espousing Anglo-Saxon values alongside Chinese ones, speaking English and spreading the Gospel by preference so I'm not saying your typical Ah Pek is going to cut it). But that isn't all of who I am, not even a quarter. Yes, it underlies me, but I am certainly not going to march up and down the streets of Putrajaya just because of it - and when I see this Feminist Pride, or Gay Pride, or Black Power stuff disgracing themselves in front of the world, it really really bugs me.

Now mind you, it's not the 'in-your-face' stuff that bugs me - the dressing, or the strident voices, or the interminably anvilicious speeches. That's all an irritation, but I can turn off the telly, no big deal. No, it's the fact that... I dunno, that it demonstrates a certain degree of shallowness to the people who turn out in these things. It's one thing to take pride in an achievement, you see, so if you're in a parade because you're part of the police force, or the Navy, or the fire brigade, then march proudly, because you have made a conscious choice to serve in a particular capacity. The Scottish bagpipers can take pride in their mastery of that... unique musical instrument, shall we say.

But no, these jokers are going in the various X Pride parades and marches for something they (supposedly) have no control or choice over. Worse; they define themselves, and derive their identity, from a single facet of a single dimension of their being. And to such people, I would like to pose this question: W. T. F?!

Seriously, think about it. In the same way that racists react negatively to you because you are a Negro, you are the flip side of the coin, but you still accept other people's definition of you as a Negro, or a Latino, or a homosexual. You buy into their perception, only that you're saying it's a good thing, not a bad thing. You derive your self-worth and your self-identity from being part of a group largely defined not by actions or ideals, but by a singular characteristic (physical in many cases).

Isn't there more to you than that? Aren't you worth more than just your genitals, or your skin colour, or your prurient thoughts? Wouldn't it be better if you could say that you are proud, not because you are a woman, but because you are the Mayor of Tokyo? Or not because you are gay, but because you are a faithful husband and biological father of three? Or not because you are black, but because you are the CEO of AGL?

As stated earlier, identity is complex. There is no doubt that our physical selves are fundamental and core to the way we see ourselves. And of course, we shouldn't be defining ourselves solely on our achievements either. ALl I am saying is, we shouldn't accept other people's stereotypes of ourselves and adopt that as our identity; there needs to be more than that.

Sadly, I cannot see these people coming out in full force during Asian-American Appreciation Week as demonstrating any kind of depth to their character and showcasing the fullness of their identities. But then again, I'm tired and it's near bed time. Quite possibly my own brans have shut down by now.

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