The Double Face of Identity

How many identities do you have?

My personal experience is: the more you have, the better. 

Let me give you my personal example:

I don’t think I have a strong local identity. Maybe it’s the fact that my parents didn’t grow up in the same town where I was born. Or it’s that I’m not able to speak properly its dialect. It’s also possible that my town doesn’t cultivate a strong identity itself: criticizing Brindisi (Italy) is a much-practiced sport among its citizens. It’s a pity: it’s a nice place with a marvelous harbor and some 30 centuries of history surfacing here and there.

I don’t have a strong national identity either. I don’t know if it comes from my father passionately criticizing all the Italian governments, one after the other since I can remember. Or the fact that we don’t get particularly emotional over football matches…

Don’t get me wrong: I love my town and I love my country. But this doesn’t prevent me from looking at them critically. Or to love other places and other countries.

I suppose this helped me to develop further identities.

For instance, a strong identity as a human being (maybe encouraged by a childhood populated by cats, dogs… even snails).

For example, a European identity when I discovered as a teenager that some brave men had started to integrate the continent as a reaction to the second world war. A continent which has, historically, a cultural identity of its own.

And, later on, a sense of belonging to a global community, when I understood how many global problems need to be tackled jointly by all states and citizens (and usually they are not!).

Moreover, I have  – as all of you – a number of other definitions applicable: I’m a woman, I’m a daughter and I’m a mother, I’m a professor and a researcher, I’m a reader and I’m a writer, I’m a traveller and a seeker and so on… Identities more or less relevant, but all true. Which make me part of communities of human beings who share with me traits, interests, needs, passions.

Exclusive or dominant identities are – conversely- dangerous. 

People dominated by an exclusive identity – be it national, ethnic, religious or any other – assume it is a divide. The world is composed by “us” and “them”.

It’s the source of all conflicts, the negation of what makes us similar, emphasizing the differences.

I cannot say that identity is a bad word. It’s important to have roots, as long as it does not prevent our trunk to grow upwards and our branches to expand in many directions.

But using identity as a trench is the result of fear for whatever is different. And invoking limiting identities as a reason for political choices is a way to spread fear (and sometimes hatred).

It’s easy to recognize a fanatic approach, but sometimes even a shortsighted populist approach just plays the same dangerous game.

Stay alerted!

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