If you had to pick one word to describe who you are, what would it be?
Identity is one of several fundamental human needs that underlie many of today’s conflicts. These conflicts occur when a person of a group feel that their sense of self is threatened, denied legitimacy or respect, or because of a superiority complex. One’s identity is fundamentally important not only for one’s self esteem, but for one’s interpretation of the outside world. When one’s identity is challenged or threatened, it is likely to produce a strong response, based largely on emotion.
But how do we know what our identity is? Who decides? Do we have more than one? Are we stuck with our identity forever? Does it change overtime? Is the world really fighting over differences of identity? It is probably one of the biggest talking points in today’s world. If you were expecting a dignified and well thought out response to all these questions, you’ve given me a lot more credit than I deserve. If you weren’t expecting anything, fuck you.
You weren’t expecting that either were you? Dick.
Humans are so judgemental, not to mention shallow. We categorise people as soon as we see them. If you’re sitting at a coffee shop sipping your regular almond milk latte and see a man wearing a turban walk past, what are you going to identity him as? A tall, brown, hairy, skinny, unfashionable, smiling, bearded man? I don’t think so. You’re either going to call him Indian, Sikh, Punjabi, or even a taxi driver or 7/11 worker. Our notion of identity can be so skewed sometimes, like just after 9/11 when Sikh men were labelled by some as terrorists for wearing a turban which to some drew similarities to the Taliban.
Quite often identity stems from not what we have in common with someone, but in the things that make us different from someone else. We constantly use difference to establish our own identity but we probably just don’t realise it. If you are a white Anglo-Saxon Australian walking down Bondi Beach and walk past another white Anglo-Saxon who happens to be speaking on the phone in Russian, you’re automatically going to separate your identity from his. This guy could be Australian born and raised, a swinging voter, and may even cook a better snag on the BBQ than you, but you’re probably going to identity him as Russian. You more than likely wouldn’t think of calling him an Australian.
In a country like Australia, where practically everyone has a migration story, identity built upon difference and belonging is very prevalent. And I get it, it’s human nature to affiliate yourself with a certain group, and differentiate yourself from others, but consequently, I feel like sometimes we forget who we really are.
I have a very strong connection to my Indian side. If you just look at my name, you’d assume that I came to Australia on a dodgy study visa, and have been driving taxis ever since. I’m sure a lot of prospective employers have thought the same, hence why I’ve had more rejected job applications in my lifetime than satisfying craps. That’s a lot by the way. But anyway, despite all that, probably one of the best lessons that I’ve learnt from my parents is that above all, I am an Australian.
It’s pretty funny when I put this into practice, because I bet you right now that 90% of people that know me would categorise me as Indian well before Australian. It was pretty amusing in high school when people would mock me with a funny Indian accent when in fact my normal way of speaking is far more Aussie than most.
Being a halfie, people quite often make the wildest guesses as to where I’m from. I’ve had everything from Greek, Italian, Arab, African and Spanish. Funnily enough, Indian is one of the last things people think of. Whenever I tell someone I’m Australian, they make this weird face like they’re trying to force out that last bit of shit that is clutching to their arse by a thread.
Put it this way. If I’m caught by ISIS tomorrow and they hold me for ransom, who are they going to appeal to? Well I guess it just depends how many of them react with that same constipated shit face when I tell them I’m Australian. But yes, I will be relying on the Australia Government to do something about it. So what about you guys in Australia that call yourselves Greek, or Swedish, or Japanese, or anything else for that matter? Who is gonna come and save your arse when you end up in an Indonesian jail for running nude down the streets of Bali after one too many snorts?
Let me put one thing straight. I’m not asking you to toss your cultural and ethnical roots out the window for the country you reside in. Nor am I asking you to become ultra-patriotic. You are unique in your own way, and that should be celebrated. Differences should be celebrated. We all have our own unique story that makes us who we are. If your grandparents were born and raised in Italy, by all means be proud of that and carry on that identity within you. If your parents are from mainland China, please, threaten us with your mad kung fu skills and demonstrate your ridiculous ability in maths. It is just as important to be proud of your ancestral heritage.
Similarities and differences exist between all people, which means we all have a unique and individual identity. In order to understand this, it just requires the effort for one to look beyond what is evident on the surface. Hard for some, impossible for others, but we all have an identity which no one else can possess.
In all this, we must not make the mistake to forget our similarities. Sure, it’s pretty hard when politicians and the media draw upon our differences to force us to think or act in a particular manner. But whether English is your second language, or you run a local kebab shop, drive a taxi, work for a political party, stack shelves at Coles or provide a range of high quality ‘services’ at an affordable price, we are all Australians. That’s what I was taught anyway, and in my mind it makes sense.
For those who are seasoned travellers, I have a question. I’m sure you’ve all been in this situation numerous times where you’ve been enjoying your holiday overseas travelling amongst a sea of people unlike you, and out of nowhere you hear that familiar Aussie accent. Don’t you just want to go up to the person and bond over the fact that you are both Australian?
Wait, did I just say that? Australian? What happened to your mother’s uncle’s sister’s father’s niece being Brazilian? Please don’t unleash your capoeira on me, I’m just making a point. You’re Australian.
It’s almost as if when we are in Australia we aren’t Australian, but when we leave Australia all of a sudden we all bleed green and gold and miss the taste of Vegemite.
At the end of the day identity is complex, diverse, multi-layered, and a touchy point for many. I just think that whilst differences should be celebrated and acknowledged, we could do a whole lot more if we recognised and united under our similarities.
Whether you believe that identity comes under race, religion, sex, orientation, occupation, physical appearance, dietary habits (vegan uprising on the cards), or anything else, it really doesn’t matter. Our differences make us who we are, and our similarities should bring us together. If we open our minds a little bit more and get past these stereotypes, we will start to realise just how much we have in common with one another.