Identity’s a sticky word isn’t it? Simultaneously negative and positive; individual and universal. I’m from Iraqi-Palestinian heritage, London born and raised and currently living in Paris. So when people ask where I’m from I have no idea where to start – each is a different world and yet I have the audacity to call all three home. Do I have a healthy identity crisis? You betcha.
I think the first thing to state quite clearly is that barely anyone is any one thing anymore. That’s painfully obvious and if you’re reading this thinking ‘no shit sherlock’, know that I’ve put that statement in for the many people narrow-minded enough to victimize diversity and conflate homogeneity with superiority. We live in a globalized world where identity is not easily summed up in one word anymore. Our ‘global village’ seemed to spring up faster than a mall in Dubai: suddenly there’s an openness and accessibility surrounding everything from the way we do business to inter-personal relationships. And for me what makes globalization so pertinent is that it is – for want of a more original term – global. It is no longer just the West engaging with the rest of the world but rather there’s now a real level of connectivity across continents and cultures. And with it comes a global movement of mass-migration but ironically we applaud globalization and criticize immigration. So those products of mass-migration: those of mixed heritage are more numbered than ever but society still questions where they come from. While I recognize and appreciate that often people’s misunderstanding stems from infrequent exposure, poor media and societal ignorance, it doesn’t make being a so-called ‘third culture kid’ much easier.
They say that home is where is the heart is and well my heart is in many different microcosms that, between us, don’t often get along and I found that most of my formative years were spent trying to untangle it all. I felt othered in London and othered in the Middle East. We put so much emphasis on labels to identify ourselves without acknowledging the tensions that inherently come with them. Now, at the ripe old age of 21 and a half I can safely tell you that I have more than one identity and though they’re still beefing it out they’re also learning to get along, the important thing is to try and work out what your labels mean and how you choose to self-define, no one’s a ‘half’ anything, you either feel part of it or you don’t and frankly either’s fine as long as you feel you’re comfortable with who you are (reading that line out loud made me realize just how cheesy that was so forgive me). I know now that when people use the word ‘identity’ they don’t mean ‘identity’ in its truest form, they use it rather as a euphemism for other things like heritage, race, sexuality etc. and the way we define our identity is through semantics and technicalities, using it as a tool to unite or Other adopting feeble labels that are presumed to be tangible, permanent and unchanging. We talk of identity as if it dictates us rather than us determining it, when in essence, identity is as much an expression of individuality as it is anything else. You claim your identity and mould it either by putting yourself under one umbrella term ‘gay’/’black’ etc or adopting characteristics and qualities that make you yourself. They are all your identity. The question then isn’t what your identity is, rather how you use to it chip away at those fabricated barriers that stop humanity from uniting.
I’ve also done aTED talk entitled ‘Writing Identities’ which analyses the links between identity, immigration, integration and poetry.