Whether it’s the shooting in Tunisia, The NAACP leadership debate or people asking me if I’m American, the issue of identity is ubiquitous.
The first time I had to address this was on arrival in the UK and having to complete forms that asked for my ethnic origin. I’ve opted for Black Caribbean. Though I know many Caribbeans choose Mixed.
I know that when people see me, my African heritage is what they see most. This has become even more important as my life partner is Ghanaian. In Qatar, people often make the sign of the cross over the continent in trying to find out where I’m from. Egypt? This I didn’t understand until I met a few Nubians. Ethiopia/Eritrean? South African? Nigerian – okay, this I understand, as West Africa was the starting point in that most nefarious of triangular trades.
I live in a place where the colour of your passport can make a difference to how much you earn, whether your dependents can live or visit you or which school your child attends. The answer I give depends on who’s asking the question.
If you’re an official or trying to put me in one of your pre-defined boxes, I’m British. If you’re from India/Sri Lanka, I’ll say West Indian so we can connect on the current sorry state of WI cricket and legends like Sobers, Richards and Lara. If you’re brown, and even if you’re not, and you make eye contact, I’ll acknowledge you with a smile or a nod.
Identity is complex yet comprised of two main components: how you see yourself and how others see you. This may imply stasis but with ISIS brides and multiple citizenship, identity is fluid and can be a currency.
What’s your identity?