The term, “identity” originates from the work of psychologist, Erik Erikson in the 1950s. Identity is the understanding of being human; the demystification of one’s personality. To be human is to be rational and sexual. To be human is to have dignity, honour, quality, and pride. Identity is the true definition of self.
To Carl Jung, “self” is an important archetype of how an individual establishes himself in the world. It therefore means that the world itself has no meaning outside humans. We recreate the world as we see it, by subjectively defining it and defining ourselves in it. We occupy our heart space and compel the forces of the outer world to align with our heart. The heart is where we really live. We are our own truth. Our identity becomes our holistic sum, not just the feelings that changes overtime; but our true self. For instance, I don’t have feelings that I am a man. I know I am. I don’t have the feelings that I am black. I know I am.
Identity is innate and it grows with our physical and mental development. It can be personal and social.
By personal identity, we refer to the unique attribute or the distinguishing trait of a person. Such attribute could be physical and mental. A child is either born male or female. As the child grows, he answers to his name, then to his signature and to his fingerprint. His fingerprint is unique to him. It’s never shared by anyone in the world. He understands the sources and origins of himself. John Locke said, “I think, therefore I am.” His self-belief and self-image developed into an identity that later formed his social behavior.
By Social or collective identity, we refer to a partnership or interpersonal identity. Social identity defines a group of persons distinguished by standards of determining their membership. What makes social identity unique is our differences. Finding uniqueness in our differences and celebrating our differences. In an interview for job or group membership, for example, the first question often put forward to the interviewee is “can you introduce yourself?” This is an identity test. One’s identity becomes clear to all, and the point of acceptance is determined by what is good, moral, ethical, valuable, and dignifying. Then, roles become identity based. Each person’s identity uniquely speaks for the group. No two people interpret the world the same way. Division of labour introduces members to their roles and duties. And area of specialization becomes very clear.
Collective identity and land heritage
Land consciousness is the basis of collective identity. Land, to indigenous people of the earth, is an important economic asset, a political territory and a means to social identity. The collective use of lands for agriculture, livestock grazing and water becomes the heritage of a people. In Biblical writings, for instance, the creation story clearly pointed out the use of land: God blessed them and said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Genesis 1:28. This was done after God created man in His own image.
Land is the heritage of its people. Today, we can talk of the oil wells of Nigeria; the gold coast of Ghana; the diamond rains of Sierra Leone; platinum and gold of South Africa; and to such nations, losing their land could mean losing their identity. To such denizens, losing their lands could mean losing their lives and means of livelihood. Displacement of any form could mean the total erosion of their traditions, beliefs and cultures.
Land and its valuable mineral resources have become an object of competition and conflict since the history of man. Most conflicts result from the consciousness that wealth of the land belongs to everyone as against individual possession and use. Several indigenous groups had been constituted to fight back their lands and defend their territory. The same reason the United States President, Donald Trump also insists on building walls to fence out illegal immigrants from trespassing the US soil. He claimed, “Heaven has a wall and strict immigration policies. Hell has open borders.”
The impacts of the Nairobi People Settlements Network (NPSN) of Kenya, the Parkistan Fisherfolk forum (PFF), and Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) of Nigeria, to mention a few, have been commended. The dereliction of Ogoniland has been a topical issue in Nigeria. The Ogoni people have suffered pollution from oil spills and oil well fires; their waters are destroyed, fishes died from oil spillage, farmland degraded and denizens are living in constant fear of fuel fires that had resulted in destruction of lives and properties. This has led to the uprising of Niger Delta militants blowing up oil wells who felt that Nigerian government is only interested in the produce from the oil to the neglect of environment. The Niger Delta militants are carriers of the philosophy of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) headed by Ken Saro Wiwa and other Ogoni people who lost their lives in mass protest against government’s lackadaisical attitudes towards the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta. The loss has its share in the last economic recession in Nigeria.
The more depressed and oppressed a people are, the more revolutionary their thoughts and behavior towards change and freedom will be. A revolutionary is a nationalist. A nationalist wants a land or territory he could claim as a nation; a free nation. Resistance to slavery and racism became the force behind the creation of so many nationalists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr., Stokely Carmichael, Aime Cesaire, Leopold Sedar Senghor, to mention a few, who had strong attachments to their land.
Land had been the epicentre of all forms of colonial struggle of African nations from their former British colonial master; from Botswana, to Ethiopia, to Ghana, to Kenya, to Malawi, to Nigeria, to Rhodesia, to Sierra Leone, to Somalia, to South Africa, to Tanzania, and to Uganda. Land is the basis of all independence and freedom struggles. Black consciousness movements which flourished across the nations of Africa, starting from the impact of Pan-Africanism; uniting the fate of all African descents, to Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, to Negritude movement in Francophone Africans, to Nationalist movements across West Africa; especially, Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya, to Harlem Renaissance of African Americans in New York: a rebirth of African-American cultural expressions, artistry and identities; were all meant to challenge the reign of inequality, slavery, racism, colonialism and even neocolonialism and to bring the consciousness of black people at home or in diaspora to the knowledge of the world. The Black Power movement among the African Americans in the United States of America, were all fights towards seeking black identities and racial pride.
Slavery destroys humanity. It corrodes identity. “To make a contented slave,” Frederick Douglass said in In My Bondage and My Freedom, “you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and as far as possible to annihilate his power of reason.” Though slavery has long been abolished by law, it still remains locked up in the psyche of most populous Africans. And for most African nations, it can be inferred that their very identities, even to their names, were bequeathed to them by their colonial masters, and every step of their actions, was monitored and dictated by their colonial Master. The name “Nigeria” for instance, was coined by Flora Shaw, the wife of British soldier Lord Luggard, who amalgamated the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria in 1914, and then became its first Governor-General.
Land had been the source of religious wars; the crusades and the jihads; even now, the land conflict between Israel and Palestine still persists.
National identity and racial pride
Every nation is born with a culture that took years to build. A nation’s culture is very sacrosanct to her. National identity is the value attached to citizens of that country. National identity is a racial pride. Americans have a growing culture that they can’t be second in anything. That is the American dream. That is the nation’s identity. That is her national pride. Today, every soul from all nations of the world wants to visit America. American lives matter first in America, and matter everywhere in the world. That is why many Africans and Asians are putting their lives at risk daily to get to America illegally. That is the reason many Africa’s best brains are migrating to Europe to serve.
As good as racial pride is, it can be taken too far. Racially created enclaves still exist in America the cradle of modern democracy, by colours, countries of origin, ethnic backgrounds, and religions. The exercise of white supremacy in culture, language and thought and the idea that the blacks did not fit in to their image stand against the practice of collective identity, where the land belongs to everyone as against individual possession and use. President Donald Trump’s recent labeling the African nations as ‘shit-holes’ nations is a racial pride taken too far. As much as I don’t agree with this racist language, it also shows the “shit” in how African leaders treat their citizens. A country that does not value its citizens has lost its identity. A nation where its selfish leaders kill the citizens they want to govern by all means to rule; a leader that uses his nation’s police force against the people to achieve his ambition has no identity. Leadership is the soul of national identity. Africa is a continent of so many presidents but few leaders.
In Paul Jacobs’ To Serve the Devil: Volume 1, he argued that there should be neither black history nor white history in America, because American history, in part, is the unfolding of the relationship between two transplanted peoples; the white Europeans who came to the New World to find wealth and religious liberty and the blacks who were brought there as slaves. Paul further said, “the history of black politics has not been one of unity. Like all other political struggles, it has been a fight over ideas involving fundamental questions of human existence; how to survive a white racist society, how to gain freedom (inside the society, outside it, or by destroying it?), and how to present one’s identity within one of the most oppressive societies in the world.”
Identity thrives in an environment where it is accepted, not tolerated. And where it is tolerated, it clamors for survival, and may degenerate into identity crisis. Identity crisis comes when what we imagine ourselves to be doesn’t correspond with what we really are. The internal confusion versus external conflict leads to identity crisis.
While African writers are very much aware of their historical role in preserving their national identities, they grapple with identity crisis in writing for acceptance in Europe; because what determines the values of most African writings is their acceptance in Europe. They also struggle with their linguistic identities, because the English language with which they write, lacks the capacity to carry the full weight of African experience. The use of indigenous proverbs, rhythms, onomatopoeias and oral traditions so much carry some heavy African experience and rich cultures that have no suitable translation equivalent in English Language. The linguistic rediscovery of African languages made some writers retain indigenous names and expressions in most of their writings. Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie retain some Igbo names and expressions in their books. Expressions like “obi” or hut or “chi” a personal god, are used in their writing. Others decided to write in their indigenous languages but got their works translated. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o of Kenya wrote Matigari in his native language after publishing so many literary works in English Language. Chief D.O. Fagunwa of Nigeria wrote “Igbo Irunmole” and got it translated to The Forest of a Thousand Demons by the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka.
These writers understood the cohesion between language and culture and they tried to maintain their indigenous languages for identities sake.
The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Biafra secessionist group in Eastern Nigeria and the Brexit divorce crisis in the UK are the latest triggers of ‘identity politics’, a policy that serves to protect the basic interests of its group. The belief that South Africa is only for the South Africans, Ibo land for the Igbos, and England for the English widens our divides.
Furthermore, the inequality and imbalance of power between the sexes that the feminist movement seeks to curb with the doctrine of separate but equal, has received massive criticisms even among the womenfolk who see it as causing more division that unity and harmony between the sexes. The feminist assertion that the world is patriarchal makes girls grow into adulthood with bias minds, and what they now project to be humility or submission are actually low self-esteem or inferiority complex as they continue to struggle with their sexual identities.
Identity politics is more divisive than inclusive, and much more focusing on our differences than the uniqueness of our differences. Geography does not divide people, racism does.
As this confusion level increases to conflict level, and then climaxes at crisis level, the resolution of identity crisis is the formation of a new identity, by considering one’s values, vision, mission, priorities and goals. A new identity lies in the birth of a new mind where nothing is black or white but beautiful shades of love; where no colour exists except the blood that unites us, where black won’t accuse others of blackness and white won’t remember it is its own; and people won’t be seen as colours that could be loved and hated. Where the baptismal fire of Pentecostals will not consume the wine communion of the Catholics; where the holy city of Israel will not be against Palestine; where Arabs will not hate Jews; Sunni will not fight Shia; women won’t see men as the centre of their daily strife, men won’t see what they are not by looking at women; and heterosexuals will not go about looking for homosexuals to burn at stakes, and instead of focusing on our differences, we should recognize our humanity. Just as Stokely Carmichael said, “individua+lism is a luxury we can no longer afford.”