Do you belong somewhere? I’ve always wondered where I belonged, or whether it’s important to belong at all.
Through my formative years we moved around quite a lot as a family, I changed schools quite a few times – and with the all associated bullying, leaving friends and new girl awkwardness you’d expect. It’s led to me being relatively comfortable in new social situations though, so I am pretty happy about that. But the thing that cuts the deepest is when you start to travel like this, you’re not gaining new cultures but ultimately giving up your whole idea of identity. Because in the end, you don’t fit in anywhere. I don’t feel like a local when I go home – they way I dress and the way I speak is different. So what is identity and why is there increasingly more and more chatter about a crisis of identity?
When I was at uni, an idea took hold in my head. This idea was what inspired my application for a PhD, which I then converted downwards into a post graduate Masters, because the thought of being a poor student for another 5 years was too disheartening for me. The idea was based on my colonial heritage and an idea of displacement.
A very loose and probably incorrect interpretation of Freud’s Absent Father suggests that an infant develops trauma through having an absent father. So what if this was applied on a big scale to a whole nation? Let’s take the coloniser as the father. The father comes into a country, changes the education, the religion and the country’s whole systems of identification from language to cultural holidays and even road systems. The country grows under the guidance of this new father, and generations come and go with these new sets of identifiers.
Then the father leaves.
Whether this experience is a celebration of independence, or just establishing that the country had a set of identifiers to start with (of course it had), it doesn’t matter, because you can’t erase the fact that a father figure had been present, and had exercised his influence, and then had left.
So I thought maybe that was why post colonial voice was traumatised – through the loss of a father/coloniser. A kind of Stockholm syndrome.
And to expand on this, what if the idea of the Absent Father causes identity crises on an even larger scale? We could look at how authority in general is becoming less hierarchical, with less of authority being exerted from parents to children and from public and commercial broadcast channels to audience. Increasingly we are talking back to the authority, levelling the power structure. Could this lack of authority be leading to traumatic voice? Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating hierarchical structures, far from it! But maybe this is one reason it exists.
It could be that a period of traumatic voice and identity is just something that needs to happen in the growth of communities, countries and the world. What would be interesting is what comes next. With identity crises you can get appropriation of cultures – especially with the world getting smaller through international communications. How many time has a sassy black woman from Harlem jumped out of your mouth? (uh uh uh she says snapping her fingers emphatically). I say we appropriate where we can, and ideally with some idea of the history and an understanding of the culture you are appropriating. Let’s treat the world as a whole as our home and let’s be good citizens and good room mates.