When I was in my first year of university I was attending a lecture about cultural identity. It was very illuminating, because it was the first time I connected identity and nationalism to one another. This might not seem like a very illogical thing to do, but it opened my eyes. The thing that spoke to me the most is the fact that how you define your identity, will ultimately form your nationalism. I never thought about my identity other than that it must include ‘the self’. By being asked whether I felt a citizen of the Netherlands, Europe or the World, I started actively thinking about what my identity is.
I think about everything, perhaps a bit too much. But thinking about this particular side of identity, made me think of what identity is. I started to think about what my identity is and how this identity of mine has formed itself. I have really struggled with my identity in the last 10 years or so, and to be honest I still do. I have my personal reasons for it, such as racism, assault and mental health. These struggles forced me to actively think about what identity is and what it means to have an identity. Throughout the years I have learnt that there is no such thing as having one identity. Identity is not an universal concept, it is subject to different views, emotions and backgrounds.
You only need to look at someone’s Twitter or Instagram bio to recognise the fact that everyone identifies in different ways. The first thing I did was to think of different aspects of my life that I could call identity. Or things that could be part of my identity. For each and every aspect of my identity I wrote down information, so I could draw any form of conclusion later on. I will only try to focus on identity and how my identity has been formed, because that is what I have knowledge of.
Gender & sexuality
The first thing we often think of in defining ourselves as humans, is gender. It is not a difficult one, because usually one can see the gender of a certain human being. In that fashion I identify as a male human. This does not mean that it is easy to identify one’s gender, because this can be a difficult thing for some people. However in my case, that is not the case. Sexuality is a little more complex actually, because I am a firm believer of the fact that there is no specific type of sexuality. If a questionnaire would ask of me what kind of sexuality I have, I would answer with heterosexual. To elaborate, I would only would have a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman. However, sexuality is more than only sexual feelings. I feel drawn to men in an intellectual way and the way they think can be very appealing to me, however I would never go as far to say that I’m bisexual. That is how I personally feel, it is a natural attraction. I truly believe that no one on this planet is 100% this or that. It is not a matter whether you identify 100% with this or that, but what you identify with the most. I identify the most with being a male heterosexual human.
Often, nationality is seen as a typical component of identity. In some countries of the world, this is a very vivid idea of identity. When I see my friends from the United Kingdom or the United States, I notice a difference in how we perceive nationality in relation to our identity. There are two different, yet very important components of nationality. First, how important is that nationality to your identity? And second, what makes that nationality so important? Do we look at the nationality or nationalities given by birth? Or is nationality given, by the country you legally are are a national of? Complex questions and for me it even makes things even more difficult to be honest. I was born in the Netherlands and legally I have a Dutch passport. But through my mother’s heritage, I’m also half Tanzanian, which also gives me the African identity and connection. Through cultural heritage, I feel part Welsh, because my grandfather at my mother’s side is Welsh. I will talk about cultural feels and heritage a bit more, later in this post.
This world of ours is on one hand becoming more secular by the minute, yet on the other hand it feels like we are having a religious revival in several regions of the world. I always have thought of my own religion as a part of me, but never as a distinctive aspect of my identity really. It is not like I am Mike Pence and introduce myself as being a Christian man first. Not at all, but I do feel like it is a minor part of my identity. I was brought up as a Roman-Catholic and somehow I feel connected to the Catholic Church and the people that attend the Catholic Church. But I do not have any hard feelings for other religions at all, it is just that I can identify more with the Catholic Church. In some cases I feel cannot relate with being a Roman-Catholic to be honest. When I hear of the atrocities in the world committed in the name of religion – no matter what religion – I always seek to distance myself from it. It may be hypocritical, but in that moment I do not want to be part of a religion, wherein a small group acts like they themselves are God.
Languages are a funny thing to be completely honest with you. Many people feel connected with people who speak the language. Of course there is a difference between speaking a language fluently and being professional speaker, but in general we feel connected with people who speak the same language. The language part really confused me as a kid at times. As a child living in a house where both parents are rather fluent in English, English was no big deal and that is why I feel connected with everyone whose mother tongue is English. Living in the Netherlands, Dutch is as well something that is spoken fluently by me. But my father and his family have a strong dialect, which me and me sister learnt to speak as well. My mother being fluent in (Ki)Swahili, tried to bring us up with that language as well. Imagine getting all this at the tender age of 3 years old, it is mind boggling to be honest. I have always had this connection with people who speak English and the Dutch dialect called Venloos. At the age of 10 we were taught English which wasn’t a problem for me, because of the things said above.
When I reached the age of 12, two new languages entered my life: German and French. Living in city near the border with Germany, gave me the advantage of learning German quickly and I also had a lot of interest in Germany. It is not that I can easily identify with the Germans through their language, but I suppose my relation to the German culture and identity is above the average in my country. French however, is completely different. I do not know what the deal is with French. I do not interest myself for the country as I do with other countries, maybe it is because it is part of the Latin language group or that I detest the attitude some French people have. I just really cannot relate with them. Now I am 25 and I have learnt two new languages: Latin – ironically – and Welsh. Latin was a necessity for my studies and Welsh comes forth because of my Welsh heritage. I am still learning Welsh and I have long way to go, but I feel so very connected with the Welsh people. Especially with those speaking Cymraeg. For me the Welsh speaking part, is definitely a part of my identity.
Now onto everyone’s favourite subject: politics. I suppose everyone has eagerly been waiting to hear what my political preference is. That is an impossible thing to ask from people, I feel. Politics is not as black and white as we think. Politics is not divided in left, right and centre. It is also divided in secular and religious. It is divided in progressive and conservative, and so much more. There is no thing as being 100% progressive or left. It is what you identify with the most. I identify the most with politics which are right, liberal, secular and an inbetween of conservative and progressive. I am pretty sure there are not many political parties out there who 100% think the same way. And that is okay. Politics for me is very important, because I am politically active. But does it define my as a whole? I do not think so. I can talk to people who have different views and I do not let my views get in the way of how I am perceived as a person.
Mental health is of great importance to me and my identity, but I want to stress that it is different for everyone. Because I suffer from my mental health and several mental illnesses, I let it be a big part of my identity. Through my trials, as I like to call them, I have no other option than to accept my mental health issues. They are part of me and I honestly could not imagine my life – and in extent my identity – without them. I’ve been diagnosed with several mental illnesses: Depression, Anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Bipolar disorder, Borderline personality disorder and dissociation. Yes, because of the reality of mental illnesses, my life is affected by them every day and they naturally are a part of my identity. A huge part to be perfectly honest with you. But they don’t rule my identity. I’m not bipolar, I live with bipolar disorder. I think that sums it up just fine for me.
I often get the question if I could relate more with people from my own race and I think that is both a ridiculous and brilliant question. Personally I don’t relate to people more because of their race or their colour of skin, but I really get why some people identify with their race. Living in a society where racism occurs, but doesn’t lead to segregation, has been an eye opener for me. It can be part of your identity, if you want it to be a part of your identity. In my personal situation, it’s not. Not anymore, because when I used to experience a lot more than I do now, things were more confusing. Because of the racism you not only have this sense of not belong, you also are pushed into a certain race or group.
The place where you live or you were born could definitely add to your sense of identity. I live in a part of the country that is often forgot about on a national scare or mentioned in relation to Belgium or Germany. This attitude has moved many in the way that they rather identify with their region, than that they do with the country they live in. This particular segment relates to the question that I was asked in that particular lecture. I identify more with my region, than I do with the country I live in.
Traditions or the lack of traditions, can definitely add to the sense of identity one has. I personally have no feelings of identification with others through interest in the same tradition. Yet traditions are very important to me, but I do not see them as a part of my identity. I think traditions made a national identity, but then again: what is a national identity? In the Netherlands there has been a big debate on a particular tradition and in the reactions to that tradition, you can see that certain groups and individuals identify with traditions. However, I do not.
I first and foremost identify as a football lover, I think that is not something that would surprise you. Football plays a huge part in my life and therefore my identity. My group of friends all are very fond of the game and I think that my girlfriend and I would never have connected the way we do, without the joys of the beautiful game. Identifying with a sport or sportsculture doesn’t exclude you from identifying with something else, but it definitely can make you identify with others because of a particular sport or culture. I also identify as a rugby fan which is a sport too, but in the way I identify with rugby and its culture is different from how I identify as a football fan. Both are sports and we could relate in sports, but both identifications are different.
My work in journalism has taught me a couple of things about identifying. I did not think my work in journalism would have led to me identifying as a journalist as an important thing of identity, but it has. This has got to do with the world the journalism has become and how the individual journalist portrays one another. Therefore we feel that we identify as a culture or subculture, which alters our way of perceiving our work. This can happen with any line of work or profession. I think it is a matter of which value you give to your profession, that shapes whether it is a great deal to your identity.
It is hard to write a conclusion at this point, because I think that your identity is always changing and forming. It is never ending, and that makes it both brilliant and difficult. At this moment I cannot really put my finger on it, my identity is not something I can give a simple explanation of. What is more clear to me now, is that your identity consists of different components and aspects. In that way, my conclusion is kind of simple really. All these things I have written above have their influence on how I perceive my identity. Some more than others, but the main thing is that all these things together, make me who I am. There’s no individual component that shapes my identity. It is the sum of all parts that makes my identity. It’s subject to opinion, I realise that. But that is the thing. Everyone’s identity is different and we should not act like all people are the same. Could I answer the question asking what my identity is? After years of thinking, I’m only certain of one particular thing. The more I thought about it, the more I realise that I don’t know what my actual identity is. This is one of the most interesting things I have ever thought about and I will continue to think about it. We are all unique in our own ways and we should keep it that way!