I have wondered about identity and heritage, and how much of who one is, comes from an understanding of the history, values, and peculiarities of one’s heritage. Recent occurrences in some parts of the world have given rise to those questions again in my mind. I am a woman. I am Igbo. I am Nigerian. I am black African. I am a Christian. I am a human being. How do these segments and demographics fit into the big picture of my identity? How do these affect my attitude to life? How does it determine how I treat others? Does it?
Identity and heritage are quite clearly important and cannot be dismissed as perhaps the root of many social problems facing communities and regions, indeed the world today. In Nigeria for example, there have been a number of incidents and statements emerging from individuals which were based on their identity, perceived heritage and stereotypes which exist regarding the country’s demographics.
In the USA, protests and demonstrations are ongoing regarding several incidents which have been alleged to target defenceless members of certain race and sex. In South Africa, xenophobia and its consequential attacks have been linked to identity issues and heritage of perpetrators by some experts. In the same vein, the Boko Haram incidents and the Charlie Hebdo incidents have also been linked to identity crises and confusion emanating from misinterpretation of heritage amongst other things.
I have always believed that first I am a human being, then I am a woman, before I am anything else. Thereafter I am Igbo before I am Nigerian. I am Nigerian before I am African. Does this make me disrespectful of the other sex or of other ethnic groups? Absolutely not. I think that I identify with the values and experiences of the milieu in which I was raised, as well as the bigger picture of being Nigerian and African. An understanding of my identity and heritage I believe gives me a clear picture of who I am, what our traditions and belief systems reflect, and more importantly, my place in the bigger picture of life and the rest of the the world.
Although these social constructs of demographics in some ways, encourage discrimination or in some cases, indirectly advance the victim mentality, I firmly believe that an awareness of the various segmentations and what these mean for daily life and heritage wise, is necessary and should be part of the education of every child. I am a woman, thus I must understand the changes that happen with the female body and the potential for discrimination and suppression that comes from an unequal society.
I am black African, thus I must understand the problems of sickle cell anaemia as well as the phenomenon of beautiful thick hair which responds a certain way to combs, and looks different from the predominant images on tv. I am Igbo and thus must understand the traditions and history of the Umu Ada, the mmanwu symbolism and the land laws no matter how unfair I believe them to be. First is awareness and understanding, before an informed acceptance and perhaps strides towards changing what we do not think is fair? These are just small illustrations and by no means cover the breadth of that which is peculiar to who I am and what my identity and heritage stand for.
What I am very interested in, is how external factors such as migration, sexual orientation, religion, certain upbringing, tragedies, and globalisation affect one’s perceived identity or how they contribute to the identity struggles particularly in young minority groups. Invariably, I really think it is essential that children are taught that all humanity is one and the same. This must come first alongside the education necessary to equip the child for a successful and informed life based on certain peculiarities of his heritage.