Identity is at the core of who we are as citizens of the world, of a country, of a region, and of a community. How we define ourselves and with whom we identify is, in my estimation, dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. People commonly associate their identity with belonging to a certain class, race, religious group, or country of birth. But we can also define ourselves by our age, our ethnicity, and/or our sexual orientation. But the situation in which we asked, ‘Who are you?’ determines the answer to that question.
By that I mean that if you are in another country you will typically introduce yourself as a Canadian, an American, or as Irish. If you are in a religious situation you will most often first introduce yourself by saying what religion you are a part of. And, if you are in a classroom or a work setting you may introduce yourself by your age, followed by your ethnicity or family history.
The point is that how we define ourselves is shaped and configured by the situations in which we find ourselves. However, many people do not have the power to control their identity and how the world sees them. People in more powerful positions in a country or in the world often dictate to everyone else what that weaker group ought to be called. So while a person in North America may identify people from Africa as black or poor, an individual person living in Africa may self-identify based on their ethnicity, their family’s background, or their country of birth or residence.
People in wealthier, more dominant nations, have the power to dictate to others in less affluent nations who they are and how the world sees them as opposed to allowing the person in a poorer nation to self-identify.
How we identify helps give our life meaning. By identifying with groups we feel a sense of belonging, comfort, and assurance. But when the groups we belong to are forced upon people, those people lose that sense of self-power and self-control over their own identity, and indeed over their lives.
People around the world have the right to determine, without interference, who they are, what groups they belong to, and what groups they don’t belong to. People in powerful countries should not be telling people who they are or who they should be.