Monday, August 31, 2015

Who do you think you are?

I was born Indian. But I self identify as Vulcan. My friends and family though have never accepted me as a Vulcan. They tell me hurtful things like, “fictitious alien races from Star Trek aren't a real identity, you idiot. ” As you can probably tell they are as closed-minded as Klingons.

Of course I know for some people the question of self-identity is a bit more complicated. Take for example Caitlyn Jenner. Being transgender, she has chosen to self-identify as a woman despite being born a man. Most people saw her story as a symbol of courage and honesty. Two words no one ever thought they would use to identify someone associated with the Kardashians.

Then there's Rachel A Dolezal. The white American woman who has chosen to self-identify as black. Dolezal spray-tanned her skin brown and braided her hair to look African American. Just in case this didn't work she also concocted an elaborate back-story of lies. Some of which included being a victim of white racism and even asking her adopted brother who is black to tell people she was biracial. Despite this she insists she doesn't self-identify as a sociopath.

And of course there's Mr Jack Warner. A former FIFA vice-president under indictment by the FBI for alleged corruption. Mr Warner has recently transitioned from self-identifying as Robin Hood to a now hilarious version of Edward Snowden.
Of course the way humans view themselves has always been complicated. In Latin, the word

“identity” means “sameness”. Throughout history humans have devised hundreds of ways in which to express their sameness with some groups while differentiating their sameness from others. Be it race, religion, or whether you think John Oliver is funny.

There is no doubt that questioning old assumptions about identity is a good thing. It helped discredit established ideas like sexism and racism. It's spearheading the advancement of rights for the LGBT community and marginalised groups in general. Part of the Trinbagonaian identity though is being pretty comfortable in not questioning anything. Unless it's whether TV6 should have sold airtime to John Oliver.

A great example of the indifference we have to the way our identity is represented can be seen by watching the “unity dance”. The unity dance is what I call that horrendously lazy collection of clich├ęs that make up what is known here as a “cultural item”.
Making a unity dance is pretty straightforward. Get some moko jumbies, a tassa group, an African dance group, the Shiv Shakti dance group and maybe a belly dancer, and just put them on a stage.

Truly daring cultural items can feature a duet of Mungal Patasar and a steelpan soloist. The finale is of course everyone dancing together awkwardly while Rudder's “Ganges come meet the Nile” plays in the back ground.

This is what we tell ourselves our identity is. A collection of crude cultural stereotypes and unimaginative dance moves. For Trinbagonians, Identify isn't about ideas. It isn't the Ganges or the Nile, a river with tributaries of thought constantly flowing in and out. Rather it's a swamp. A stagnant place where new ideas never enter and old ones aren't allowed to leave.

In T&T you can have your “Trininess” questioned from just the slightest deviation away from this narrow version of identity. Value reason over race? Support gay rights despite the feelings of the IRO? Or believe in physics and not the Charlie, Charlie demon? Then you might not be a real Trini.
If identity is really all about dressing up in fancy costumes and doing odd rituals, then self-identifying as a Vulcan is certainly valid an identity as anything else we have locally.

The exception being that apart from having pointy ears and the ability to do a nerve pinch, being a Vulcan is all about viewing the universe through the lens of logic and reason. It's the idea that beliefs need to be supported by evidence.
As the 2015 general election heats up, and the politics of identity played out. There is perhaps a lot Trinbagoniains can learn from Vulcans. Until then, as my people say, “live long and prosper”.

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