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Our Identity Crisis -- It's Time To Move Away From Prescription And Denial

We are all being told what our identity is and how we should therefore behave in alignment with this identity. Doesn’t that sound inherently conservative?

01/05/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 01/05/2017 08:40 SAST
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A tremendous number of social and political issues have led a lot of people to say a lot of things. Things about the President; the state of the economy; comments on colonialism; political debate abroad; and a host of other relevant matters. Social media's appetite for commentary and creation of memes has never been more well-fed.

Twitter is lit. As diverse as these issues may be, there exists a worrying trend common in response to them. And this emanates from all points and places on the spectrum, left to the right, libertarian to the radical. The trend is this: we are all being told what our identity is and how we should therefore behave in alignment with this identity. Now, doesn't that sound inherently conservative?

One of the fundamental difficulties with the left, the 'radicals', and generally self-branded wokes, is their insistence on defining groups by identity in very essential terms. If you are a straight white male, you have absolutely no business commenting on gender issues.

You must not support LGBTI+ communities in a vocal way. And if you have a problem with a poorly run government, kindly check your privilege at the door, before you will be told to #sitdown. Now, we move to the centre and beyond.

This is where the libertarian inclined, certain self-proclaimed classical liberals, amongst others, all seem to have the idea that we live in some sort of vacuum. Everything can be measured in wonderfully objective terms, free of context or experience (read: free of reality). Dare we speak of historical injustices and structural discrimination, and we are told to let it go and cease playing identity politics.

But here's where all sides are wrong, even illiberal, on the question of identity: they prescribe, which is tantamount to dictating our outlook and possibilities in this life. Let's be clear. Our country has seen enough of one group dictating to another, telling them who they are, what their purpose is, and how they should live this out.

Each of us is more than just a 'body'; each of us is also born into a space where certain opportunities are more readily available to some than others.

Our libertarian friends need to take full cognisance that identities still matter, will always matter, and that, sadly, certain identities will place you at an immediate disadvantage in our society. Woke friends, on the other hand, ought not to tell you what you can and cannot write, say, or advocate based on a group identity they hold over you.

There is a strong need for all sides to allow each of us, as individuals, to choose our own identities. And yes, identities can and do matter (take note, libertarians). They are also flexible, fluid, and open to possible change if, in many instances, a person so wishes (take note, wokes). Each of us is more than just a 'body'; each of us is also born into a space where certain opportunities are more readily available to some than others.

Now with a number of crises before us in South Africa, we all need the room and flexibility to choose our own identities, and if that means that we also choose to not allow our identities to function as barriers, we might achieve something great. Together. We might be able to overcome significant obstacles.

Perhaps we will find much in common, anew, for such a time as this.