Not very long ago I read Martin Luther King’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? In his final chapter, something stood out to me. He writes: ‘A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together’. This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together […] a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interests, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow how to live with each other in peace.’
The reality of the kind of global world we’re living in has its obstacles – and some of them are particularly loud. Where my conception of the world as completely global has grown – a counter voice has arisen (or always been present) to tell me that there is no way we can exist in one space together; our identities are firm borders, not to be crossed. The stories of hate crime rising after Brexit can be found everywhere, they aren’t difficult to find and indeed, not just stories, but it seems not to be a question of ‘if’ you’re going to come across some hate but ‘when’. And I can say that I have recently.
But I guess my response to the hate has been more interesting. How does it affect me and my ‘identity’? Well, I guess I like to think it doesn’t, but maybe I’d be lying. I could say clearly and honestly that I don’t feel any less British when hate comes across my way: to think and speak in the English tongue is a strong enough force to repel any suggestions that I am otherwise. However, there is something else that has consciously come about: how much does my identity matter?
Yes, I’m British and I still see myself as British. I may feel confused about that sometimes, but does that confusion last? Does doubt about self-identity last? A teacher told me once that doubt does not remove certainty. There may be moments where I feel concerned about national identity – or belonging – but that concern doesn’t necessarily remove the certainty I have in my relation to the land I am in.
I guess the response has been to create a division between my identity and myself. I may worry about national identity at times – but worry doesn’t necessarily define my whole self. To be aware of an unwavering aspect of self has been the response to the hate rise after Brexit.
‘This is my country, not yours.’ I’ve come to the realisation that I’m past the point of internalising this language. Do these attacks on my belonging to this space abuse my own conception of myself? For me, they don’t. Rather, a renewed engagement with this ‘world house’ we’re living in his been my response.
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