THE DANGEROUS GRAY AREA OF MULTICULTURAL IDENTITY
In 2016, the now-Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle wrote in “ELLE” about her experience as a young girl and eventual adult of mixed-race. She speaks of how, at 7, she had to tick a box asking her ethnicity.
She did not tick a box, because there were no boxes which fit. Similar experiences are to be found in infinite varieties all around the world, as the people placed in the box of “others” at a young age struggle tenfold with finding their identity and place. There seems to be larger issues at hand, so why are we so intent on making finding one’s identity even harder than it already is?
The problem started when a standard was established by the dominant culture; there would not exist an “other” if the standard was not there. Not enough boxes can be created to sort every identity there is, and so if boxes of “normal” exist, there will always be an “other” box.
An example is how immigrants, and especially African and Middle Eastern ones, are perceived when arriving in Western countries. Because the West has swept all to do with Africa under one rug, and all to do with the Middle East under another, just to sweep both those rug under a third one that simply states «Immigrant» which in turn lies under the umbrella that states “Other”, we lose understanding of the multicultural society we live in.
We can sweep as much as we want, but no matter how much we generalize, Somalis will exist as Somalis, as Palestinians will exist as Palestinians; both separate from the ways in which people form their neighboring countries exist.
Specific to the English-speaking world is the wide-spread problem of mass immigration and failure to integrate, and part of the problem lies in how we keep sweeping foreign identities under the same rugs.
Had we tried to understand the way in which immigrants’ cultures differ both from each other and from our own right from the beginning instead of sorting them all into “other” and away from our standard, the problem of finding one’s identity in the English-speaking world might not have been so hard after all.
Nevertheless, this standard exists, and it is important that we understand and deal with how it affects our society. Perhaps most important to understand is that the establishment of a standard is also an establishment of a “normal”, a “normal” which by exclusion and enforcing a feeling of otherness harms those who are not part of it.
Although the standard differs as the dominant culture does, point still remains that there always is an “other” and thus also otherness. If an individual feels like an “other”, and they let it get to them, the individual will start acting like an “other”, and finding a true identity will become considerably harder.
Using the Duchess of Sussex as an example, she was able to take this gray area she had been put in and make it her own. By telling herself that “I am not one of “The Others”. I am enough exactly as I am.” she redefined what the gray area meant to her and grew proud of her mixed heritage.
The situation is decidedly not the same in the case in “My Son the Fanatic”, where Pakistani-immigrant Parvez finds his son Ali, who both migrated to England from Pakistan years ago, distancing himself more and more from Western society.
Parvez asks, when confronted with his son’s radical thoughts on religion and the West, what influenced him to have these thoughts. The son simply answered, “Living in this country.” (Kureishi, 2017, p. 186).