Not Parts of You But All of You.

Photo by Yasin Yusuf on Unsplash

I recently completed an 8-week study session with some amazing people from different parts of the world. The moments were deep, raw, very engaging, and thought-provoking. What I loved the most about the sessions was the way those people showed love. Since I became an Acumen Fellow, I have come to learn and see love in different beautiful ways. To love is deeper than lip service, to show love is more than words can explain, it is a heart thing. I thought I was a lover girl, I now realise that I have not begun to scratch the surface of how to love, who to love, and when to love. I met people with the biggest hearts, the love they share is unconditional. It was endearing to see that the world has hope. That said, one of the readings we studied was a part of Amin Maalouf’s book; In the Name of Identity.

Navigating that reading meant we had to name our different identities, and how they shaped our disposition to life. I will try hard not to give a lecture here because there is a lot to unpack in Maalouf’s writing on Identity. He asserts, “The identity cannot be compartmentalized; it cannot be split into halves or thirds, nor have any clearly defined set of boundaries. I do not have several identities; I only have one, made of all the elements that have shaped its unique proportions.”

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

I did not understand this at first. It took me a few days to internalise and sit on Maalouf’s writing to comprehend why identity should not be compartmentalised. I am the Queen of compartmentalisation who always believed that not everyone is ready for all of me. I remember my father sharing a story about his experience as a secondary school student during the Nigerian civil war. How he and a few of his friends were threatened, they were asked what tribe they belonged to before they could be allowed passage. Dad said that he believed that he would have been killed if he could not speak a certain Nigerian language on that day. He had to hide his identity and lay claim to another to survive.

Now, identity is powerful. It shapes our disposition towards life, others, and ourselves. Oftentimes, we find that we drop parts of our identity depending on where we are, whom we are communicating with, and what we may or may not stand to gain. While reflecting on Maalouf’s writing, I thought to myself,” hmmm… I love my multiple identities but I am okay with not bringing all of them into every situation”. I remember a man who unfollowed me on Twitter because he said he could not stand feminists who are lawyers. I also remember an ex-boyfriend, because I identified as a feminist, he told me that I was disrespectful he wanted none of that. Therefore, I tried hard to show him that I was all about him, in the process, I lost myself and my sense of self-worth diminished. I became afraid to identify as a feminist because I did not want to scare men off.

I thought it was okay to hide parts of myself depending on the people I was dealing with. I would not let some friends come to my home because I did not think it was nice enough. I was afraid they would laugh at me. Even though my home was my safe space, even though my bills were paid on time, my children had a roof over their heads, and beds to sleep on. I worried about what people would think about my simplistic house. Le sigh. Even with my extended family, I could not show them all of me. I was afraid they would judge me and think of me as poor whenever I struggled with committing to certain projects or travelling for some family occasions. It even came down to my relationships with people, I would love hard on some people but they would think I had an agenda. I just did not know how to deal with people. My race, my nationality, my ethnicity, my skin colour, my gender, my religion, my relationship status, my profession, the work I do, the way I love, the way I speak, where I live, even my life experiences, are all parts of my identity. Depending on where I was and who I was with, I only showed parts of myself I thought was ideal for that moment. I remember someone saying that they were not afraid to carry all of themselves everywhere and I remember resisting that. I thought to myself, “that could never be me”. Boy… was I wrong.

The inspiration for this piece comes from discovering how I have hidden my whole self because of fear. The fear of rejection, the fear of being perceived as a failure, the fear of being discriminated against. As I thought about it, it dawned on me that, in truth, I had been most unkind to myself. Never living wholly because I was afraid of how I would be received. An identity I recently took ownership of was that of being a dark-skinned black woman. I never really understood what it was about until I started to experience colourism and slight shades of racism and microaggressions. That was a part of myself I could not hide, it was always going to be out there anyway. I hold that identity so tightly and even call it my superpower.

Maalouf says, “If…people cannot live their multiple belongings, if they constantly have to choose between one side or the other… we have the right to be worried about the basic way the world functions”.

I agree with Maalouf when he asserts that we do not have several identities, rather we have one identity made up of different elements in unique proportions. I wonder, does the way I define my identity vary from the way society defines my identity? The answer is yes.

I learn that parts of my identity affirmed by society leaves me feeling validated and safe. While parts of my identity that are rejected leave me struggling with anxiety and a desire to be accepted. However, society trying to demean our stories, our experiences, and our identities is what has led to violence, discrimination, and hate. I now understand that we cannot let society tell us who we are because society wants us to be different things depending on who we are with and the situations we find ourselves in. The other day, I was reading one of my devotions and I was reminded about how important it is to have my identity rooted in the Word and who God says I am. Wonderfully and fearfully made. The fact that I am a black African Nigerian woman is what makes me thrive. I stand on my ancestors’ shoulders when I do not cower in the face of difficulties. It is why I resist abuse and fight injustice. My strength lies in the battles I have fought and won. My assurances come from how I have recovered from the losses I suffered.

Owning every part of you is hard because many people cannot handle that kind of honesty. However, you owe it to yourself to carry with pride, all the elements of your identity always.

Now, I understand the discrimination and hate perpetuated by others against people with different identities. However, I believe that those negative reactions are often driven by fear. People fear what they do not understand. While I do not have the answer to ending the turmoil that plagues our society today, I can help you to be kinder to yourself by letting you know that any setting that does not accept all of you does not deserve you. If you have to hide parts of yourself to receive love then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. Your entire identity cannot be reduced to a single belonging and you need to be okay with that. Always choose all the sides of you and carry them everywhere you go.

I end with appealing to us to love people wholly. Love every part of them. Help them feel safe around you when they, in Maalouf’s words, live their multiple belongings.

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She is human, she is divine, she is woman, and she is African. twitter: @nubianhottie

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Tsema Ede

She is human, she is divine, she is woman, and she is African. twitter: @nubianhottie