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A Conversation On Nationality and Identity

April 8, 2019

Identity is such an interesting concept because not only is it defined differently for everyone, but it influences the ways of life for many people, if not all. Generally speaking, identity is defined as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. Identity is important for some regarding religion, race, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, class, and many other aspects of life. Such categories related to identity are important for people because it enables them to navigate life more effectively. For example, a person who is Muslim will hold the religion of Islam and Allah dear to their heart and utilize the teachings in the Holy Qu’ran in their seeking of Jannah. This orchestrates how the life of a person who practices Islam is influenced by their identity as a Muslim. Ultimately, the concept of identity has caused me to reflect on my slight discomfort with being viewed as and informing others in South Africa that I am American.

Traveling abroad to South Africa has been the first time I have ever simply told someone “Yes, I am American.” Also, this has been the first time that people have simply viewed me as being American. I noticed my discomfort with this early on in my journey abroad, and I began to unpack where this discomfort was rooted in and my perspective on identity and how I value it.

People in South Africa view me as American, which is technically true, but I have never fully claimed to be American or accept this as part of my personal identity prior to studying abroad due to the historical treatment of black citizens living in America as second-class citizens and knowing that I am of African Descent and the African identity of black people living in America was stripped from them through the horror that is slavery. Specifically, enslaved Africans were stripped of their names and language and experienced the utmost abuse mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, which has affected the behavioral and psychological experiences of African-Americans today. This reality of mine regarding identity would be referred to as double consciousness by W.E.B. Du Bois. Double consciousness describes the individual sensation of feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult or impossible to have one unified identity. Most importantly, this term was coined by W.E.B. Du Bois with reference to African American “double consciousness” and the internal conflict experienced by marginalized groups in an oppressive society. Du Bois fully explores this concept in his publication, “Souls of Black Folk,” written in 1903.

It has always been difficult to fully accept and incorporate being simply “American” as part of my personal identity. It is hard to be proud of a country from my perspective as a black citizen living in America that has historically oppressed black people. For example, black citizens were once denied the right to vote, were once referred to as being three-fifths of a human being, and many other dehumanizing agendas rooted in white supremacy and colonization. Fast forward to a “post-racial society,” and black citizens face the horror of police brutality and systematic oppression which affects education, healthcare, and many other aspects of the black experience in America. Therefore, my internalization of being “American” in an international context has been quite challenging. My identity as an African-American and black man is extremely important to me for many reasons. First, I am beyond ecstatic to be a black man and I am very comfortable in my skin and how God has created me. When I view myself in the mirror, I see a powerful person. I see a powerful man. I see God’s creation. Most importantly, I see me, who I hold extremely high expectations for because I know the power and gifts I possess within my highest self. Secondly, I am proud of my history and the many contributions that African-Americans have made both in America and internationally. Additionally, I value this highly as part of my personal identity because it is important for African-Americans to truly know their history and black history before slavery to resist the myth of black inferiority which has been pushed through media and propaganda, unfortunately. Therefore, I am passionate about education reform and the quality of education for black citizens in America because the American education system is filled with the indoctrination of false myths which has a negative impact on the black experience within education and beyond. Other parts of my personal identity include my name which means prince or ruler, being a first-generation college student, being a scholar, a strong believer in God, and many other things. I want people to understand how our personal identity is composed of many things, and how we choose to identify ourselves affects how we navigate life, and your study abroad experience! It is my personal identity that has caused me discomfort in being viewed as simply “American” in an international context given the reasons and experiences listed above. Lastly, I would like to encourage you all to reflect on your personal identity and position in the world, and how it affects the way you navigate life. This is such a universal concept applicable to all human beings in every aspect of life imaginable. You might discover some hidden subconscious meanings and behaviors applicable to your life as you drown yourself in self-reflection which is a life-long journey!

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