IDENTITY: Who Do We Think We Are?

We all pride ourselves on “knowing” who we think we are. Our identity is something we cherish and is an expression of who we choose to be; and if we believe that identity is threatened, very often we become a little defensive and sometimes aggressive. This expression of identity, with regard to Race, on many occasions, is expressed in our nationality, ethnicity, religion and sometimes by the shade of our skin. Our convictions about our identity have contributed to conflict, wars and Racism and in many circumstances, these adopted identities are artificially manufactured.

The more recent fad in exploring our DNA ancestry is another example of a closer examination about our identity and sometimes if that does not fit in with how we see ourselves we choose to dismiss that or selectively use elements of that as a fashion accessory to further confirm the identity that we are comfortable with. The reality is that we have a choice regarding the identity we choose.

Many of us born outside of the continent and of African descent, and that includes many from the Caribbean, are conflicted regarding our identity and the Transatlantic Slave Trade played a great part in that confusion. Having been captured from a variety of different countries by mainly European traders; and shipped to the Americas, The Caribbean and Europe from “countries” incorrectly named by our colonial oppressors, we were stripped of our language, culture, religion, and identity; and joined the great diaspora.

I have always identified myself as Black, notwithstanding that my family originated from Freetown Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Company established the settlement of Freetown and theColony of Sierra Leone in 1792 for the resettlement of the African Americans who arrived via Nova Scotia after they had been evacuated as “freedmen” from the United States afterthe American Revolutionary War. However, I recently made a discovery that changed my perception of my family background; and possibly my identity.

My cousin passed away recently in Sierra Leone and my other cousin who has lived in the UK for many years told me that she was intending to go to the funeral in Freetown Sierra Leone. She told me that she was going to visit the church where my parents were married in which was The Maroon Church in Maroon Town a district of Freetown. It appears that my forebears were part of the Maroon community that were transported from Jamaica to Nova Scotia after the maroon wars in the 1790s and thereafter transported to Sierra Leone. On arrival they gave up the African beliefs, that they held onto in Jamaica, and only when they returned to Africa converted to Christianity….what an Irony!  However, where my family originated from prior to our initial departure from the African continent will require further investigation. Nonetheless, there is some evidence to suggest that my forebears originated from The Gold Coast….modern day Ghana.

The history of Black peoples is littered with misnomers, geographical inventions based on colonial greed and the eradication of cultures. Many of us have been indoctrinated to assume that we have no history, no proper religion and languages that were defined as “tongues”. Our original religions have beenwiped from history and supplanted by other religions that were not originally ours; and that has contributed to a vacuum in our spiritual and historical consciousness.

I only recently discovered that Mary Seacole voted the greatest ever Black Briton who was half Scottish and half Jamaican and was seen as the Black Florence Nightingale,  never described herself as Black and preferred to be called a “Englishwoman” and was proud of her “Scotch” heritage. That was the identity she chose!

Several generations down the road and the confusion continues and our choices as to how we choose to identify ourselves has widened. The term “Black” has felt uncomfortable for those who prefer their national identity or their religious preference, and some are more comfortable with other aspects of their mixed heritage. Furthermore, the term “Black & Brown” is now a preferred euphemism which allows some to look in the mirror and decide which term suits them.  There are some who would argue that there is a spiritual tether that is far stronger than the identities we have chosen for ourselves and the colonial demonisation of “Blackness” still plays a crucial factor in how we see ourselves and there is so much more work to do before we truly discover who we are!

Don John