By Alieu Manjang
In our interactions with others, seldom do we trouble ourselves to ask the extent to which our actions are in conformity with ideal social values and norms that are integral to identities of groups we claim to belong. Despite this, our engagements with others are packed with locutions and expressions through which we consciously or unconsciously communicate to people our ethnic identities.
Yet tailoring this identity claims to actions in order to reflect the basics of what is known to be a Mandika, for instance, remains a huge challenge for many. This begets the question of who do we see in our actions relative to our identity claims?
This juxtaposition between identity claims and performance attracts discussion among contemporary sociologists as hypothesis that people’s actions are defined by the way they identify themselves is being challenged by the observed world. Observantly, our verbal emphasis on our identities is rarely linked to our actions. In other words, there exist a divergence between our claims of who we are and our actions, which is supposed to be a natural expression of that claims.
In contrast to the widely-held belief, this identity claims e.g. I am this relative to others, are inherently our social realities, and they are intrinsically deemed socially unhealthy except that it is stained by prejudice, intolerance and sense of supremacy vis-a-via other social groups. Likewise, it is not reckoned to be antithetical to the co-existence of different social groups under one parasol which tailors them together by virtue of geography, shared history and destiny; hence the concept of modern nation state is nothing but a collection of heterogeneous groups with shared destiny.
This reality has qualified the task of constructing a coherent national identity, which recognizes the multiplicity nature of the social fabric of a state, a noble commission for any responsible democratic country. The same rationale stands behind promoting diversity and multiculturalism that has been inserted into public polices of any democratic state.
Despite this explicit recognition of multiplicity of social groups with their distinctive heritages, cultures and traditions, there exist a cleavage between our identity claims and performance. Generally, globalization, the impacts of which are being reinforced by education, migration and exposure to media, is recognised as the driver for the prevalence of this social phenomenon. The continued exposure to alien cultures and ideas through education, media and migration have unarguably distanced many people from their roots and cultures, as the acquired knowledge from these alien cultures becomes the standard to judge the validity of one’s own culture.
These have collectively stripped many from their principles and values as whatever symbolizes one’s culture become traditional and undesired, while alien cultures become modern and irresistibly desired. Sub-servant to these factors is the state endorsement of norms and values distinctive to a groups to the extent that it become parallel to national identity and standard. This does not only attach positive meanings to such norms and values, but it also propel others to embrace it wholeheartedly as theirs. Thus, their actions become a reflection of what represents others’ core belief, principles and lifestyle, while theirs remain diluted and despised in public domain.
In the view of the above, and as the issue of identity is being forcefully presented in our social and political discourses, the question of who do you see when you act should be equally reviewed. Is the language you use for communicating with your people a demonstration of who you are? Is your way of life a reflection of who you are?
Does one’s mode of dress for festivities define who they are? Does the music one listens to defines who he or she is? Is the way your approach objects, events and issues a mirroring of your identity as Fulla or Mandinka? We cannot continue to claim to be what we don’t perform. Identity transcends emphasizing your identity in utterance i.e. I AM THIS AND THIS; rather it is a communication of who you are through performance.
These discrepancies and ironies in our life can be addressed if we become conscious in our actions. More importantly, developing a critical approach to what we read in books; learn in schools; watch on Media and experience in our daily life will enable us to circumvent wholehearted emulation of others, be they countries, or other social groups in our vicinity. What is taught to us as global or seen on Media as universal or experienced as normal and modern must be products of other’s cultures and replications of their core belief, principles and values.
Therefore, while we can continue to learn from others, we should equally have systematic awareness of the fact that we take into account our multiple differences and that these differences can only be understood in relations to various difference between us. Likewise, the notion that living in the West gives you freedom of will, this freedom should not be restricted to freedom to emulate other values and cultures.
Doing so, means you are denying yourselves the freedom and responsibility of advancing and reviving you culture. Additionally, our intellectuals should start to make inquiries into the ontological and epistemological status of the concepts of freedom, globalization and other modern terms that continue to strip people from their identity. Failure to do so, we will continue to be carried by a strayed boat amid the influx and wholehearted internalization of concepts like democracy.