Reading ‘One Man Guy’ by Mark Barakiva reminded me of this book by Gary Younge. I am a fan of his work from his journalism, especially on race and America but this book is about the complex issue of identity. Reading the novel about the Armenian- American teenager and his coming out reminded me that our sense of self can be constructed from a cocktail of identities.
UK society is diverse. It is this diversity that makes it such a fascinating country. There are those who feel under threat from living in a country with people who look different to them, behave differently and believe in different things. Yet this, itself, shows that many people have an anxious grip on their own sense of self. Gary Younge does not steer clear of complex issues, though, and his book explores the labels others give to us and the ones we take on ourselves.
‘Where are you from?’ is a legitimate question. I use it myself a lot, especially if I meet some who looks like a visitor. It did not occur to me that this question can feel loaded to many who consider themselves at home in the very location where the question has been asked.
“The more power an identity carries, the less likely its carrier is to be aware of it as an identity at all,” is an important point made by Younge. “Because their identity is never interrogated they are easily seduced by the idea that they do not have one.”
Gary Younge is well placed to make these observations. He grew up in Stevenage as the son of a mother from Barbados. He has lived the minority experience. He relates part of his own story as well as cases from around the world such as the girl born to white parents in South Africa who was designated ‘coloured’ by the authorities or the Jewish boy deemed not be Jewish at all by those who guard the boundaries of belonging. It is clear that identity is ascribed as well as claimed.
The second part of the title is, perhaps, the most intriguing. It matters as soon as power is involved. It matters if you turn on the news and hear how different groups are demonised.
I read this book some years ago. It is relevant still. It is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?