I recently watched Trevor Noah’s piece about a letter he got from the French Ambassador concerning his comments on the make up of the French national side. Now I must confess I am a huge fan of Trevor, I love how incisive and direct he is in addressing matters of cross cultural logics. I admire the way he uses wit, satire and a background filled with a wealth experience to cut through the bullshit. His autobiography ‘Born A Crime’ is an impactive read.
So to me one main points of his deliveries is to makes appreciate that we all show our ignorance in different ways.
The basic outline of the piece was that the Ambassador took offence to Trevor mentioning the heritage of some of the players in the World Cup winners the French national football team ( congrats by the way, great win) saying that they were French and that what is important. Trevor’s response was brilliant and got me thinking.
Why can’t I celebrate the fact that I am the product of multiple cultures, that my make up is as individual as my fingerprint. And why should someone presume to think they can define me by their limited understanding of who they think I should am or how they think I should think because of their interpretation of one aspect of my make up.
That’s the sadness for me, some believe there is only one way to see the world, their way!! We all have two eyes that doesn’t mean we see the same things. Our collective and individual nationalities, histories and identities are interlinked and divided in a multiple of complexities.
Colour, gender, sexual orientation, age, education and the many other traits/characteristics of our human experience are all parts of our individual identities. Some give us a shared experience and some are more personal all are equally valid. For example I personally have a shared experience with the LGBT issues and others with Black issues but then as a Black Gay former cop who was abused as a child my experience becomes more individual and personal.
For someone to come along and feel they can define anyone of by just one of those aspects alone is to deny that person their dignity, their history and more importantly their right to their own identity and individuality. One trait does not a person make.
That way of thinking is not about inclusion, that’s domination or to be more succinct ethnocentric, or colonialist.
As Audre Lorde says “It’s not our differences that divide us. It’s our inability to recognise, value and celebrate them.” Just because I value my Nigerian and my Jamaican heritage and spent half my childhood going to Church and the other half going to the Mosque and then spent my 20’s studying Buddhism, Taoism and very basic Quantum physics does not mean I can’t also value being a British citizen or that I have an increased potential to break or disrespect the law. It makes benefits society by giving it a richer and more vibrant level of awareness which if nurtured creates something stronger and more dynamic.
Amongst the many things that divides humanity is denying another’s identity because it doesn’t fit in with a certain view of the world. That is the baseline of devaluing attitudes. Thats my interpretation of Trevor’s monologue, highlighting the hypocrisy of ethnocentric thinking..
The colonies may be gone but the thinking that created them is still echoing down through history and that’s what we need to recognise, not just the good of colonisation but also the unpalatable. The pain doesn’t go away just because the person hitting you says they’ve stopped especially if they were hitting you for centuries and the power to hit is still there but instead of the gun its now economic.
Around the world today are conflicts that have their roots in that kind of thinking. There are cultures who were robbed of their identity and heritage who are lost and are still struggling to fine themselves.
We should consider the fact that identity is as well as being global, continental and national is also very personal and very fluid. For example if I am with a group of Nigerians my tribe may be my identity, if I’m with people from that tribe then my state may become more important, if I with people from that State then its my town/village, then down to my neighbourhood, my street, then my house, then down to my place in the family and each aspect of that chain has equal value.
The same could be applied to my Jamaican heritage and in to give it another context I work in Europe where its not my colour, gender or age for example but I see myself being more British as the dominant aspect especially since Brexit and the debates it sparks. Its all about context defining the aspect.
Allow people to define themselves and you’ll be surprised at how much you learn not only about them but also about yourself and your view of the world. Remember one trait does not a person make, we all wear different shoes.