29/03/2015 18:30 BST | Updated 29/05/2015 06:59 BST

Who Am I Anyway?


'Stolen Identity', Luco Rossata

I have never had a tick box that adequately satisfied who I am. Not at the sex clinic and not when being taken into custody, and those lists were pretty damn comprehensive!

Decolonising the meaning of diaspora means realising that the vastness of who we are remains tied to our motherlands, it means reclaiming identity from those who seek to confine it, to feel more grounded by recollecting how deep our roots really go.

When we were 16, my half Irish, half Filipino friend and I, decided we were mongrels; neither here nor there, not at home in our home town, and not at home in our homeland. We embodied an attitude hip-hop scholar SCZ described, as 'not giving a f*ck and giving too many f*cks at the same time'.

Last year I travelled for several months from Turkey to India by train, truck and bus. Conversation to conversation the consensus fast became that I couldn't possibly be British, and that if I associated as such I must either be in denial, ashamed, trying to mock or a liar. The common denominator across most of the world for British identification, is whiteness and white skin; if you do not possess it you cannot be British, and it's a fair enough assumption - plenty of white Brits make the same cliquey associations.


'Identity' fotologic

Personally I have found that I couldn't even place myself in cultural groups around me. When my hair was short, afro-diasporic people gave me the nod of solidarity, when my hair was long south-Asian diasporic peoples spoke to me in their diversity of languages, yet I remained neither here nor there.

I was born in London, but decades later I still get threateningly told to return to 'my country', I want to ask them where on Earth that is? Perhaps I'd go there if I knew it. Some white friends tell me to make Britain mine, to reclaim its history for my identity, but when 'immigrant' becomes tantamount to 'invader', and the side stares are abound, that exercise in reclamation gets superficial, fast.

Young people of colour who dare to be anything other than a token friend, or who aspire to be something other than conforming to modes of whiteness, become fast trapped in an identity crisis. When my Filipino/Irish friend and I return to our respective motherlands, we are of course foreigners. Belonging is important; when we're disallowed belonging we begin to numb an essential function of human as animal, community.

What does it feel like to be a permanent foreigner? Lost. This is a trapping question I pondered for many months last year when back in my mother's land. Binaries plague our conceptualization of identity. So, what does it mean to decolonize identity? The answer to this question is the cure to the feeling of the first question.


'Identities' Krisis Magazine

To dis-cover our indigenous identity, to recognise that far from the trappings of modalities and binaries, we are perfect in being either, or neither, here or there; that in non-conformity we can liberate identity from its rabid individualisation. The obsession with atomised identification is a very European phenomena. To decolonize is to indigenize our views, and it is in this space that we as diaspora can bridge two worlds of rearing, that I can answer the question, 'Who Am I Anyway?'.

As diaspora we are the bridges of memory and avenues of communication. Reclaiming identity goes hand in hand with liberating it from its confines of being, it doesn't mean to simply re-identify, it means also to re-imagine. The largest surface area of a tree are its roots, they are invisible, but they ground and sustain it. As diaspora our roots aren't taught to us, they are made intentionally invisible, but when we unearth them, our identity becomes whole, and our resilience firm.

"I am, because we are" is how the African Ubuntu proverb summarises identity, and the Asian philosophies of dependant co-arising explain identity in much the same way. My ancestral traditions, much like traditions over the world, sees identities as individual but also, paradoxically, inextricably connected. Identity is less about making rigid parameters around ourselves, and more about identifying your roots, visible and invisible, and learning how your roots are indispensably linked to the roots of all life around you.

It is a political tool of colonisation to erase roots, but that violence can never actually erase the resilience of our roots. It is a necessary process of decolonisation to explore our identity as black and brown diaspora; be it via the BlackLivesMatter movement, the diverse and powerful cultural production as disapora, or the development of black history archives, we are reclaiming identity and radicalising our presense in these lands.