Identity

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Identity is a very interesting concept, the idea that human beings have certain traits which they share with one another and by virtue of said similarities in their way of life, share a common identity or affinity with one another. Given the fact that human beings are inherently social beings, that is, they thrive and prosper in collectives rather as silos, having traits, characteristics or practices that are similar is beneficial for a group since it means the probability of conflict is heavily reduced, social relations tends to be better since most individuals share the same general views and practices. Identity from a logical perspective is what makes something what it is, i.e, what are the characteristics inherent in it that make it so. For example the identity of the PC I am writing on entails its black colour, its smooth surface and the fact that is manufactured by Dell, the identity of my hair would be its black color and curliness, and so on and so forth. We are more concerned with identity from a social perspective but being aware of its grounding in logic (philosophy) is important to highlight the failed attempts of human beings of creating identities and grounding them on fallacious concepts such as race.

Saying one’s identity is white or black ( a black man or a white man, the law of contradiction and identity is already being violated here but I am digressing) is inherently stating that what makes one themselves is their blackness or lack thereof, since identity is that thing which makes a thing itself. Modern scientific progression has shown us that what makes human beings inherently human is not the color of their skin since all human beings across pigments share other biological characteristics, what makes man, man is rationality, acting with purpose and having foresight as well as reason, this is the identity of man, this is what differentiates him from the beasts of the land.

 Now identity socially as I touched on although not operating along the same lines as it does in philosophy, the implications are still there. Human beings have social identities, that is what makes a particular group of individuals what it is, differentiating it from other groups of individuals. One group may believe A to be true and by virtue of their shared belief in A, ground their identity in said belief, in more cases than not, group identity is a manifestation of individual identity. So a social identity is an exercise in self determination more than anything else, objectively there is a singular human identity, grounded in rationality and the obvious biological similarities among human beings. Social identity, since it involves human action in that individuals make value determinations on what they choose to define themselves as individuals and if shared by others, spreads to what makes them themselves as a group. This is a subjective phenomenon which cannot be proved objectively since one group cannot prove that their actions, practices or beliefs are inherently what makes them who they are, i.e human beings.

A social identity cannot be imposed upon individuals or groups of individuals, this is contrary to what identity is socially and how it develops. Every group of human beings which happens to develop any semblance of civilization will obviously have an ‘identity’ and said identity would be what de alienates them from other groups of individuals which is why cultural practices, traditions and philosophical/spiritual outlooks are what has defined human identity historically, well until the colonization of Africa specifically where the pigment of individuals started being used as the foundation of identity for said peoples, all without even asking how said people identified themselves, a sad historical fact but an understandable one, man is cruel. I am not disputing that identity can be grounded on the simple fact of looking like the next person, that can happen, what I am positing is that identity grounded in such is very shallow if anything else, since the only thing that would make said group what it is, at least the most important thing, the foundation, would be pigmentation, what hue of color the next person is. Such an identity would defeat all the purposes of forming a social identity since even though 2 individuals of the same pigment would be deemed to be part of one group, one could hold views and cultural practices inherently different from the other, increasing the likelihood of conflict and social unrest and decreasing the prospect of prosperity.

Racial identity has to be one of the most shallow conceptions of identity to date by human beings. Individual A and B are of the same identity by virtue of the color of their skin, disregard the fact that individual A and B do not consider themselves as sharing an identity nor do they want to for if they did they would have done so, but in fact only consider the color of skin and conclude that by that fact alone, they have a common identity, this is intellectually lazy to say the least. People who in the modern day identify and refer to themselves as black did not actively choose this label, it was foisted upon them dating back to the age of the ancient Greeks who referred to people from the African continent in modern day Ethiopia as Ethiopians, stemming from a Greek word roughly meaning ‘burnt faces’, this the Greeks used for purposes of identification a group of individuals different from them in appearance, maybe the meant that said individuals are defined by their burnt faces but that would be false as said individuals have an identity they have cultivated of their own volition, not defined by their burnt faces since if that was the case, everyone with said burnt face would be part of their group.

Black people did not refer to themselves as such in pre-colonial Africa. One’s pigmentation was not an important factor in identity, this is evidenced by the multitudes of different cultures present among said black people who are supposed to share an identity. Race as an identity developed greatly when Europe was engaged in colonization, although human beings have been involved in conquest since time immemorial, colonization by Europe after the age of enlightenment involved a conscious effort of trying to justify said conquest, of presenting it as right and one of the tools employed was reducing the conquered into the level of subhuman. Colonizers and their governments by creating a group identity on pigmentation which posited that black people are inherently biologically inferior to white people as a group by virtue of their being black, essentially created a justification for the atrocities they were committing all over the world. Racial identity is therefore steeped in comparison, it is not an identity developed organically by the individuals who adopt it but rather one imposed on them by colonizers who conquered them and imposed said identity on them after establishing their institutions and replacing the previous ones. At first they tried using Science to justify their bigotry but that of course failed because no singular person is inferior or superior by virtue of their pigment so racial identities are the most steeped in comparison since their basic notion is thus, whites are superior by virtue of their pigment whilst blacks are inferior by virtue of their blackness. The concept of inferiority and superiority involves an exercise in comparison and contrasting, therefore if one’s identity is dependent on what another person is or isn’t, can it be said to be their identity in earnest?

Fanon has a line in one of his works which has stuck with me to this day, ‘The Negroe is comparison’ he would state and not even further expand on it. That line coupled with Fanon’s writing, most particularly in wretched of the Earth’s ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ presents a quite telling tale of the constant, somewhat dialectical predicament upon which the ‘Negroe’ finds himself. Fanon was influenced by Hegel in part. An identity created as a pathology to the so called ‘norm’ that is whiteness will constantly compare itself with said ‘norm’ for it is in its nature to do so. Black people, who have embraced blackness as an identity find themselves in a scenario where their self worth and sense of being is tied to how better or far worse than the white man they are. Blackness as an identity is reactionary as Marxists well versed in Historical Materialism will say, as an identity it is an ‘other’ and from that point, any embracing of this otherness ties blackness to whiteness in a dialectical relationship which has the prospects of manifesting itself till time immemorial.

Trying to get human beings to be rational is a mammoth task which might be impossible if we are to accept Hume’s assertion that we are just slaves to passion not creatures of reason at our base. My understanding of black identity is not the be all and end all, human beings by being the social species they are will still identify however they deem fit and as a libertarian I support that. If we are to have an honest conversation about what entails identity then I suggest we relook the use of ‘blackness’ as an identity whether in pigment or in shared struggle as Biko would posit. If we are to claim that racism is abhorrent for premising an entire identity and being of a person in their skin color and judging them on that then it would behoove us to interrogate how is it then that in response to racism we employ the same logic as the racist. It calls into question whether that is even a response or a further perpetuation and refining of racial thinking. If as a response to racism we are to use the same premises and logic as those we call evil, then the fight for justice has been lost and we are now engaging about the degrees of injustice we are willing to accept.

As someone who was influenced by the objectivist movement, I maintain that the individual is the only identity that should matter, at least to the state. Heck the individual is the only identity that can be objectively argued for as being wholly dependent on the self-determination and volition of said being. The state/ government should approach such a view of only looking at the individual and their character instead of their race. In South Africa, this dialectical relationship of racial identities is way more evident. Today it is easier to find and even sympathize with a white person who has legislative barriers in front of their prosperity all by virtue of their skin color, stories that were all to prevalent during the rule of NP. As has been explained, the ANC and South Africa’s political climate show the shallow nature of racial identity, the ANC who were claiming to be fighting against the evil NP regime, are using the same logic of that regime to ‘fix’ its problems, the irony is lost on them, they are proud actually of perpetuating the same racial discrimination by the state that the NP was in favor of.

Identity is a complex matter, far beyond the scope of this piece, although I have tried to outline the intricacies of what make up an identity in the social sense, it is still a highly complicated topic that many smarter people than myself have devoted careers to. The gist of the piece is to show exactly that; the complication of identity and why the state should never consider any identity either than the individual for that is the only objective identity that is relevant when dealing with the state for purposes of justice. 

Lady justice is oft depicted with a blindfold, meaning she is indiscriminate and could care less whether you are pink blue or green. I implore South Africans to put the blindfolds back on lady justice, that is our only hope if we are to realize the prosperity we all wish for ourselves without tearing each other apart due to the state and normalization of the absurd principle that is race.