Sunday 9 July 2023

The identity complex of community collateral

At cultural crossroads

Much as I try to convince myself that I fully integrated with the norms and mores of the major cultural influences in my upbringing, I am ever so rudely brought to the realisation that I am very much distant and sometimes barely belong and understand certain situations.

What is becoming quite evident is the Western influences are both dominant and defining, the Nigerian and Yoruba influences whilst giving me the benefit of experience and appreciation, my worldview only inculcates snippets rather than full concepts.

Decades ago, when my father said, “You have always thought like a Westerner.” Whilst not taking offence, I felt my quest to adapt and integrate with the culture and norms of my parents’ roots was being discounted. My years of being toughened in secondary boarding school in southwestern Nigeria were more a reinforcement of my difference than sameness.

Accented differences accentuated

Some afterwards, my brother would say, in jest and yet with more than a scintilla of truth that, “You are not one of us.” I guess even where I have challenged that presumption, I might well be in denial. My mongrel accent of various influences leaves me speaking in Nigeria as if I have an English accent and, in the UK, I have West Midlands and Estuary pretensions and pronunciation with enunciation deliberate but not received. I don’t desire a posh accent.

It is my accent that immediately set me apart in the 19 years I lived in Nigeria, and from the time we landed in Nigeria, there were people who saw me as a foreigner of sorts to the day I left. There may be instances where I try to so hard and relent when I understand that I am indeed different and I should embrace that fact.

An individual at divides

Today, I was given another perspective to contextualise my reaction to a conversation where I thought the discussion had deviated from the issue to the collateral. To a person steeped in Western individuality, the issue revolves around the individual and that is where the focus should be. At least, that is where I would naturally gravitate.

My sister however suggested another perspective, in the communitarian construct of African identity, the individual exists in a community and the issue affecting the individual has impactful collateral that the community is burdened with for which the community sees incumbent to ingratiate, intrude, and intervene to address and ameliorate for themselves, the individual and the instigating issue.

The enlightenment is I probably have been too individualistic in the things that pertain to me, my engagement in the broader community has been on my own terms alone with little consideration of who is in that community or how what happens to me affects that community. To that community, I can be radical, a maverick and a possible outcast. Unfortunately, for the said community, just by my Western outlook I have sworn no allegiance even if it is implicitly demanded of me.

A renewed acceptance

It is unlikely that my perspective will change, but I need to give the periphery some thought. Already, I find myself reviewing some of my viewpoints before publication because of these allegiances, weak as they might seem. In the quest for a better understanding of my sense of identity, rather than battle with the differences and drown in the confluence of the conflicting influences, I will just accept I am an Englishman in the main, with an inept understanding of traditions and culture of my forebears.

I am a study of the Third Culture Kid that will be found in disagreement with an ancestral community and in agreement with that in which I was born, for the good and for life. There are many like me who still face these issues, I am just surprised that at close to 60, the question of identity is still a work in progress.

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