Now you are probably wondering what that title is all about – don’t worry, I’ll explain.
I was born in Barbados. That makes me, by deduction, Barbadian, right? (I know this does not help you figure out how I got to “I’s A Bajan” from there, but stay with me, will you?). Okay, as a linguistics student I have this lovely hypothesis about how the word “Bajan” became a thing.
It started out as Bar-bay-dee-an, then we started talking faster and some of the sounds got mushed together into “Bar-bay-dyun” and then the “bar” got lost because we talk so fast and voila… “bay-dyun” to “bay-jun”.
I have no idea if that’s right or wrong, because that’s not really one of the words whose history I’ve actually looked at, but that statement is my way – and my people’s for that matter – of saying who we are.
Which brings me to the topic of today’s discussion. Identity.
The Existential Question: Who Am I?
Haven’t we been trying to answer this question forever? Every member of humankind has been on the quest to discover their personal identity in some shape, form or fashion. For most of us, there’s how we view ourselves, and the world views us (or at least how we think they do).
I’m going to take you back a little bit to my communication theory class. Remember when we looked at the concept of self in the Mead’s symbolic interactionism? (for a refresher, click here). He divided the self in two – the subjective and the objective self – kinda how we did just now.
The general idea is that there are both individual and social factors which shape a person’s identity. My take is a little bit more complex than that.
Humour me if you please.
The first time I took a communication studies course in university, the lecturer said something that has stayed with me up till now. To be honest I doubt I will ever forget it, partly because it is something that I’m reminded of every day. She said:
Meanings are in people, not in words.
At first I was like…”What?” But then I realised it that all it meant is that it is we, humans, who create and allocate meaning to stuff. To anything really. It gets really deep if we look at it in the sense of “what makes a chair a chair?” but my point is this. Objects and words are not the only things like that! (Yes, I’m excited because it’s all coming together).
Identity is the same way. We use all the social constructs – age, race, gender, sexuality, even nationality – to construct our identity based on the meanings that have been assigned to those constructs. We know what it means to be heterosexually oriented – as a male you are attracted to females or vice versa.
Those social factors interact with individual ones to create our identity. So what we think of being identified as a certain thing affects whether we try to change it or not for example. I might choose to identify as a tomboy to distance myself from the social construct of “female” without straying too far from it.
Identities are fairly flexible too. A group can have an identity, just as an individual can. That’s what makes it possible for us to talk about the notion of Caribbean identity, after all. Identities can (and tend to) change over time, and across contexts. That means that nearly everything we come into contact with shapes who we are – new cultures, technology, globalisation, groups of people. Pretty neat, if you ask me.
So what do I take from this? How do I answer that age-old question: “who am I?”
It’s simple really. I’m whoever I mean to be!
I’s a Bajan
Cyndi, The Bajan Existentialist