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Identity matters

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I have a special name for myself which I use on the Internet. It is something like “pqmsdtgz” and it is a personal “password” that I alone use. Although there are more than a billion passwords on the Internet, “pqmstdtgz” is the special electronic name for Oscar Allen. It is my identification, my identity, the virtual me. Recently, however, the Internet agency that I use instructed me to change my password and ID. They figured that some other “person” had discovered my ID and were using it, to pretend that they were me. They stole my identity, kidnapped it and could use it for their own purposes. This kind of identity theft is a recent epidemic and it shows us forcefully that our identity is an important asset that we must affirm and protect.{{more}}

On another plane, many Caribbean writers explore for us another kind of identity displacement.

IDENTITY IN POETRY

Jamaica born Michelle Cliff easily passes for white in the United States of America. Aged 22, in conversation with her mother, she hears: “You’re lucky you look the way you do; you could get any (white) man”. And again she writes: “If they find out about you (having a black great grandfather) it’s all over.” She remembers too in her childhood (black) “women in Jamaica asking to touch my hair.” If she hides and despises one part of her identity – the African part, doors will open wide for her; she could reach for the heights. But Michelle Cliff chose to stoop. The title of her 1980 book of writings is “Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise.” When she came out of the white closet, she became liberated and blessed. A victim of identity theft, Michelle Cliff changed her white password, a victim no more. Two other persons, the late Nicholas Guillen of Cuba, and Derek Walcott of St Lucia give us clues into the invitation to dress themselves in and worship white European wholeness. When Guillen entitled a poem “Ballad of my two grandfathers,” he is claiming both his African and his European identities. In a similar (or same) poem “My Last Name,” he asks these questions: “Does all my skin come from that Spanish Marble? ….are all my bones from there? and these flowers blooming on my forehead …..Are you certain?”

Guillen continues his challenges with:

“Have I not, then a grandfather who’s Mandingo, Dahoman, Congolese?

What is his name? Oh yes, give me his name!” Nicolas Guillen then, is claiming, demanding the name, the African identity they decide to hide from him” thinking I would lower my eyes in shame.” Not too much unlike Guillen, Derek Walcott sees and feels the identity tension coursing through his body and his social placement. Walcott knew himself to be “part white and Methodist” in a community whose population was largely black and Catholic. In his early work, Walcott is “…divided to the vein.” Later he comes to the conclusion that “…maturity is the assimilation of the features of every ancestor.” In this way he carves his way out of the identity prison he inherited. The writings of Cliff, Guillen and Walcott- mulatto Caribbean artists, tell us that we have an identity dilemma, a historical identity theft or displacement. The black post colonial psychiatrist and internationalist, Frantz Fanon, from Martinique (1922-1961), puts it this way: “Black skin, White Masks” is the identity devil we have to defeat.

THE IDENTITY DEVIL

In the case of Jesus Christ, he has his upstairs identity confirmed when he joined the repentance movement. It was when John baptized him that the Spirit rested on him and the voice declared “you are special to me son. My heart is blessed by you.” (Luke 3. 21-22) When we combine the massive repentance movement that John was leading and the glorious vision statement about the new member, Jesus, we know things are going to happen. Jesus must take it from there and seek guidance as to how to carry out the Fathers’ Business/ Mission. That is where the identity devil will make a move. Listen to the challenge: Mr Son of God, what is the strategy, the plan, the policy to transform and turn this repentance movement into your own kingdom force, your liberation. Salvation Army you see? “To be tempted by the devil” is to face the poetry of identity theft. The tempter put his point very convincingly, thus: Mr Son of God, all these people whom John is baptizing, they are looking for deliverance. Many of them are poor, and those who are not poor, they will still grab at whatever more stuff you can pass put to them. “Bread is the Answer.” Your mission cannot fail if you flood the people with the supplies that they need. Please, turn stones into bread. After all you are the Son of God. Jesus Christ in the wilderness considered the point before he turned it down. He knew that if he accepted and followed that policy, he would lose his identity. He would no longer be Son of God, instead he would become son of mammon, a free supermarket – and never build up and renew the spirit of the people. “Bread Alone is not enough,” he concluded. “Teaching from God is what matters.” He stressed that point more fully to his disciples in Luke 12. 22-34 and elsewhere.

Identity matters. Become confirmed and firm about who you are, like Jesus, like Guillen, like Cliff, like Fanon. It is your strong defence and strategic base for learning, living and sharing.

Computer hackers may steal my digital identity, but you see my historical and spiritual identity, I have help in protecting and defending it from the identity devil. Jesus of Nazareth and other liberators are part of the team that secure my identity and expand it. I recommend them.

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