“It doesn’t matter who you think you are. The anti-Semites will tell you that you are Jewish.” Those were the words of Anton Harber as he ended a discussion about identity and how people define themselves.
A hard statement to accept but too true to deny. I define myself by my religion, my nationality and my gender. Others define themselves by their occupations, their financial status and their education. Some people define themselves by their hobbies, their achievements or the things of which they are proud. Most people define themselves by their cultures and their families. As uncomfortable as it might be to acknowledge, some people still define themselves by their race. No matter how you define yourself, people will always see you differently and define you in the way they see fit.
This phenomenon of prejudiced labelling is commonly known as stereotyping. No one is immune to it. You cannot “take heed” or “lock up your daughters and your wives”. You will be victimised, criticised and possibly chastised for believing that you are exceptional. “Stereotyping” is coming. It is no respecter of persons. It is shameless, “she will find you out” for the fraud you are. The person you have built up in your mind does not exist in reality. You have to share your world with others. Your perceptions of yourself are laughable. They have no value in a world occupied by other people.
It is funny how you do not think there is anything wrong with you until someone else points it out.
Cynical? Perhaps. I have had my fair share of stereotypical judgments to know that giving people too much credit is foolish. I do not blame them, I do the same. It is an automatic reaction. Every time you meet someone new, you sum them up before they utter a “hello”. Gay, white male. Arabic terrorist. Black born-free. Drunk, coloured gangster. Socially-awkward nerd. Zimbabwean refugee. Genius Asian. Drug-dependent art freak. Academically-inept athlete. Poor musician. Ditzy, pretty, blonde lady.
In my experience, I have been labelled a number of things. Being called “Coolie” was probably the most unsettling. My identity poses quite a conundrum to people. By my name you would think that I am Muslim. In fact I found myself in very awkward, “Sorry, I’m not Muslim” situations. I look Indian too, so I also have had to deal with “Sorry, I’m not Indian” situations. In my mind I was Christian. At home my culture was Christian. It is unfortunate that people could never understand that.
I could not do anything about people’s initial perceptions of me. It had to take time for them to truly know me to define me accurately. I wish I could go back and tell the seven year old Lameez that people will have different ideas about the person she is. It would have prepared me better for the days people asked questions like, “What are you?”
It is funny how you do not think there is anything wrong with you until someone else points it out. It is funny how a case of mistaken identity can escalate into an identity crisis you did not have before. It is funny how even though you believe that you are someone; people will tell you that you are someone else.