Zeytinoglu: The divergence of modern identities


Ekin Zeytinoglu, Columnist

The Western world, educated and brought up with modernism, views the self to be conscious, rational, autonomous and universal; no physical conditions or differences substantially affect how this self operates. However this kind of individualism has failed to adapt to the 21st century, as people no longer need to be rational in defining themselves. Today people think and act differently in different contexts and cultures. As Amin Maalouf, the author of “In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong,” says, our identities and allegiances change constantly. They know that there are different rules of conduct in different environments and behave accordingly. By these means a postmodern, or contemporary, individual is no longer exclusively rational. We do not have one core identity, but rather various allegiances that change and evolve gradually.

I, for example, define myself as both a liberal and a social Democrat; depending on the essence of a bill or an opinion, my basis of approach changes. Maalouf, as a French writer of Lebanese origin, describes himself both as an Arab and a Frenchman, and admits that he has different allegiances in different contexts. The fact that today we have many identities means that our allegiances will diverge. Thus, lately the matters of identity politics, inclusion and diversity are becoming more and more prominent in every conversation. This inclination naturally shows its signs on our campus as well, but did we really manage to become as diverse as we want to be or as we should be?

Looking at the class of 2017, just under 50 percent of the student body is, by race, non-majority students. On top of that, minorities are not formed only by ethnicities but can be arranged by any kind of allegiances. Because we have so many identities, it’s likely that even those in the majority have subidentities in a minority. Thus, we actually live on a campus with an extremely diverse student body, which is more than capable of expressing itself.

However when I look at this campus, I simply cannot see the theoretical diversity we supposedly have. We surely come from very different backgrounds and acquire extremely unique perspectives, but still somehow avoid telling our particular narratives. This partly is because of the microaggressions and long-lasting stereotypes we still cannot get rid of, but mainly this is because of our reluctance to talk about issues that are taboo. However those issues are part of our identities, and without being able to talk about them, we can never move forward as a community. And therefore we must be able to break those taboos one by one.

However, as we express our opinions about these controversial issues and open up taboos for debate, we must recognize that there will be other opinions with which we do not agree. Earlier this month, Wayne Lela, found of Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment, visited campus.A vast majority of us probability regard his opinions as outdated and misguided on many grounds. However calling him an “ignorant homophobe” doesn’t lead us anywhere either.

We have to accept that although we have the right, and I believe obligation, to voice our opinions, so does anyone else, whether we strongly disagree with them or not. Not allowing others this right, not hearing others out but rather attacking their identities will only lead others to hold on to their potentially misguided beliefs even stronger. After all, people tend to hold onto their identities when they are offended by others. Such an approach will not lead to a more diverse society with diminishing numbers of stereotypes, but will only increase the number of “identities that kill,” a phrase from Maalouf’s terminology.

Today, as postmodern people we must be able to express ourselves, including our long-hidden allegiances, and appreciate others as we grow with and learn from them. Thus, we can evolve and change gradually and perhaps by then the taboos, the long-lasting stereotypes and the microaggressions of today can be undone.

Ekin Zeytinoglu is a McCormick freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].