I am an Indian American, a Democrat, a woman, a Hindu. These categorizations seem much too broad. So I attach adjectives to the nouns. I am a first-generation Indian American, a moderate Democrat, a liberal Hindu, a married woman. And still I find myself short. So I further narrow my scope and add my persuasions: women’s rights, gay rights, climate change … Do these details really identify who I am?
Identity has become increasingly sub-contextual. It’s less and less about the classifications of nation, religion, sex or ideology and more about our sub-national, sub-religious and sub-ideological similarities and differences.
This finds expression in the way we allege our loyalties across the globe from Scotland to Spain and Iraq to America.
In the Middle East, Sunni and Shia sentiments weigh more deeply than mere Muslim ones; India’s national resurgence is paying heed to its liberal and conservative Hindu profile; the Scottish referendum, even though defeated, exposes differences with the parent kingdom; linguistic and other sub-cultural individuations are driving Catalans to seek secession from Spain and, here in America, recent events in Ferguson, Missouri show that the color-coded race category is still an important reference point.
As we individualize our group memberships, are we, in fact, disapproving of those excluded?
In an editorial on pluralism, Thomas Friedman asked the question, “can one be a good Spaniard, Catalan and European, all at once?” The question can be rephrased to ask, “can one be a good American, brown-skinned and Hindu all at once?”
I believe that the answer is yes if we understand that these classifications do not come close to defining who we are as moral human beings. Nor do they identify our potential for participating in society.
Our identities are mere social markers. It’s far too easy to allow these categories to limit our capabilities, so we must manage the expectations of our groups.
So who am I?
I’m a woman with an Indian past and an American future. I vote Democrat, but have Republican friends. I seek Hinduism in order to understand my place in life. And I write to make sense of who I am.