On communal identity

Oct. 4, 2018, 1:00 a.m.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a drive to figure out who I am, who I want to be, and how to bridge those two things. I’ve written lots of essays, filled seven journals, and talked for hours about this topic. My pursuit of identity has always been rather self-centered. Who am I, intrinsically? What do I want with my life? How am I going to achieve this? How has my past informed who I am, or has my past changed who I am?

I think all of those questions fundamentally missed the point.

I’ve always approached self identity as if I existed in a vacuum. I don’t. No one does, really. But I always felt like I did. My identity was separate from the people around me and my community. My pursuit of identity has always been both self-centered and selfish. However, in the past year, and most dramatically, in the past couple month, this has radically changed. I have people who are intrinsically part of my life, who are intrinsically part of me, and I am intrinsically part of them. I, as a fully fledged and developed human being, no longer really exist (at least not in a healthy way) outside of my community.

I exist within my Capitalist Post-Modern Hippy Commune. It’s currently headquartered within an apartment filled with china and teapots, books and cats, an excessive number of mugs and rolling pins, and cheesily, lots of love. It’s very queer, very community oriented, very giving, and most importantly, filled with lots of food and lots of people. I have roots in a way I’ve never chosen to have before. It is an intentionally crafted community and I am proud and honored to be part of it.

I am not saying that finding or building a community like this is easy, nor do I think that a self-centered and selfish pursuit of identity is wrong. I don’t think I would have this community centered notion of identity without first figuring out personal identity. Had I not dealt with my internal world first, I wouldn’t have the capacity nor the skills to be part of a community like this. I wouldn’t have the self awareness required to both know my strengths and weakness and meaningfully communicate them. Without self-centered self analysis, I wouldn’t know that I’m excellent at planning but need support with execution. For example, I’m good at making sure there are always groceries in the house, but bad at making sure that dinner actually ends up being served, so I go do random grocery shopping and errand running, and my roommate does most of the actual meal making.

The idea of the self as part of a community is of course not new. Western culture, broadly speaking, tends towards individualism.. But the culture I grew up in is very communal. I had a lot of resistance and a little bit of resentment towards that growing up. It’s why I say I don’t think I would have gotten to this conception of community without the intervening years of individualism and navel gazing.  My current answer to “Who am I, intrinsically” is an emphatic, “Who cares?”

I am who I am, and that person is part of a larger whole currently far more concerned with making sure the dishes get done and all loved ones are supported than with chasing a non-existent and static ideal of self.


Contact Dabiyyah Agbere at bagbere ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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