By Akin Ojumu

Identity is like a fingerprint; it reveals the person. It’s the distinctive quality or trait that makes an individual unique. Peter Burke describes identity as that which “tells us who we are and announces to others who we are.” Our identity is the silent witness of all our deeds.

Outside of philosophy, personal identity usually refers to properties to which we feel a special sense of attachment or ownership. Someone’s personal identity in this sense consists of those properties she takes to “define him as a person” or “make him the person he is”, and which distinguish him from others.

Collective identity is that in which an individual’s identity is strongly associated with role-behavior or the collection of group memberships that define them. Race, tribe, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and profession are some of the affiliations and associations that collectively, and to varying degrees, define a person’s identity.

How an individual sees himself is primarily determined by the comparative degree to which the person is attached to the various groups to which they belong. Who a person is on the inside is, to a large extent, determined by the strength of the bond to the various associations and affiliations they are part of.

If the predominant attachment is to the tribe or ethnicity, the person’s identity is defined chiefly by tribe and ethnicity to the exclusion of the other associations and affiliations. Tribe becomes the person’s primordial identity, and ethnicity the impelling cause behind all their deeds. In this case, the other associations and affiliations are rendered irrelevant and immaterial. 

Take the case of a certain individual, let’s call him Mr Temedun. Although he claims to be a Christian, born-again and spirit-filled, his predominant affinity is to his tribe and ethnicity. Consequently, ethnicity and tribe take pre-eminence whenever Temedun is deciding which political party or candidate to support in an election. He always sides with political candidates from his tribe and ethnic stock. 

Even when the candidate from his tribe is a disreputable individual with a checkered history, he’ll support him regardless. It doesn’t matter that the candidate has a long rap sheet that includes drug trafficking, nepotism, profiteering, racketeering, corruption, political thuggery, violence, assassination of political opponents, rigging of elections, and godfatherism. Tribe trumps everything else.

So intricately woven into his identity is tribe, that this becomes detrimental to his supposed born-again Christian identity. This is the reason Temedun finds the wielding of ethnicity/tribe as a political weapon to bludgeon political opponents justifiable and acceptable. 

It’s why he sees nothing wrong in using tribal and ethnic epithets. Peddling conspiracy theories to tarnish and smear political opponents is, to him, fair game. He cheerfully applauds those who incite violence and cause harm to political opponents.

Because his identity is totally defined by ethnic origin, the heat of political campaigns tends to bring out the worst of Temedun’s character flaws. It’s at those moments that the dormant volcano erupts letting out the lava of hate and releasing fumes of prejudice. His utterances become spiteful bellicosity and his social media posts are vituperations of ethnic bigotry.

Mr Temedun resolves these apparent conflicts between his ethnic/tribal and Christian identities by bending the principles and precepts of Christianity to make them fit within his ethnic/tribal identity box. For those Christian principles and precepts that are not pliable or malleable, Temedun simply throws them into the trash bin of political expediency.

All of this, of course, comes as a shock to those who have always known Mr Temedun as a rock-ribbed born-again Christian. Which makes some wonder whether Temedun is having an identity crisis i.e., an adult midlife crisis characterized by uncertainty about the self.

Unfortunately, Temedun’s problem is not an identity crisis at all. While he may pretend to be a Christian above everything else, Temedun’s real identity is principally tribal, and his true self is his ethnicity. The blood of earthly parentage, and not the Blood of Christ, is Temedun’s predominant identity.

Sources: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, American Psychological Association, Blue Letter Bible, Christianity.com, Got Questions, and Patheos.


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