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Chuck Palahniuk once aptly quoted “Nothing of me is original. I am a combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known”, but to what extent is this true? Indeed, an individual’s uniqueness may comprise of the exposure to certain people, and expectations, but how much of this shapes our identity? As human beings, our species is engaged in a continuous quest to locate our true sense of self, however our individuality is greatly moulded by our surroundings, which may often hinder the ability to identify who are truly are.
Whether it be through the language we speak, the gender specific clothing we are instructed to wear, or the social standards and morals we are expected to maintain, it is undeniable that our surroundings are a significant determinant, acting as barrier in regards to flourishing into the person we desire to be. A commonly asked philosophical question is “what is the purpose of life”, the answer consists of the significance of life, or existence in general and can be easily answered by having a life permeated with purpose; but how may we persevere in this if we cannot truly identify who we are?
Throughout our lives, we are often confronted by dilemmas, which impede our ability to locate our true individuality; as a result, our surroundings act as an influential element in regards to the sentiments and identity we attain. Often, Identity is a product of our standing in society, rather than an innate defining factor; set in the apartheid era, Anthony Fabian’s “Skin” showcases how societies upheld beliefs coerces one to be uncomfortable in their own skin.
Sandra Laing, A white girl burdened by having an “Afrikaans” exterior, is taught to hate the colour of her skin by a young age, as she is brought into the world at the time of racial segregation between black and white. Sandra is incapable of finding her true self; she is never given a chance to blossom and assimilate into society adequately, as she is alienated as a repercussion of her dark skin colour.
Her confidence is dismantled as she is constantly confronted by the discrimination by her surroundings; her opportunity to flourish in the community is immensely diminished as she enters school with students and teachers attaining pre conceived judgement towards her, disallowing her to conquer in her homeland, “why are they all staring”.
Through the exposure of the prejudice of her surroundings, Sandra further accentuates the hatred of her skin colour as she attempts to bleach her skin in order to be perceived as white. “Skin” articulates that through the demining attitudes of others, an individual can be in risk of the incapability of identifying their true identity, as the sentiments of others may alter their self-esteem and opinion of who they are.
Sometimes our sense of self is paved for us; sometimes we have no ability to alter our identity as it is concreted by the rules and expectations of society. Our individuality may not be comprised of our own opinions of ourselves, but may be wholly accumulated by our surroundings. Like the Apartheid era Sandra had suffered from, The World War 2 also acted as a barrier in regards to Jewish people truly identifying their true sense of self.
Adolf Hitler, the dictator at the time, desired to conquer his overriding objective to exterminate all those who did not fit into his perfect model of the Arian super race (light featured); this resulted in innocent Jewish people being stripped of their freedom, and executed as a result of their religion and physical appearance. Through the burden of Nazism on the Jews’ behalf, they were not granted an opportunity to blossom in society, due to Hitler’s ambition of whipping out the Jewish race.
Unfortunately, some individuals play no significant role in creating their own identity as their sense of self is set by the judgments of society. Occasionally, it is immensely difficult to negate the expectations placed upon us by others, primarily family members, hence being unable to conquer our destiny. This may be caused by the fear of disappointing those who we love. Unfortunately, I am a victim of not being able to abide by my own expectations, prioritising the rules made by my mother.
Throughout my adolescence, my mother has always motivated me to carry on the female legacy of becoming a successful beautician. In order to make my mother content, I have always put on a facade, and obeyed the demands she confronted me with. Being a beautician did not strike me as being successful, as I am consciously aware of my academic abilities, although I fail to expose this. I have learned to put my own satisfaction to the side, and live with an identity in which makes my mother happy, as she acts as an extremely influential element in regards to the decisions I make for myself.
Until I am awakened to the disadvantageous attributes accompanying the inability to conquer my own self made expectations, my true sense of self will never be identified, and will be constantly moulded by my families opinions. Although it is hard to avoid considering the sentiments of others, sometimes it is the most effective decision. In order to identify or true sense of self, we must learn to negate the opinions of others, hence enabling us to focus on our own ambitions. This is evident in my uncle’s story he once exposed to me.
As he belonged to a gang in his hometown Iraq, his decisions were pre determined by his acquaintances, hence, disabling him to set an identity of his own, as it was concreted by his gang. He had conformed to all the opinions of his crew, until the day he decided to stand up to his own sentiments in which went against his crew’s expectations. As a repercussion of his disobeying, he had suffered a loss of a limb; his crew had no shame of manifesting their inconsistencies with him, as they pulled the trigger, leading to a disabled ex-crew member.
Throughout the turmoil and hardship with the crew, my uncle is now a better man, wiser and strong-minded, as he had underwent an identity crisis; he played a minimal part in the formation of his own identity. His true identity was overshadowed by a false persona, dictating his sentiments which were embedded in his mind by fear of standing up to the power of his gang. Sometimes following our own expectations and decisions may be a difficult task, but if we succeed in this, the consequences should not matter as contentment will be found along the journey.