Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post -Colonial State

Heather Sofield, English 119, Brown University, 1999

Part 1 of "Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post -Colonial State"

"Of all relations the most universal is that of identity, being common to every being whose existence has any duration." -- David Hume, 1739

I am a white, American woman, raised in an extremely homogenous community. On the first day of seventh grade I met a black person for the first time in my life. Although she became my very best friend, I understand little about her experiences growing up as a black woman in a small, predominantly white New England town. I read, and I listen and do my utmost to comprehend, but I won't ever have the authority and confidence of true knowledge. Who am I to write about the concept of identity in a post-colonial state?

Whatever questions there might conceivably be concerning my authority on such a subject - that is what I have humbly set out to do. In this essay I intend to explore notions of identity, both personal and national, how they are formed and affected by education and society, and how they inevitably must change in the transitions between independent, colonial and post-colonial states. Having already admitted my lack of personal experience, I will draw my conclusions from a variety of sources including literature written by Zimbabwean authors and essays by post-colonial theorists. It is my hope that the process of my inquiry will be illuminating for both myself and my readers. While the anthropological concept of universality is much debated, I accept the above quotation from Scottish philosopher David Hume. "Who am I" is a question each of us must answer at some point in our existence. How is it done in a post-colonial community?

As a point of departure, I will first revisit a previous essay entitled "Blanket of Blessings", in which I examined a sculpture of the same name by the Zimbabwean artist Nicholas Mukomberanwa. This piece shows a human figure represented by its imprint on an encompassing blanket. We can see the outline of a mouth, the curve of a cheek - but where the physical body of a man would exist is only the hollow core of the stone.

The concept Mukomberanwa utilizes is called usage of negative space - wherein an object is depicted by representing only the surrounding space or objects. Usually we look at something and see only that thing. For instance if there is a vase of flowers on a table, my gaze will focus on the flowers and most likely I will fail to consciously recognize objects in the periphery, like the table itself or the draperies which form the backdrop. But if I assign myself the task of drawing the vase of flowers - without drawing the actual vase of flowers - I must look at how my subject is represented only by what surrounds it. And so I am confronted with a question of identity. Do I see the flowers existing as their own entity, or do I define them in the context of their environment? Which is more important? Can the two be separated?

Who Am I? : Negotiation of Identity in A Post-Colonial State

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