What constitutes your personal identity? It’s a question you might not have considered before. Perhaps it’s never bothered you. The topic of what makes us who we are, and our sense of self, has been discussed since the origins of western philosophy. The central theme in some of the world’s most famous novels, such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter is one of identity and the search for self. Yet defining who we are proves notoriously tricky.
Some may think identity as being forged through seminal moments – the birth of a child; perhaps a marriage. Many people see a personal identity as correlating with their ethnicity, nationality, or racial background.
The sociologist Stuart Hall believed that cultural identities are subject to change, and belong “to the future as much as to the past”. Cultural identities originate from somewhere, they have histories, he said. But how do you identify if you are misled about your own history? Or when your view of yourself does not match up with how others see you?
I examine all this in my book, Raceless, which traces my attempts to piece together the truth about my heritage. I was told by both parents that I was white, but in my early 20s discovered my biological father was black. In researching this, which also involved a podcast series, The Secrets in Us, I also discovered the stories of many others who were misled about their personal identities. After…