How to be – in today’s society

“Who you are cannot be defined through thinking or mental labels or definitions, because it’s beyond that.”
Eckhart Tolle

I have always been fascinated by the concept of ‘identity’. Being a child from a European mother and an Asian father I was raised in the Netherlands, but during my childhood and many years as an adult I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact of how I always felt more Asian than European. Whilst my Asian cousins in Europe – who all have two Asian parents – speak Chinese, I have never learned the language. Nor have I ever lived in Singapore or in any other Asian country. I can’t even cook proper Asian food. Still, it wasn’t just some crazy recurring thought.

When I was six years old, my parents separated and I went to live with my mother. We constantly struggled with the way I emotionally responded to her (European) style of parenting, her beliefs of what was correct, her ideas – that were often the very opposite of what I believed and felt I embodied. I remember feeling disrespected most of the time, as if I was being denied the chance to be the person I really was on the inside. At the age of twelve I decided to move in with my father, willing to take my chances of going to court and having to explain to a judge why I felt it was so necessary for me to live with my father. Thankfully it never came to that. After months of arguing, my mother – who had custody over me – decided it wouldn’t bring anything positive to our lives and was worried how it might actually damage our relationship even more. Looking back it’s hard to believe how far I was willing to go at such a young age simply because of how strongly I felt about what I at the time called ‘protecting my identity’.

Years later I was working as a journalist when a Dutch magazine asked me if I would consider sharing some of my personal experiences with discrimination. I decided to write about how I and some of my friends with foreign roots disliked being called ‘a positive exception’ by Dutch people. It was part of an article (opinion) in which I mentioned the subcutaneous discussion that I felt was very much a fact since intense political and public discussions about fundamentalism began in the Netherlands.
After watching ‘The Rachel Divide’ earlier this year about Rachel Dolezal, who became the centre of a media storm and racial discussions because of her lies about being black (Dolezal served as the president of Spokane’s chapter of the NAACP and was a well-known civil rights activist), questions about what we call ‘our identity’ resurfaced in my thoughts.

Which is why the complex society will devote attention to the subject. If you feel like you have something to say about ‘identity’, please send us an email summarising your thoughts or leave a message on our Instagram page.

Gwen Teo

Part of the article (opinion) I wrote years ago about why I disliked being called ‘an exception’

Copyright 2020 the complex society – Teomedia

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