Who Am I? Confessions of a Global Citizen

Thursday, December 29, 2016

In my personal life as in the wider world, 2016 was a year that demanded reflection and reevaluation of many once-firm truths. The first of a trio of year-end posts:

Over the years, as I have matured, enjoyed successes and overcome setbacks, encountered moments of self-doubt and self-discovery, read and traveled widely, reflected and questioned my values and beliefs, an identity has emerged and begun to solidify.

I couldn't yet explain it while I was building it. Not back in my childhood in Baltimore, when I listened, rapt, to my uncles' and grandparents' stories of travels in Albania, Japan, Saudi Arabia. Not in high school, when I spent hours scouring the internet for obscure Algerian raï hits (long before I ever dreamed of actually moving to Algeria). And not yet even at Georgetown, when I plunged into studying Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili and became travel-obsessed.

It took me until 2016, année de merde, to finally find the words:

Everyone's identity is an amalgam of different layers and characteristics, many of them hinging on gender, race, religion, nationality, political affiliation, class, income, place of origin, sexual orientation, education, etc. But the personal identity that has come into focus for me has not coalesced primarily around any of these traditional categories.

Instead, I've come to recognize myself first and foremost as something peculiar—a globalist, a cosmopolitan, a "citizen of the world", to quote one of our most prominent members, Barack Obama.

Yes, I'm male, American, white, atheist, straight, and many more things. But all those feel secondary to the central pillar of my identity: I am part of a globally conscious tribe that doesn't cling tightly to nationality, that knows our world map better than most, that values diversity, that seeks to understand other cultures, and that views cross-cultural exchange as essential to developing such understanding.

Many of us speak multiple languages, have visited or lived in multiple countries, and feel more at home among others like us—even if they hail from the other side of the world—than we feel among homebodies from our own country.

We hail from many walks of life: economic migrants, foreign correspondents, diplomats, international business-people, refugees, travel buffs, soldiers, humanitarian workers, third culture kids born to any of the above, and many more groups.

Politically, we skew progressive, which can be both a cause and effect of our unusual worldview. An innate openness first propelled some of us to cross cultural barriers, or crossing cultural barriers forced some of us to grow more open. Many of us have enjoyed a mutually reinforcing dose of both. The end result is that we feel empathy for our fellow human beings, and we tend to vote accordingly, focusing on the greater good and putting narrower national or local interests second.

Economically, we skew wealthy by global standards. But probably not as wealthy as you might think, since we started at all levels of the economic scale. Yet detached as we are from living in a specific city or country, many of us have since managed—often quite deliberately—to make our way to places where our skills are in demand and salaries are well above rent prices. (So no, we're not just talking about rich-country expats or Davos attendees; the group I'm describing includes plenty of people from the so-called "global south" and from many varied backgrounds.)

Otherwise, we don't tend to correlate with other categorizations; we are as diverse as the planet we inhabit.

But just because there might not be a particular complexion, religious garb, or other visual marker that sets us apart doesn't mean we don't recognize one another. Within a minute of introducing myself and chatting with someone new, I can usually tell if they're part of this cosmopolitan tribe.

How? Because we share a common frame of reference—and usually an accompanying set of shared values. Whereas most humans live in a local, regional, or maybe national bubble, we globalists tend to think worldwide. We don't see the life of someone from our own country as inherently more valuable than that of someone from across the globe. We favor globalization, intercultural connections, and coexistence over nationalism or sectarianism. We can't stand visas or border walls. "The other" doesn't trouble us; xenophobia does. By our calculation, the "global war on terror" has proved far more destructive than the terrorists ever could have.

This understanding of who I am—and who we globalists are—first dawned on me back in the spring, when I made a brief return visit to my high school, which reminded me just how much I have grown since those days, shedding the prep-school identity markers I had awkwardly camouflaged myself in back then in favor of the much truer identity I carry today. Back in Algiers a few days later, I realized that one of the things I love most about the city is the small but fascinating circle of fellow globalists I have managed to surround myself with there. While all my closest friends around the world without exception share this globalist identity, never before have I found such a concentration of them.

This year, I realized that it's the company of my fellow global citizens that makes me feel at home, even more so than when I'm in the city of my birth. Sadly, 2016 followed this refreshing dose of clarity with several painful blows: it just so happened to be the worst year in recent memory for our cosmopolitan tribe of global citizens. In my next post, I'll explore why—and what we can do about it.

(Update: Read the second post of this trio here: "The Year of Throwing Bricks: A Globalist's View of 2016, and the Way Forward")

(Update: Read the third post of this trio here: "Ibn Ibn Battuta's 2016 in Review")

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I love how you wrote it, I love this existential search, of where you belong, and it is quite reasuring that you found it among your fellow globalists as yourself... It give me insight through a conversation I have with a friend about belonging and Identity...you make me realize that identity is not tied to a country not to region nor to religion ... It can't be built on fictional territories that politicaly changes over years... Identity is about where we feel we belong...
I feel I belong when I'm surrounded by people I can discuss with our existentiality and our purpose in life... It might be here in Algeria, or my home time or on the internet,... Etc Home is when comfert of the soul.
Can't wait to read the rest of the sad 2016.

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