The Plurality of Identity

By Abel Merawi

Personal IdentityJune 18, 2021 ( -- It is common to witness people stand in defense of identity to the point of sacrificing their lives. Sadly, such sacrifice is made for a single aspect of identity rather than full identity, holistically. For instance, the defense for ethnic identity may jeopardize the inherent values of national or religious identity. This, in every form, is the person losing battle we encounter every time we imagine a singular identity. For this reason, I am critically reluctant to heed the call for defending a particular identity, unable to select one from the plural elements that constitute my identity. I think this difficulty troubles every human being, and so I choose to remain true to my plurality by claiming that I am not just one thing.

My attempt to reveal the plural nature of identity began with a struggle in choosing a point of view. I scribbled some lines in the second person – ‘you’, but I soon realized how it would make me an indifferent observer of my species. My shift to the third person – ‘they’, resulted in defending the separatist identity by necessitating a ‘we’ in juxtaposition. Finally, I decided to use the first person – ‘I’, while mostly avoiding ‘we’, which implies forced singularity. The terms ‘I’ and ‘me’, serve a dual purpose: firstly, it is an appeal to shared humanness marked by a sentient existence; secondly, it is an appeal to the plural components of identity each individual is not just born into but also volitionally incorporates. Before starting my argument, I remark that this is not an attempt to entice readers. Rather, it is a restatement of a fact that is buried under a pile of socially and politically fabricated xenophobic identities. The simple fact is that identity is partly the result of birth, and partly the intentional identification each person makes with social, ideological, political, historical identities, and so forth.

I make an appeal to each person by claiming that I am not just one thing; I possess many layers that make up my identity. Ultimately, being human is the common foundation I share with past, present, and future generations. Building on this totality, I expand my identity in every direction. My past represents plural tokens of identity that are manifested in familial ties, friendship, religion, ethnicities (intentionally plural!), nationality, etcetera. My present has augmented, substituted, and omitted the previous with new layers, and my future can only be viewed in the same manner. In defense of plural identity, I appeal to the humanness humans share.

The natural accidents of birth in space and time have predicated who I am but I become human when I transcend these facts by consciously expanding and evolving my identity. My identity begins with an ethnic and national identity that is not of my choosing, but I refuse to enter the coffin before identifying myself with a universal human fellowship. I am born black but I refuse to harbor hatred against white people based solely on past grievances. I may be born white, but I will not be a ‘white supremacist’ who perpetuates ancestral crimes and horrors. Having one X and one Y chromosome makes me male, but I will not be a defender of misogyny or hierarchies that valorize men. I may be female for being born with two X chromosomes, but I will not define my identity with the negative role assigned to my sex. These and other natural accidents of birth are part of my identity, but they will not dictate my life.

My identity is derived from my religious identity but it is not limited to it. I constantly remind myself of the past and present evils committed in the name of religion. Thus, I transcend the institutional barriers through spirituality. Viewed from a spiritual and moral height, my religion shared the language of love with the other sects, and so I will not restrict love to my creed. Such love is abundant enough to embrace humanity, and I socially practice love through justice and fairness.

Social and class divisions have existed before me, but they do not precede humanness. I am a sentient being that can detect the unnaturalness of such divisions and choose to rise above them. I may come from a wealthy family, but I refuse to remain indifferent to the plight of the poor by defending the very system that brought about collective misery to hardworking people. I may be born into a working-class family, but I will not develop blind hatred against every rich person because I value the creative and diligent while maintaining a critical attitude against the corrupt. Being born in the city will not make me belittle those from the countryside, and this also means that I will not develop hatred to city dwellers just become I am from a rural area. I will win these external and internal battles because the force of truth resonating in humanity defends me.

Enshrining a single aspect of my identity makes me shortsighted; thus, I broaden my identity to live a life worthy of a human being. This worth is part of utilizing the potentiality entailed in my species: Homo Sapiens (thinking). If I was Homo Erectus, walking upright would have been enough; but as a Homo Sapiens, I am required to think and recognize the myriad versions of reality. This recognition implies knowing the difference between natural and social constructs. This recognition also implies knowing my potential for growth, which helps to pluralistically expands my identity.

The kind of plurality I speak of is not the same as the doctrine of pluralism that focuses on tolerance among race, religion, ethnicity, culture, etc. I think we have reached a point where tolerance is not enough, because the word already marks the ‘other’ as unfavorable, which is allowed to exist because of my generosity. Plurality, for me, admits tolerance but transcends it by accepting the limitation in myself and others. This will be followed by an embracing of the ‘other’ and becoming part of its identity while retaining my own. It also leads to the cohabitation of different identities without the need for comparison and competition. For this to develop my identity must be plural, and prepare to face the confusion that is part of the ‘human condition'. Wrestling with the questions of personal identity is a lifetime task, which makes me interminably renounce some forms of identity and embrace others.

My identity is not preordained, and my essence is continually reshaped from cradle to the grave. I accept physical death but I will not commit spiritual deaths by limiting my identity. I am born into a world already occupied by people with different identities, and it is arrogant for me to champion my identity at the expense of others. In summation, my identity is primarily unified in humanity, and every other form of identity enlarges humanity. Whenever my plural identity is internally conflicted, I reexamine my allegiance in light of humanity. Perhaps words have failed me to vividly portray the plurality of identity, then I recommend you listen to Rophnan’s new song, which melodically articulates humanity!  


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Necrophilia – The Affliction in Servants of Death

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Even Monkeys Can Use Smart Techs

Invisible Citizens

Adwa – Triumph of Unassailable Humanity

Democracy and Democratic Institutions

Democracy and Democratic People

Paideia or Deep Education

Educational Purpose: Good Citizenry Vs Rational Autonomy

Crowd Leaders as National Enemies of Ethiopia

Ethiopia Under the Threat of Crowd Mentality

Conformist Realism in Ethnic Federalism

Alternatives to National Identity

Ethiopia in Conflict - Part II: A National Stand for Unity

Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division

Forms of Human Violence (Part II)

Forms of Human Violence (Part I)

The ‘Having’ Mentality

Group Narcissism

Segregated Justice


Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part II: Social Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview

Unemployment and Economic Growth in Ethiopia

The Underestimated Human Ignorance

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

Capitalism Becoming an Impediment to Morality

Ketman: Living in Disguise to Gain Acceptance

The System and the 'Criminal'

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Do You Trust the Government?

Our Online World

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The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

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Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

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Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

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Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

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Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

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The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

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The Seven Deadly Sins

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Building National Identity

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Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

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The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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