Issue 2, Semester 1, 2019
I actually wrote the bulk of this piece some months ago, never necessarily intending for it to be shared or published. This was long before the controversy that resulted from the deletion of a comment in response to an article I wrote for the LMR edition of De Minimis, but those events seem to suggest that this may be a subject that may follow me until the end of time, no matter where I go or what I do.
As I’ve written in the past, I genuinely believe that many of our problems can be remediated with understanding and compassion. This is why I so enjoy reading and writing about identity and self-esteem. It’s not that I feel sorry for myself, or even that I feel particularly aggrieved. Instead, I believe that talking about who we are as people is how we connect on a human level.
It’s also territory that we are each well-qualified to discuss, because each of our personal experiences of identity and self-worth is valid in its own way. Consequently, sharing these experiences with one another can be a learning experience more valuable than any debate about politics or philosophy.
Like many people, for much of my life I’ve experienced completely normal feelings of isolation and loneliness. I’m not depressed - in fact I’ve had the immense fortune of a loving family, close friends, and supportive communities - but I, nonetheless, occasionally feel particularly aware of my individuality.
Growing up, I was always one of only a small number of Asian-Australians at school. While I don’t think anyone intended to make me feel bad about my ethnicity, I distinctly remember feeling my otherness: my hair, my skin, even my eyes. I certainly didn’t have it as bad as my mother -- let alone my father’s generation - but this was often cold comfort to a boy coming to terms with struggles of identity and belonging that most of us experience in our own ways.
For the many years I attended Chinese school, my feeling of otherness was even more pronounced. I was one of the only ‘halfies’ and one of the few who didn’t speak Mandarin at home. I went from being a top student Monday to Friday to being bottom of the class every Saturday. I sometimes spent recesses alone, feeling alien and disempowered. Although this was character-building, I certainly didn’t feel like I belonged.
My feelings of isolation extend beyond my ethnicity. My values and worldview are an even more integral part of my identity. It’s not that I choose to be contrarian for the sake of it, but I’ve found my unwillingness to compromise or hide my beliefs has often made me a minority (something about which I’m perfectly comfortable).
I identify with virtue ethics, placing me in a distinct minority in a field dominated by consequentialists and deontologists. I’m concerned with original intent, placing me within a minority of originalists — who are themselves a minority compared to legal realists and purposivists in academia and at most law schools. I don’t identify as conservative, nor as progressive. I generally abhor labels of all kinds and am intently sceptical of groupthink.
My experience of identity has also involved an experience of prejudice. Certainly, my experience of racism is nothing compared to that of many others. I do, however, know the humiliation of being treated like I must be an idiot before I’ve even had a chance to get a word in, merely because I look foreign – an experience I know is common. I say this not to claim any particular victimhood, but in the hope that others who have been treated similarly might find reassurance in our shared experience that they aren’t at any fault.
From my perspective, my experience of prejudice has also extended beyond my ethnicity. When you hold minority views, it’s not uncommon for critics to impute all sorts of improprieties to your beliefs. Most hurtful have been people on the Internet who have been prepared to tell me, usually behind the veil of anonymity and always without attempting to get to know me, that I’m a horrible person. I know I shouldn’t care, but I could say the same about the racism I’ve experienced: it’s not easy to ignore such vitriolic pre-judgement.
The two experiences intersect frequently in attempts by those who disagree with my worldview to whitewash my identity to portray me as just another privileged straight white male (I think the most outrageous have been Tweets telling me I must be “a South African drunk” and a “Boer”). Is it really so inconceivable that someone whose grandparents were forced, by Fascist dictatorship, to leave their native Italy and their homes to seek a better life in Australia, might be wary of the State and sceptical of collectivism? My actually being non-white surely doesn’t make my views more valid to these critics.
I believe that true happiness comes from a feeling of acceptance and self-worth from within. It isn’t contingent upon what other people think. It doesn’t depend on whether other people accept you for who you are.
I’m sure there are people out there like me. People who sometimes feel like nobody understands them. People who sometimes feel like they don’t belong. Possibly a small minority (although I doubt it). I write this for them almost as much as for myself: there’s nothing wrong with being part of a minority. Even and especially a minority of one.
Xavier is a Second Year JD Student
More articles in this issue: