The concept of an unexplored heritage is something I’ve thought about for a while yet never heard discussed before. To put it simply, the term unexplored heritage can be used when someone is biologically formed by more than one country or ethnicity but a part of their ethnicity is either less involved in their day to day lives or left completely unexplored.
While an explanation of this concept is needed, so is mentioning how stereotyping and societal racism play their part in its definition as so many people make assumptions about someone’s heritage based on their looks. You know what I’m talking about, the painful ignorance of the ‘Where are you from mate? No, I mean where are you really from?’ question.
It must be exasperating for people who aesthetically fit the bill for a certain stereotype to be questioned about a country they may not have grown up surrounded by completely, if at all. There is a high chance that these people haven’t grown up with the parent from this side of their heritage and have been entirely underexposed to its culture.
This idea goes the opposite way too, in an almost reversed-stereotyping manner. For instance, someone who may not appear to be from a specific culture or heritage but actually is. I’ll use myself as an example for this one, as I’m half Welsh and half Turkish but a general consensus would define my appearance as ‘British’.
I’ve noticed that when a person’s aesthetics don’t obviously reflect their background, people tend to shrug off the idea of them being anything other than what they were assumed to be. In other words, you look like X so you must be X, regardless of what you’re telling me. I believe the prevalence and importance of an unexplored heritage changes throughout different stages of your life, developing over time.
When you’re younger, fitting in is generally of utmost importance and so anything out of the ordinary is automatically blocked out. I started taking more of an interest in my Turkish side when I started university.
Still, I know people who relate to this kind of uncomfortable awkwardness and naivety in not being able to explain more to someone about where half of you ‘technically’ comes from. It can make you feel stupid or unequipped to answer questions about your heritage because actually, you don’t know enough about it to provide the answers. Then the thought creeps in—you should know more about this. I’ve almost felt like a fraud, claiming to be something that I don’t feel I have enough knowledge about to claim as my own. But it is mine, regardless. It’s like a missing piece of the puzzle, and I want it.
Life tends to get in the way of you being able to explore it because as you get older, things become more of a juggling act—keeping momentum and getting your shit together while maintaining your sanity.
But the longing of wanting to understand more about the missing piece of your puzzle doesn’t disappear, not for me at least. I am always faced with subtle reminders, reinforcing the part of me which is missing.
People from a mix of backgrounds naturally gravitate to each other, and I personally seem to connect with these people on a deeper level. A huge proportion of my close friends are multicultural, which seems to facilitate an immediate common ground. These are the people you joke with about the ridiculous traits that go hand in hand with certain cultural demands, expectations and clashes.
My British Muslim friends joke about what is deemed ‘haram’ or not while my Nigerian friends describe the chaos of going to dinner with that side of their family. I chirp in with my dad’s comments of ‘can you put some more clothes on please, you look so western’ or the memories of endless hours spent meeting your ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’.
There’s a definite hint of envy when I see people who have such exposure to their heritage on a daily basis, be that through their family, friendship circles or communities. Meeting the cliché of a millennial obsessed with my own identity and individualism, I feel that a huge part of who I am exists as a faded watermark on the print of myself. It’s there, but you can barely make it out. How different would I be if I explored this side more?
I’m not suggesting that everyone with an unexplored heritage relates to this feeling and I’m sure there are plenty of people who remain totally unaffected by it. Nor do I think that someone’s ethnicity determines who they are or that blood runs thicker than water. As far as I’m concerned, you choose your family and you come from where you feel you come from; the place you call home.
Yet without having a certain degree of knowledge or involvement in both sides of your heritage, there will always be a small part of you that is missing. As if you’re trying to win an argument without knowing the full context of a situation or reading a book that has chapters missing from it. You just don’t quite know the full story.
Society is riddled with poisonous and contagious views, that is undeniable. We have a long history of racism, sexism, discrimination, homophobia, bigotry, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, we have not left history in the past either, nor should we (fundamentally). Inequality and unfairness are still present today, which is why our lessons should be taught and learned from past mistakes so as to not make them again. However, it is hard to learn anything with all of this noise.
By definition, the word ‘woke’, although it has evolved drastically from its original use as the evolution of wording persists, today it technically means to be “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social injustice).” However, it evokes more than this now, one extreme side of the word is seen as a rock to be thrown by the self-proclaimed cultural elite, while the other claims a constant victim status. Both are shoddy examples of ‘doing what is right’ by any means, but can I say what I think is right? If you answered no, you’re welcome to mute me—I support you as a human being with choices either way.
In an interview for the Obama Foundation on youth activism, President Obama stated that “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly.” He went on to say that “the world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”
The idea of ‘cancel culture’ refers to a behaviour mostly played out on the internet, when someone says something that others object to. In this interview, Obama refers to how people today act as though creating change comes about by judging other people. He says “Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out.’”
“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” Obama continues. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.” And it is too easy to do. Social media is flooded with opinions, but they are filtered. Exactly how politically correct (PC) do we need to be before we are all fully censored? Is there any topic that technically cannot be torn into pieces by the woke brigade? Now, I am actively leaving particularities of opinion out of it, because I am exhausted by particulars, and even if this is an opinion piece, you are not owed mine in particular, and neither will I force it on to you.
What I want to talk about is righteousness, as a tone of voice—in using the term ‘woke’ as it is used today, as more of an action through speech than action itself. Being woke today is actually not what being woke was intended to be at all, and it is doing more harm than good. How can being woke become more important than the issues that wokeness enlightens? The issues that are under the umbrella of what it means to be woke are inherently important issues, and ones that need to be spoken about.
When someone who hasn’t had the chance to understand such issues says or does something wrong (through the eyes of our generation) the last thing that we should do is address them with a righteous tone of voice, as if one that understands is automatically better than those who do not. Being shamed for illeducation will only cut off whatever willingness there was to understand and be educated in the first place.
Enlightenment and understanding is a good thing, but a bombardment of righteous voices that say more than do is not. Our generation loves to hate, social media has given everyone a place to enforce hate freely too.
PC culture is stripping culture itself of its freedom to adapt and evolve, and this is arguably one of humanity’s greatest strengths. If we continue to travel the brash and thorny road we are going down currently, we will inevitably hit a dead end, and possibly more war than we can surely survive. Will it take for us all to be wrong for us to finally reach an understanding?
If I slip into a cow pat, you can bet I’ll choose to laugh about it, because the slipping into shit is done. What else is there to do but clean up and go on? But in light of the world now, all I can say is that I hope I don’t laugh in the wrong accent. What is important to read here is that discovery is found in what we do not already know, and understanding is found by recognising the source of the misunderstanding. With that in mind, I will not live in fear of modern wokeness, of doing or saying the wrong thing, because that will result in me doing nothing—and a world without movement is the most wronged of all.