Reflection point: ‘Identity conflicts’ (Page 11)
A memorable clash of identity occurred when I was working in the ‘black’ homeland of Transkei in South Africa in 1978. I had landed in Durban on the south coast and was shocked to see the segregation of black and whites on the beaches and at the train station. I was also offered a servant, called Doris, at the hospital where I was working. I did not want to accept but soon realised that if I did not she would have no employment if she did not cook and clean for me.
Towards the end of my time there I was invited to a cocktail party in a predominately white area near Port Elizabeth by my host who a met on a bus a few months before. I was very uncomfortable. I was young (21), idealistic and not afraid to disagree with others. There were two tribes at the party; ‘enlightened’ whites of English descent who I would classify as practicing ‘benevolent apartheid’ and white Afrikaners who saw black people as less than themselves. They tried to persuade me that if I lived in South Africa all the time then I would discover the ‘truth’ about the black man. I was glad to get away.
These extreme racist attitudes are still acted on in more subtle and covert ways in the UK despite social and institutional frameworks of ‘unity in diversity’ of skin colour etc. I still feel, as in 1978, the same way about myself as someone who is a part of a ‘world tribe’ which accommodates people of different colours. My visit to South Africa cemented many of the views about racism that I had inherited from my father, friends and teachers. My challenge currently is not so much about race but religion, as increasingly I interact with people who have different religious paradigms and practices to my own. Sometimes these differences are obvious (not drinking alcohol) but sometime they are more subtle such as being potentially offended by a nude painting in my home. There are always challenges to ones own ideas about race, gender, faith and behaviour.
What does it mean to be myself? I have a saying that I have passed on to my children which is. “I try to be the best Morris Gallagher that I can be; I don’t need to be anyone else because I am unique as Morris Gallagher. You don’t need to strive to be like someone just be the best Peter Gallagher that you can be with all those wonderful talents and tiny flaws.” I don’t think other people can know me better than I know myself, and I am a unique and pretty complicated person; I try to be that person – myself at home, in work, with friends and behind closed doors. It will not be easy to show who I am photographically and this will be the challenge in imaging other people, although listening and research will go a long way to discovering some revelation about them.