1.2.3 Place and identity
Home, then, can support your ‘identity’ through the way you ‘personalise’ the space in it with your own belongings – making a statement about who you are. However, if you look back to Activity 1, you can also see other ways identity is supported: ‘I can be myself’. If you say this, it suggests that you don't have to put on an act. You fit ‘naturally’. Home is part of your identity because you are the person who ‘fits’ in that place.
But it is not usually just you alone – 85 per cent of people live with one or more other people: ‘It's family, it's where we live’. If you use the word ‘we’ you are identifying yourself with a group of people. A family is a group to which you ‘belong’ (usually), and which is thereby also a part of your identity.
Then again, home can be 'somewhere to shut out the rest of the world’. What is inside the home is you and people you ‘belong’ with. What is outside is all the rest. These kinds of meanings of home show how it can support a sense not just of your own individual identity but also your group identity. However, not everyone feels a clear cut sense of a home to which they ‘belong’.
Mr E felt strongly that he had no sense of a permanent home:
’… because of my particular personal situation where, being black and being British, in British society, you never truly feel at home. But by the same token if I was to go back to where my parents are from I wouldn't feel truly at home there either. So you get into the situation where home to you doesn't really have the permanence of going to your place of origin because my place of origin is a foreign country. Someone who was born in Australia [for example] but happened to be living in England would say ‘I want to go home’, and home to them is where they were born and raised.
Where I was born and raised I don't necessarily feel at home because I'm an immigrant's son, so to speak, the son of an immigrant, so home for that reason doesn't have the sense of permanence. I can't feel at home in Jamaica because I haven't spent any length of time there, I don't know the place. By the same token I can't feel at home here because I'm not truly British, as it were. So home doesn't really mean anything permanent, I'm afraid.’
Mr E was interviewed as part of a study of African-Caribbean British people living in Manchester. Sommerville, the author of the study, reported that people talked about home in different ways. Sometimes they were referring to their current dwelling and their membership of an immediate household group. Sometimes they were speaking of their area of residence and a sense of membership of a wider group of family and friends. And sometimes they talked about home meaning their country of origin and their sense of sharing an ancestral group. In other words, they talked about home differently according to the group they were identifying with.
Sommerville argues that ‘perception of home cannot be understood in isolation from the issue of group identity’. In particular, he found that perceived ethnic identity affected how people felt about the area they lived in, and whether or not they felt personally secure within Black or mixed neighbourhoods and part of a particular geographical area.
People tend to feel a strong attachment to any place they regard as home – through the support it offers to their sense of identity, as individuals and as members of particular groups. But these are complicated feelings that work in different ways for different people.