Over the past two months, I’ve noticed something about people. They change when they come to London. This isn’t a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation, though, it’s more of an augmentation process. People seem to focus on one part of their identities, sometimes a part of themselves that they’d rarely thought about before the London identity paradigm (yes, I’ve coined a term for it and it IS incredibly original) took place.
Take me, for instance. I had never really thought about my ethnic roots before properly integrating into London, and University, life. Now, I’m constantly aware of the cultures that surround me everyday and everywhere I go. I’ve also developed the habit of frequently bringing up race in conversations with my friends. This suggests that being somewhere as diverse as Queen Mary has really brought ethnicity to the fore of my mind, but also of others. I have actually had a conversation that began with “I can say this to you because we’re both ethnic”; the London Identity Paradigm is clearly making people think about who they are in relation to their surroundings. It’s also making them seek out others based on (often superficial) features that we believe indicate who a person is and what their interests are.
On an almost-empty train one day, I noticed that strangers group together when they see something familiar about a person: a few rows away from me was a bunch of male office-workers while I was sat with a group of strangers who all happened to be in their late-teens and were South Asian. Clearly, each one of us (who didn’t know the others on the train) had sat with people who, for whatever reason, we felt familiar with. There often seems to be a common quality between groups of strangers. Is this because of the absence of community in a big city like this?
Molly Giles, a first-year adjusting to life in London, thinks so. There seems to be something about the way people act around the city that you don’t see elsewhere. She puts this down to the trains: “The Tube is another world”. Where she comes from, anyone could start a conversation with a complete stranger without inhibition, but she has only been met with awkward glances when trying to do this in London. So LIP doesn’t just make people more aware of superficial qualities that they use to identify with others, but it also makes them act on these features.
London isn’t all bad though, and many students speak of its liberating environment. This is particularly true for minorities like androgynous, bisexual student Dani Harvey. There is such a broad range of people that almost nothing surprises Londoners (except free parking), meaning she doesn’t worry about being labelled and has fewer inhibitions about her behaviour. So Dani’s identity becomes more pronounced in London because she feels less judged by the multitude of strangers. Does this mean that the absence of community actually frees people to express themselves.
Queen Mary’s Harry Potter appreciation society is testament to this. Here is a group of people that identify themselves as Harry Potter fans and have created a medium to express that together. But there are Harry Potter societies in almost every university in the country, so surely LIP isn’t the reason for Queen Mary having one. Actually, it is: Talhah Atcha of the committee has seen more engagement with societies like this at Queen Mary than in other universities across the country and close friendships come about from being a member of this society. All of this shows that where traditional forms of community don’t exist, people find unconventional (and often more cohesive) methods of identifying themselves into communities.