Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah says race and nationality are social inventions being used to cause deadly divisions.
Two weeks ago Theresa May made a statement that for many trampled on 200 years of enlightenment and cosmopolitan thinking: ‘If you are a citizen of the world – you are a citizen of nowhere’.
It was a proclamation blasted by figures from all sides but for Kwame Anthony Appiah – the philosopher who on Tuesday gave the first of this year’s prestigious BBC Reith lectures – the sentiment stung.
His life – he is the son a British aristocratic mother and Ghanian anti-colonial activist father – raised as a strict Christian in Kumasi then sent to British boarding school – followed by a move to the US in the 1970s; he is gay – married to a Jewish man and explores identity for a living – meant May’s comments were both ‘insulting and nonsense in every conceivable way’.
‘It’s just an error of history to say if you’re a nationalist you can’t be a citizen of the world’ says Appiah bluntly.
Yet the prime minister’s words were timely.
They were an example of what Appiah considers to be grave misunderstandings around identity – in particular how we see race nationality and religion as being central to who we are.