Examination Of My Social Identity
In class, we participated in a “Social Identity Wheel” activity. On the wheel, that is based on the seven categories of “otherness” that is commonly experienced in the U. S. American society which is spoken about in Tatum’s chapter on “The Complexity of Identity, ‘Who Am I?’”, we were meant to insert our race; ethnicity; socio-economic class; age; sexual orientation; biological sex; national origin; religion/spiritual affiliation; physical, emotional and developmental ability; first language, and gender. Afterwards, we were meant to list the identities that we thought about the most often and underline the identities that we thought about the least.
To give some background, I consider myself an Irish, white, middle class nineteen-year woman. I was raised as an able-bodied, English-speaking individual in the Catholic religion in the United States. With that said, I would say I try to be socially and culturally aware, especially since I studied abroad in a foreign country, therefore, I like think about my first language, gender, race, economic class, and national origin the most. To start off with, I think about the socio-economic class in which I was born into. I was raised in a middle-class family and, while growing up, money has always been talked about in my family. On a personal level, my mom struggled to finance my small family, and was not gaining much help from my dad on helping pay the bills. We were in a place where my mom was making too much money to receive any form of financial aid (especially when it came time for me to start applying to college). My grandparents were a blessing in helping me go to the school of my dreams, but the idea of money is still so very valuable to me and the rest of my family. The University of Denver is a school filled with little demographic variations, and many of my friends are either passing through life without worrying about a cent they are paying while the other half must work and budget their money on a weekly/daily basis. Simply throughout life, I find that you must have a financial cushion to be able to follow your dreams in today’s world. Those that have the money to make mistakes and grow never see the heartbreak some of us feel when we don’t see our money going towards prosperity and success.
Moreover, until I reached college, I never thought about what it meant to be a woman in society. I grew up in a conservative state that valued safety in our small towns where everyone knew everyone. I was never naïve and careless about my surroundings, but I never feared for my life. As I have gotten older, I have begun to understand what it means to be a “woman” in this world. As much as we like or dislike to acknowledge the dangers of a woman, the dangers are increasing daily. When I began to travel globally at the age of 13, I began to realize the looks and actions of others abroad and the things that made me comfortable and uncomfortable (especially at night time). I remember being whistled at and having people try to stop me on streets; in addition, I remember my host family warning me of the dangers of walking around alone past five in the evening. Of course, these things were nothing different than what my parents had told me as a child, but it became all the scarier when people see a female foreigner walking on their territory. Here at the university, even, I get nervous walking around on campus late at night and in the alleyway leading to my sorority house. Girls are warned about being date-rape drugged and walking alone at night by themselves. We begin to listen to the stories of women being underpaid or harassed in their current working environments, and for what? Because we are women. I remember, specifically, walking home with black SUVs and mysterious cars lingering in the alleyways, attempting to follow me home. I remember growing up hearing that women do not always get paid as much as a male would. I remember that even in a country that prides itself on equality, there is discrimination.
Abroad and post-time abroad, my first language and national origin became salient in my life. The global stereotypes of Americans are a mixture of people thinking we are a lazy and disrespectful nation, while others believe of the “American dream” and beautiful lives we are privilege to have. While studying abroad, I was told that my school had specifically requested to never have an American student in their school again because their previous experience with Americans who had refused to try in school or try to learn/ utilize any aspects of the Italian language. Most students in the school knew how to speak English, but it was justly expected that the foreign exchange students were to learn and speak Italian in the classroom settings, and, overall, throughout their time abroad. Now, I can say I am proud to be an American, but I still hope for change and prosperity within the darkest parts of our country. Going abroad, being an American means more than just a name or nationality, it means the horror and strength of our country and what our impact is on the rest of the world.
Having English as your first language while going to a foreign country, in of itself is hard. Most people that do not speak English as their first language want to practice their English with you and don’t necessarily expect you to know their language as well as they may know yours; however, there may be a certain roughness to some about the expectations we have that they must know English and we, the English-speakers, are not expected to know anything about theirs. Within the United States, there are numerous uproars about foreigners simply speaking broken English with thick accents and there continues to be a resentment for immigrants coming to the “land of the free, ” while in some cultures, they do not expect you to speak their language, but get excited when you demonstrate an effort to learn their language with even the strongest of accent (and most of the time they will want to help you in the process). Learning Italian as an English native speaker was not easy, especially compared to the other exchange students in my region who came from Spanish speaking countries. I had to learn how to fail and take things slow, but because of my experience abroad, I have more appreciation for those trying to learn another language and try to use as little English abroad as possible. In every country I visit, I begin to ask questions of “how do you say ____ in _____?” and of course, there is a time and place to ask such questions, but many respond well when you make an effort to broaden your horizons, especially when you are an American. Since moving to Colorado and beginning to go into college, my race and sexual orientation have come into light a lot. In Oklahoma, I lived in a primarily small, white town; then, I came to a, primarily, small white college. The University that prides itself on “diversity” and “inclusivity” is working continuously to broaden the demographics and diversity on campus, but there is still a big gap in our diversity rates. It wasn’t until last year as a freshman did I realize how important race, age, and sexual orientation was in the United States. I believed myself to be a pretty open, unbiased person and soon realized that I wasn’t as open and unbiased as I had believed myself to be. I realized the slang, contexts, and mannerisms used in Oklahoma were not considered “okay” at the University and in learning that, I self-reflected a lot on my own state culture and what it meant for how I was perceived. Last year, I took a class in an introductory sociology course and found out my lack of acknowledging color of skin made me more racist than acknowledging someone’s color. At parties, I began to realize people that were not a part of the black community would not sing certain lyrics and I began to see my own mistakes that I never realized I were mistakes.
As someone that is heterosexual and grew up in the artistic world of dance and theater, I have always supported the LGBTQ+ community; however, my father would have a lot to say against it. I grew up with his closed mind and always fought for a cause, I began to realize I knew only a small amount about. As a member of the “dominant” heterosexual group, I unknowingly believed I held power and a say in the subordinates’ group and determined (suggested) how that power and authority may be acceptably used. I realized last year that I don’t get to have a say in the efforts and challenges the LGBTQ+ community face, but it is my duty to stand with them in their still continuous fight for equality.
My social identity is what I was born into and I defend and accept many aspects of my identity but refuse to believe my thoughts and views of the world and my own social identity are the only “correct” beliefs. We have no choice in what socialization we are born into and, therefore, we have no reason to hold each other responsible for our own identities. Instead of the American identification of what I do, I see myself as who I am and who others are. My first language, gender, race, economic class, and national origin may be the things I think about the most, but they are just small aspects that define who I am – they are things I think about because of the weariness I have when I am with other people. Otherwise, I would say I am a learner, an empathetic, and a lover of knowledge. Social identity means a lot to how others perceive you and how you were raised, but it does not determine who you are as a person entirely… Or does it? Our internal culture includes our way of thinking and perceiving while containing the values and beliefs that was unconsciously learned. As Beverly Tatum said at the end of one of our readings, “Our ongoing examination of who we are in our full humanity, embracing all of our identities, creates the possibility of building alliances that may ultimately free us all.
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