Topic #3. Pros and Cons to "Identity"
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1. Pros and Cons to "Identity"
Wed, Sep 15, 1999 - 11:37 PM/EST
I'd like to start a thread talking about identity. Cicely was being forced to choose "black or white" and she said she was "Cicely" -- and a huge part of her identity is being a member of her family. What happens when you come from a broken family, or don't want to be a part of the various groups you are assigned? I am third generation Russian Jew and I do not want to be "identified" that way. I am a human. Also, I was in a romantic relationship with another woman for five years and there was tremendous pressure for me to be "lesbian" but I never wanted to be part of that group, either. Everyone wanted me to be SOME label: bisexual or gay and I was just in love with a woman for five years -- period. I am now involved with a man. When you are "bisexual" it is much like being of mixed race - both straights and heterosexuals are very threatened and want you to choose sides. I hate most "group identity" things because I feel like its running along with the pack -- and I feel very strongly that being yourself is more important than getting a membership card. I would love to hear some ideas on this. -- Johanna
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - /EST
I hear you. America is fixated on labelling and pigeon-holing folks. It is part of its history. I never thought that I would be making political statements but I think I finally understand what Malcom X and Farakkan were trying to get across. We lack a national identity. We are not "Americans" until we go abroad.
What my dean at Amherst College said what that we need to seek out like-minded others. For Cicily that was her family. Being educated, and of higher class provides one method of accessing more liberal-minded communities. The catch that I've encountered, and where Farrakan keeps harping, is that no matter what we as a race, or gender class achieve we always self-label ourselves unconsciously, instinctively. I am Guyanese, and (I finally admit) American.My family has made me confortable in those roles. My daughter is to me a "red" child. Her "people" will be her family, and those who are of multiracial/cultural descent equal to her own. My she and all of us have the strong self-image to avoid as you have the American way of perceiving race.
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 1:28 AM/EST
one subject lost in the question of identity is "what is race?". how is it defined? I have come to believe Race is an outdated concept, Although society makes it a hard position to keep. For instance, If you define race by skin color, Who determines at which hue you become another "race"? If race is determined geographically, if your a caucasian couple in an african country, would'nt your children who are born thier be african?
It is also my contention we (in general)to often confuse "national identity" with race (or our concept of). for instance, is being "irish", a race or a national identity , being from Ireland. Do these questions make the idea of "Race" seem a distant nolonger valid concept?
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 2:47 AM/EST
Like Popeye says "I ams what I ams". I agree with Stevie our society always wants us labelled and pigeon hole us. I grew up in a racially and culturally mixed neighborhood, which made me who I am today. I don't trip off of what people think of how/who I should be because of my skin color. When I was younger and trying to find my place in this world, it used to bother me, but as I got older, I realiezed what others thought wasn't as important as what I thought. My older children each deal with being biracial(black and white) and how they are labeled differently, my eldest son (18) just lets people say what they want and ignores them. My daughter (15) is upfront about being biracial and no one had better call her one or the other color, cause she tells them she is both! My younger kids, 6&5, just know that they are who they are and race is not that big an issue. I just wish society could get over the BS as if color makes a person "act" one way or another. I know that there are a lot of issues and that it is not an easy road that lies ahead for my youngest, but hopefully if enough people talk about this, then things might take a step toward being more accepting.
5. Struggling with building sharing our cultures
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 6:24 AM/EST
I am an African-American. My husband is a white Englishman. We live in America. As we expect to have our first child this winter, we have discussed what racial and cultural identity our child should have.
Before becoming pregnant, I would have argued that our child should identify as African-American to avoid being hurt by people who judge by skin color. Now, especially after seeing how Cicily and Chaney were raised as Black girls/women, I'm not so sure about this. In fact, I am disturbed by the indoctrination of the Sim/Wilson children.
My husband has always been concerned about conveying his English heritage to our children...not his white culture (although racial identity must be involved to a degree). Sharing our cultural background (maybe some baggage too) is what it finally comes down to for us, I think. Our child will build his own identity regardless of what we think he should do. We will just provide some idea of what its like to be individuals from these diverse backgrounds.
P.S.: If we didn't group people, we would be chuffed about being too much of an unidentifable mass without identity. That's the nature of humans... the grass is always greener....
6. What is identity
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 11:38 AM/EST
As you can read in my intro - I come from a "racially diverse" family, and yet we all self-identify as Black. My sister-in-law is 3/4s white (Irish, Italian) and she identifies as African-American.
This question of "what is race" is not new to the American black experience. We have had to take in all of our children (regardless of the race of the daddy or even mommy). We rallied around them and embraced the wide-ranging hue of colors identified as Black in America.
Now with the legalization of interracial marriages, these new questions arise. I think you parents of "bi-racial" children must raise them to understand that they are still Black in America. They can protest, they can self-identify as "other", they can marry cross racially or cross-culturally, BUT as long as we use skin color to group people, your children will be Black to the world. Look at Halle Berry and Vanessa Williams.
Building identity is not accomplished in a vacuum, you are influenced by the view from the outside.
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 12:03 PM/EST
So far I haven't really gone into my racial background, simply because I realize it's a little played out. I get the feeling that there really is something factual on how we use words and symbols to communicate. What I mean is that I agree that if: A) We started recognizing ourselves as Americans, subconsciously we would positively be tied to Geography, than Race. And 2) If used the word Culture or Heritage than we would understand a historical text, or groups' way of life. IE we would automatically be putting people in humanistic terms, as opposed to impersonal colorings. Am I nuts, or does anyone really get what I am saying?
8. What is "American?"
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 2:58 PM/EST
When I was a teenager I traveled to Finland to visit relatives. When I met some of my cousins friends, they asked where I was from, as I didn't speak the language. I said "America." They said "North or South America?" North. They then asked "Canada, United States or Mexico?" Because of that I have a problem with identifying with "American." Unless we are native American, we can't truly say we are American. We all know we are historically from somewhere else. I wish people would focus more on who they are as a person inside and not so much on what they look like. My son is bi-racial (black & scandinavian). He's very light skinned and has thick but straight hair. Because I'm married to an hispanic man, people assume my son is hispanic. Black people, however, know immediately that he is black. My son is proud of his entire background and never hesitates to say he is a "black scandinavian." I am still close with my ex-mother-in-law (who is very dark skinned) and she has come to love my current husband. She gets a kick out of watching people's reactions when introducing us: "This is my grandson (bi-racial), my daughter (scandinavian), and my son (hispanic). We take it likely, but there are drawbacks. We have very few friends (no one in town), but the friends we have are true friends and accept us for who we are, not what we are.
9. THIS IS GREAT!
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 4:15 PM/EST
So much has been said in the previous 7 messages. Let me jump in.
I grew up constantly being asked, "What are you?" My standard response, 50% Italian, 25% Mexican, 12 1/2% French & 12 1/2% Native American. What a mouthful! And then there were the, "No, you look Persian." comments to contend with. The point is I grew up totally confused. The situation was exacerbated by the mixed messages we got from our parents' families. The "spic" jokes from my mom's side and the "WOP" jokes from my dad's.
It wasn't until a diversity training week at college that I resolved my issues. I truly came to believe that I am 100% of everything that I am. Of course I am less in touch with the cultural practices of my distant ancestors, but I do not have to do a song and dance for people anymore when I am faced with their ignorance and insensitivity.
I encourage those of mixed heritages to embrace the same concept. Basically, it was a problem for me as long as I let it be a problem for me and went around being mousy about it. Once I claimed ALL of my heritage the questions became less frequent. I would like to think my realization empowered me to exude a confidence that was more important than any racial classification they attempted to impose.
Also, I totally agree with the idea of race being outdated. Except for some isolated cultures in remote areas, the gene pool has been so mixed that race is a moot issue. And thank goodness! Nature shows time and again that diversity means stamina and strength.
So the question is, why does U.S. society still cling to those classifications? Do we lack a unifying national identity as maxwell suggested. I definitely agree!
10. To: Maytime
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 4:34 PM/EST
Your last comment on having few friends, gave me the impression that it was related to you having an inter-racial relationship. Is that what you wanted to communicate? If so, why do you think that is? Can relocating help your situation? More importantly, as a woman how has this experience effected you?
11. Few Friends
Thu, Sep 16, 1999 - 5:54 PM/EST
My neighborhood is 100% white, with the exception of my husband and son, and it is made up of mostly blue collar workers who felt they had to "escape" changing neighborhoods in Chicago. Chicago is either white or black neighborhoods, few inbetween. My son grew up knowing the kids in the neighborhood because he spent so much time with my father here, so he is accepted by the kids. I wanted him to attend the school I went to because I knew it was one of the few racially mixed schools and it has a good educational reputation. Although the town is racist, it is the safest place for my son to be. My son is involved in sports and a swing dance troupe in the community and he has many friends. We do attend social gatherings from this, but there are inevitably racial comments and jokes because many of parents don't realize my son is mixed. I just don't care to be around that. It bothers my husband and I more than it does our son.
12. Race in America
Fri, Sep 17, 1999 - /EST
There are historical reasons as to why race became prominent/dominant in America (outside of slavery-related reasons). If anyone know what they are kindly enlighten the group.
America does not benefit from benefiting from a homogeneous racial make-up, nor does it have a sizeable mixed-race class of persons like Brazil does. America is a nation of states, each big enough to be their own country. There has not been time for, or a catalyzing event capable of cementing its citizens into thinking of themselves as "Americans" first.
We typically only have this realization that we do have ties to our country or a sense of patriotic nationalism when we are abroad.
We do lack a conscious unifying national identity.
13. To Maytime
Fri, Sep 17, 1999 - /EST
I LOVE the "Black Scandanavian!"
14. To Historian
Fri, Sep 17, 1999 - /EST
Kindly clarify what you mean by the "indoctrination" of the Wilson-Simms children.
15. To Maytime and Maxwell on "Americanness"
Fri, Sep 17, 1999 - 11:59 AM/EST
Maxwell: No you are not nuts. I agree with you completely on treating people in "humanistic" ways, rather than focusing on the artificial concept of "race." Let's start first with changing the terminology our popular culture and government use to define people. Everyone knows language is powerful and can shape opinions and world views. Why is it OK to call people of color "minorities," a term that is offensive because it erases human qualities.
Wouldn't it follow that anyone not a "minority" would then be a "majority?" Why aren't European Americans called "majorities?" Wouldn't that be more democratic? Some would argue that European Americans accept and self-label as "white" (a nonsensical and political term) because it brings a lot of privilege with it. If someone can pass as "white" they can reap the benefits the title.
Many people who outwardly appear "white" in fact come from families that have some mixture of African, European and Native American heritage (i.e. many Latinos).
Maytime: Your comments about what it is to be American were right on. I lived in South America for 10 years and people were perplexed at the way we U.S. citizens have appropriated the term "American" to define ourselves. In their view, anyone from the Americas, from Canada to Argentina, is "American." Some of my Latin friends had relatives in Europe who felt the same way. It would be as if England decided to call itself "Europe" and all English subjects refered to themselves as "Europeans" to the exclusion of all others who live on or near the continent!
Also, I am a journalist. I've noticed how our press, government and special-interest groups refer to the United States as "America" when they want to incite patriotic fervor. When they refer to official U.S. business or the Olympics, it becomes "the United States." Sometimes these phrases are used on an instictual level without the person consciously realizing what they are doing. Check it out!
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