BIG QUESTION: How can I leverage my identity to effect positive social change and foster an interdependent global society rooted in post-colonial equity?
TIME COMMITMENT: 50 minutes
WHY THIS MATTERS: As mentioned elsewhere on the site, social change often requires individual change – civil society starts with the individuals that form communities. Each individual is different, yet too often the societal structures that have developed around these differences are oppressive, using difference as a divider and creating a hierarchy of identities. How one identifies matters; what’s more, recognizing one’s identity, positioning it within current societal structures and learning how to communicate across identities is how disruption of oppressive societal construction occurs. This module will examine broadly the spectrums of identity and social justice encouraging participants to move beyond their own perspective and see the world through a global lens.
This module will encourage participants to:
- Expand one’s self-awareness, especially cultural self-awareness
- Interrogate power, privilege and positionality in a global setting
- Understand/examinelocalcontexts of inequality and oppression
DIVING IN, PART 1: Identity and Awareness of Self
Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows “that is not me.” In America, this norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure. It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society
-Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” (1984)
This quote from Audre Lorde is from a book that is nearly 40 years old, yet today still rings loudly and true. While Lorde specifically mentions the United States of America, across the world mythical norms exist. These norms may mirror the US definition – white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian and financially secure – but the way that they have been conceived, in other words, the historical and cultural contexts that have led to the birth of such norms might be vastly different, creating nuances that must be examined and understood.
Now let’s turn the scope to you – Think about 2 or 3 ways you identify. What is a moment that has made your identity very salient to you – something that happened to define that identity, when you started thinking about it, when you became conscious that this was an important piece of who you are? Think of the event or the experience that solidified this identity. What was it about this event or experience that brought about this new awareness or importance?
Now, think about how much of your identity is place-based. How prevalent is the lens of your home country when you are defining yourself and who you are? Have you had experiences outside of your home country that have caused you to re-examine your own identity?
Diving in, Part 2: Power, Privilege and Positionality: Are you a target or an agent?
Critical reflection on identity must consider the dynamics of power, privilege and positionality. Human beings, inherently social, do not exist in individual vacuums. Our interactions, the transactions of our identities, are heavily influenced by where each individual’s identity exists in society—their power, privilege and positionality.
Let’s take a minute to define these three terms. To get back to the basics, Merriam Webster defines power as ability to act or produce an effect, possession of control, authority; influence over others and physical might. Privilege, according to the IFSA Butler Diversity and Inclusion Terminology, is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” Lastly, positionality in the context of this module and subject matter, has been popularized by scholar Linda Martin Alcoff to mean an “understanding and description of how identify markers inform how we see the world around us and how we are seen.”
Society today operates in such a way that your identity is translated within these dynamics. Depending on who you are, you might be a target, whereby a certain aspect of your identity can be challenging given the way society has been structured. Adversely, aspects of your identity which have benefited from unearned privilege might place you into the agent category. In the reflection activity below, you will examine your personal privilege, based on various dimensions of your identity.
Reflection Activity 2: Personal privilege profile activity:https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/PERSONAL_PRIVILEGE_PROFILE.pdf
Page Completion – Outcomes:
Now that you have done a deep dive into your identity and how it places you in society, expanding your self-awareness, the following pages will ask you to think about identity in a global context – how the perception of identity changes depending on one is and why it is important to know and understand this.
Sekimoto S & Sorrells, K. (2016). Globalizing Intercultural Communication: A reader. Los Angeles: SAGE.
Yosso, Tara J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, Race Ethnicity and Education, 8, 69–91
Yancy, George & Alcoff, Linda (2015). ‘Philosophy’s Lost Body and Soul’ The New York Times, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/philosophys-lost-body-and-soul/