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My identities matter

If I asked you how you identify yourself, what would you say? Would it depend on the environment you find yourself in? Have you been exposed to the idea of gender fluidity, where there aren’t just male and female identities? How about race - do you find yourself seeing more than just black and white?

These topics have been something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I am in a book group discussing race, and during a conversation about Rachel Dolezal, we spoke about the issue that came from her ‘choice’ of identity. Here we were, discussing the fact that this woman was choosing to identify as a person of color. It seemed pretty obvious to me that it isn’t or shouldn’t be about what I thought, it was about how Ms. Dolezal chose to identify herself. Some participants remarked that it wasn’t about what this group of white people thought, but instead what the people she was identifying with thought, but why does that matter?

When I was younger, we were taught to put things in boxes. For example, you were black or white, or you were male or female. Even five years ago it was still easy for the “dominant” group (males, heterosexual, White people, and/or Christians, for example) to identify others as they saw from their own eyes and their own perceptions of how others should be identified. Several years ago, my students were educating me about gender transitions and gender fluidity. Instead of telling my students what I was taught, that someone is either male or female, I listened. I let them help me understand, and some even shared with me how they identified. It didn’t seem strange to me to let them do that, but in this conversation about racial identity, I was struck by how some still wanted it to be the simple (“black or white”) option.

There was so much about this conversation that got me thinking about whose role it is to identify someone, and whose experience matters. It isn’t my role to decide how others identify, it is my role to listen - and allow you to tell me how you identify yourself, because only then can we be authentic about who we are, and let others we engage with do the same. We have to stop wanting things to be easy, and start seeing the shades of gray for what they are, and realize that we can all learn from each other.

Your experience as a woman is not the same as my experience. Should I expect that we have walked the same paths with the same experiences? I don’t think so We should not expect people of all colors and genders to have the same experience. I have said it before - these are the differences that make our country so incredible.

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