“Identity is nuanced. It’s complicated. It’s hard to define. Sometimes it’s dangerous to define, depending upon who’s doing the defining.”Ghanian American professor, activist, and author
“Identity is nuanced. It’s complicated. It’s hard to define. Sometimes it’s dangerous to define, depending upon who’s doing the defining.” – Dr. Yaba Blay, Ghanian American professor, activist, and author
This week, you will notice the challenge is building on our various foundations of DEI. Our goal with this material is to meet each of you where you are in your equity journey to support forward progress. To do this, we must build a baseline with each other. Today through Friday, some of the topics will look familiar from last year, but with a deeper dive or different perspective. Need a refresher? Find last year’s material about identity on our website.
Today, we start with identity. What is identity?
Dr. Yaba Blay says on Brené Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast that identity is, “the meeting of who you are, who you believe yourself to be, and who others tell you that you are. And I think we’re all trying to navigate that space to come to understand who we are. Because we can’t act like other people’s definitions of us or other people’s projections onto us don’t impact us.”
Ultimately, identity is beautiful. Identity is complex. Identity is personal yet identity is also community. Identity is the core of who we are, and it helps create language for our shared lived experiences as people.
When we look closer at identity, we can see how identity is shaped by the social groups to which we belong, as constructed by society. This is called social identity. Some examples of social identity include race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, citizenship status, criminal record, education, socioeconomic class and more.
The organization oneTILT defines social identity as having these three characteristics:
We started this week with identity because to truly transform inequitable systems, we must start with us. When we take time to better understand what social groups we identify with and which may be prescribed to us in society, we can start to unpack how those identities show up in systems of oppression.
During the history of the United States, systems of oppression have been created through violence and colonization to maintain inequitable power and control over people who are part of non-dominant groups. Some examples of oppression are racism, sexism, classism and more. It’s important to remember that systems of oppression have always been part of the foundation of the United States and pre-date the founding of the country. Systems of oppression impact access to quality of education, childcare, safe housing, nutrition and more (Social Construction of Systems of Oppression and Privilege, Goduka and Geisthardt).
Today’s challenge materials allow us to better understand the relationship between social identity and systems of oppression. By starting here, we can each see how our own lives are impacted by these systems and define our role in dismantling them.