Culturally Stripped: An Identity Crisis

22 Jan

This past week was a short week at the school where in teach, in part due to MLK’s birthday, but also because there was a day of staff development. Now normally, staff development is a necessary and beneficial, but not always enjoyable, activity. But this time, I participated in a particularly challenging activity that really made me question my own cultural identity and how I define myself.

The activity went as follows. To get a sense of how difficult this really is, I encourage you to participate in the activity as you read each step.

Step One: On a piece of paper, write down six things that you think are essential to your identity and things that define you. Things like your skin color/physical traits, race, language, religion/faith, being a parent, being a son/daughter, being a wife/husband/partner, family heirlooms, food, peace, vocation, freedoms, rites of passage, privileges, etc.. When given this task, I wrote down the following six things: Mother, Wife, Daughter, Teacher, Writer, Freedom of Speech.

Step Two: Cross off one of these things. If you were forced to give up one of these parts of yourself, which one would you give up? For this step, I crossed off “teacher.” As much as I love my profession and I think it’s played a huge role in how I view the world, of all the things on my list, I felt teaching was the least essential to my being.

Step Three: Cross off two more of those things. If you were forced to give up two more parts of yourself, which ones would you give up? This is where it really started to become difficult. After some deliberation, I eventually crossed of “daughter” and “freedom of speech.” I decided that while being a daughter once shaped me, it’s no longer the main focus of my life and while giving up my freedom of expression would be difficult, I’d do it if I could keep my husband/son and still write (even if the topics would be censored).

Step Four: You guessed it. Cross of two more of those things. If you could only keep one of the essential parts of your identify, which one would you leave yourself with? Despite the fact that these were only words on a paper, crossing them off was somehow painfully real. How could I choose between my husband, my child, and my need to express myself through the written word? Eventually I chose to cross off “writer” and “husband.” I told myself that realistically, I would sacrifice anything for my son. This is true. However, I know that if I had to give up writing and my husband, I would absolutely not be the mother that I would want to be. But, similarly, if I had to give up my husband and child, would I be the writer that I want to be? I doubt it.

It was fascinating to have conversations with my colleagues about their decisions. When faced with giving up faith or family, most chose to give up family, citing that they knew their faith could get them through anything, even the loss of their family, whereas if they gave up faith and then something happened to their family they’d be left with nothing. Touché.

This made me question my own choices. What if (God forbid) something did happen to Husband and Child and I no longer had the ability to write? Then who would I be? What would I become? Thank goodness this isn’t a choice I actually have to make and that will probably never be forced upon me. Whatever life brings, I don’t think I’ll be forced to give up the badge I wear (sometimes bashfully) that says, “I am a writer.” *Wipes brow* Thank God, Harry Potter and Everything-Else-Holy for that.

But the whole point of this exercise is that there are people who are forced to strip themselves of bits of their identity every day. There are students who are asked to give up parts of who they are every time they enter a school building. Perhaps it’s that they must speak a language other than their home language to communicate. Perhaps it’s that they are told to do things that would be disrespectful or taboo in their cultures. Perhaps assumptions are made about their beliefs and their choices, and perhaps these assumptions are wrong.

These are issues that as an educator I was aware of, but I must admit I have not been proactive about fixing them. If I am so fortunate as to not have to whittle my identity down to one element, then why would I expect this of my students? I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to realize this, and I’m proud that I’m taking steps to better myself as an educator and truly get to know my students.

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One Response to “Culturally Stripped: An Identity Crisis”

  1. Writing Jobs January 22, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    What a wonderful post today. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks for sharing.

    Join Us Today!

    Writers Wanted

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