Introduction to Identity

Identity is defined on Dictionary.com as “the sense of self”. Let me tell you a little bit about myself, an introduction to my own identities.  I’m a native San Franciscan. My parents were born here too. Each grandparent was a different ethnicity: Danish, Scottish, Irish, and Italian. Contrary to the mainstream and the definition of my whiteness, I consider myself multiethnic. Of course I have other identities and we all have multiple identities. What is your nationality, origin, religion, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, age, generation, and profession?

To run the risk of deconstructing identity to nihilism, we must admit that identity in many cases is a social construction. For example, in America it’s common to categorize someone who has one black grandparent and three white grandparents as black while in Haiti they may be considered white. Again, to theorize about the existence of race doesn’t allow us to deny race exists in our society. For example, it would be foolish for me to claim I was not white, even if that is only part of my whole being.

To add another dimension, some of us may have an identity based on a lack of identity. For example, an atheist does not have a religion but has an identity regarding that category. For another example, I know a man who doesn’t have a nationality at all. He’s originally from Saudi Arabia, but his grandparents had fled Palestine. Though he was born in Saudi Arabia he was not a citizen there or in Israel-Palestine. (Being born in Saudi Arabia does not confer citizenship.) He had no nationality, but he had an identity, a status, a reality, based upon it. Such categories can be limiting, but also help us make sense of the world. Sometimes we learn more about what it means to be American by traveling abroad.

Difference brings perspective. Difference can bring conflict. My blog is designed to provide thoughts on identity to challenge our comfort zones. I hope my entries can add perspective. My goal is not to create conflict for its own sake, but to challenge assumptions, to get us to think. Let’s confront the issues but not each other. I seek your openness (dialog) and strength (civility).

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About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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3 Responses to Introduction to Identity

  1. Vincent G says:

    When you talk about Identity, it seems like a broad term. There are parts of people’s identities that can’t change: race or physical attributes (short or tall, light skin or dark skin, etc.). And there are pieces of people’s Identities that aren’t readily apparent and aren’t revealed until you talk to them or they choose to expose some part of their Identity that they want you to know. This interior Identity can consist of things that can change and things that can’t change.

    Do you think that people project certain Identities because they are associated with positive attributes? Do you think that people project negative Identities in order to receive attention and pity? Basically, do you think that people use Identity to their advantage–whether or not it is their true Identity?

    • I like the insight Vincent. I would argue though that sometimes seemingly fixed idenitties are in fact variable, such as race. Race is a social construction and is subject to cultural change. Though someone with an eighth African ancestry and seven-eighths European ancestry is considered black in the US, they would be considered white in Haiti. That said, I agree people do filter themselves, often on purpose, depending on the situation. I definitely think people use identity to their advantage. The trick nowadays with race is that this is often done in a way that can be oblivious even to the person doing it. This invisible racism is still strong while overt acts of racism, relative to a hundred years ago, seem to be on the decline in this country.

      • Vincent G says:

        Speaking of using Identity to one’s advantage, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on how people use social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to construct and broadcast online identities. Do you think that the average person consciously and deliberately maintains their online identity? Are people trying to mould themselves into a social ideal, providing posts and photos as evidence of a perfect life? Is this the same as Identity project in real life (offline)? Or is it something different? Does it even matter?

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