Assumptions of Identity
Mon Mar 19 2018 08:20:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
Identity is defined in the dictionary as a noun that means “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” Identity is a way we feel part of a community and see ourselves with others. It can be amazing to share commonalities about your identity as well as share it with those who do not identify the same way as you do.
Even if it’s a great experience to share your identity, there also becomes the trouble of how you would like to share your identity with a group of people. This all comes to comfort level. How much are you willing to share about your own identities in the space you are in? For myself, growing up around other Native American/Hispanic students I did not feel the need to discuss my identity, because so many people in my community were just like me. It was not until I began at ASU that I felt the need to share my various identities and culture in order to keep connected to my culture.
It is important to remember that you are not required to share what ways you identify in gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, etc. Either way if you share or not you are still the identities that you identify as. No one can tell you who you are or what you are not.
While sharing your identities is important, it is also important to remember to not visibly judge a person and what their identities may or may not be. Often, we become in a habit of assuming that a person could be this or that. This often puts a person in a box. For example, as a person who is a cisgender woman, coming out as queer was interesting because people who were part of the LGBTQIA+ community questioned me. My identity felt invalid because I did not look “gay” and it was pointed out that I did not seem “masculine” enough to feel gender fluid. It reminded me that there was not a look to any identity and it is not fair to assume just because a person looked a certain way.
There are many identities that can be hidden such as disabilities, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic class. A lot of identities might not be showcased unless the individual decides to discuss them. Even if a person decides not to discuss their identity it is not up to our own discretion to decide what their identity is because that can leave a person to feel as if you erased a big part of who they are.
The second meaning of the word identity is “a close similarity or affinity.” When we erase a person’s identity because it is not visible or may not seem like “enough of something to identify that way,” we are belittling them as people and closing off their affinity. We do not get to decide or make conclusions about it.
While we move towards more representation in leadership positions it is important that we do not assume what a person should or could be categorized as. It is fair to know that we all have done this and may continue to do this but what is important is that we take a moment to try to stop this from happening. This can happen in two simple questions that you ask yourself:
1. Has this person told me this is their identity?
2. Am I guessing they identify this way because of the way they look, dress, or speak?
After answering these questions to yourself you then will know if you were assuming a person’s identity. The point is to stop your usual way of thinking and continue with an open mind afterwards.
Again, this is something we all do as people, but the important part is for us to stop assuming and start listening. Once we begin to listen we can begin to have discussions on identities and how to best support those identities in leadership positions.