I am taking a Women's Studies course with my sister this Autumn at the University of Cincinnati. Our first assignment was to write a self-identity paper, explaining who we are through the lens of our ethnic/sexual/gender/class identity. My identity paper is below. The last line exists because my professor had made several sexist comments about men--she called us 'simple'--before triumphantly quoting Sojourner Truth's famous 'Ain't I A Woman' speech. The potential for hypocrisy among the self-proclaimed enlightened is never to be underestimated.
I am a white, lower middle class (or upper lower class) male who is married with two children. I am primarily an institutional liberal when it comes to politics, am mostly heterosexual in my sexual orientation, and don’t derive my self-definition too strongly from any tribal membership.
I understand that the above statement regarding self definition may be more easily available to me as a function of my white/male/primarily hetero privilege.
I have never fit in too much with any group. I’ve always been kind of a lone wolf and individualist. I’ve never had a group of friends, but have had friendships with individual friends who typically do not know each other and usually belong to separate groups of friends. I’m the guy they hang out with when they’re not hanging out with their clique. This used to bother me, because the order to conform and to belong/collectivise (my word) seems to be strong in our culture, but I’ve become used to my iconoclastic status. I’m even a little proud of it.
I am not proud to be an American, but I’m happy to live in America. Not because it’s ‘America’ so much as because I’m happy to be alive. I’m not proud of my ethnic heritage, because it’s as accidental as my nationality. I’m a member of the democratic party, but I’m not a sexy liberal, meaning that I think Che Guevarra was an asshole, and tend to spend most of my time in political argument defending our welfare state and neo-liberal foreign policy agenda, rather than arguing for radical change of one sort or the other.
I’m not religious either. My wife and kids and I have been going to a local Episcopal church because we like the preacher (he preaches love and service rather than fire & brimstone), and because neither my wife nor myself benefitted from being members of any tight-knit communities while we were growing up. My wife and I are both black sheep, and we would like our kids to be able to navigate society more successfully than we have.
I may have all of this white/male/hetero privilege in a theoretical fashion, or may be expected to benefit from it statistically, but I think I may have equalized many of those white/male/hetero perks by being myself.
I’m interested in people as individuals, and cringe when people don’t seem to be interested in me for the same reasons. I don’t like stereotypes, groupthink, or strong group associations in people. I believe that I have succeeded in life because of who I am and because of the work I have done, not because of some kind of hidden identity-advantage. I believe that my failures are my own too.
Most of the encounters I have had with people with strong group identifications have been somewhat uncomfortable. My personal bias is to believe that the more evolved minds among us will always rely less on group affiliation, generalizations, and stereotyping, simply as a function of an increased capacity for complex processing. As a function of this bias, I tend to get cranky with folks who view themselves and others as microcosms of a larger unit rather than as individual beings who aren’t guaranteed to validate our personal prejudices.
I’m proud of my role as a father and as a husband. I identify myself as person who is capable of thinking, rather than as a person who is a member of this or that group because he thinks one thing or the other. Mainly, I identify myself as a growing individual, capable of feeling, loving, learning, and creating.
And ‘ain’t I a woman?’