This is my first assignment in my Master's in Education program... We're supposed to write an essay about our social identity, and didn't get much more instruction than that, except that we'll be reading it to the rest of the class. Let me know what you think... sorry if it's boring.Labels and Comparisons: My Social Identity
In order to explore our identities regarding class, race, gender, religion, and other aspects of human life, we must look at the ideas that make up social identity. Social identity consists of four elements: Categorization, or attaching labels to people; Identification, which refers to associating oneself to certain groups; Comparison, or viewing other groups differently from our own; and Psychological Distinctiveness - we each want to be different from other groups.
Allow me to categorize myself. I am a "white female" of European descent. I am a "Massachusetts resident."I am a"Green Party member."I am a"graduate student."I am a "Unitarian Universalist."I am a"poor person,"but my parents are"rich people."What do these labels say about me? Can people make assumptions about my beliefs if I tell them I am a white female? When someone hears me called a"poor person,"what will they assume about my upbringing and employment situation? As for Identification, I associate myself with several groups, including the Green Party, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the State Radio fan club. The assumptions I make about people who, for example, are members of the Republican Party, fall under the category of Comparison. I have found that I tend to focus on Comparison more than Psychological Distinctiveness. My economic situation as a child and teenager shows that I put a great deal of energy into comparing myself to other groups and people with different labels.
I grew up in a white, affluent family in the suburbs of Boston. As children my sisters and I used to play a game called "Rich Girl," in which we pretended our dad had a "good job" and we could buy whatever we wanted. We didn't know it, but we were "rich girls." As I grew older I developed an increasing sense of guilt regarding my class. My schools were always well-funded, and 15 miles away in Boston kids my age were being treated very poorly. In the same way, I felt guilty for reaping the benefits of my white skin while black people and other minorities had to deal with discrimination on a daily basis.
My current economic situation is different, but not as different as I thought it would be. For the two years before I started the Bridges program I worked a minimum wage job at a movie theater, and was living below poverty level in a studio apartment with my boyfriend. But I didn't live like a poor person; I have always had my family to support me financially. For example, my high school graduation present from my parents was the family minivan, and when it broke down a few months ago my grandmother gave me 5,000 dollars to buy a new one. When my computer broke around the same time, my dad bought me one for my birthday. My parents are paying my rent while I'm in school this year.
How does my wealthy family affect my social identity? The situation puts me in something of a no-man's-land of class. I am poor, but I don't live like poor people who don't have people giving them money whenever they need it. So am I rich? This is the most confusing part of my social identity for me. Outside of class, I have a firm grasp on what makes up my social identity.
I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist, a religion that doesn't tell members what to believe but encourages them to embark upon, as one of the religion's principles reads, "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning." This part of my social identity is very strong; although I don't go to church anymore, I find comfort in the Unitarian Universalist outlook. In eighth grade each member of my youth group made a speech during service about what we believed. My speech discussed my choice to consider myself an Agnostic, because I know there are important questions that human beings need to think about, but I don't necessarily believe that we can answer those questions in this life, and that that's okay.
I took a major step toward Psychological Distinctiveness in 2004, when I voted for David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate, instead of John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. I knew Kerry would win the electoral votes in Massachusetts, so I felt that I was in a unique situation to support the Green Party, unlike people in other categories like West Virginians. Over the past few years my identity as a Green Party member has grown stronger; this is probably because I have been away from my parents, who are Democrats. When I was a child I called myself a Democrat because that's what my parents said they were, but now that I live on my own I can find Psychological Distinctiveness in regard to politics.
I try not to label people. I once corrected a psychiatrist when she called me "a manic-depressive," and told her that I prefer to be referred to as "a person with bipolar disorder." I won't delve into my psychological history, but I will conclude by pointing out that the distinction I pointed out to the doctor between a label and a descriptive word is an important thing to remember in teaching. The boy in the front row is not a "Jew," he's a "Jewish person." The girl who reads on the playground is not a "bookworm," she's a girl who likes to read. Of course labels like "girl" and "person" are necessary, but I intend to avoid using labels as a teacher, and to encourage students to find similarities when they compare themselves to others.