Identity is your culture, ethnicity, skills and abilities, physical attributes or gender, occupation and hobbies, and values and beliefs. It is who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world, and the characteristics that define you (Identity dictionary definition | identity defined, 2020). Our identity is a cumulation of many things added together.
In his theory of developmental stages, Erik Erikson says there are three characteristics of establishing an identity. They are defining oneself within the world, feeling a sense of belonging, and feeling unique (Sokol, 2009). The ‘otherness’ concept is fundamental to sociological evaluations of how majority and minority communities are formed. Rather than talking about the individual characteristics or personalities of different individuals, which is generally the focus for psychology, sociologists focus on social identities (Zevallos, 2020). Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend (Bauman, 1991).
Before I started my freshman year of high school, my parents decided the school we were attending was too dangerous. They had spoken with our pastor and were offered a reduced rate tuition for the school run by the church. I was horrified. I knew the girls who were in my Sunday school class. They were all so preppy and super rich. I would never fit in. I would be alone with students who had grown up together. We were really poor and could not afford the uniforms we had to wear. My mom called her friend who had a sewing machine. This woman tried her best, but my uniform still had an uneven hem and sat lopsided on my body. We made a trip to the local thrift store and found one decent white shirt to go under the jumper, but my mom washed it the night before in our rusty well water. It looked so dingy.
The first day of school I was so terrified to walk in the building, but I mustered up the courage and stood there in the gymnasium trying to decide where I should go. The girls were all wearing name brand polos, fancy shoes and their uniforms were most definitely store bought. A group of kids stood close together talking but as soon as they saw me their silence became deafening. The whispers started and all I wanted to do was run away, but I was too petrified to even move. A girl sitting on the benches stood up and walked over to me. She didn’t look like the other girls. What I mean is she was in very expensive clothes and shoes; her hair was perfectly poofed-up (it was the 80’s) but she had the most beautiful olive skin tone and deep dark eyes.
She introduced her self to me, reassured me, and said we would do this together. Her and I walked together and sat down. The whispers did not stop but they mattered very little to me sitting there with my new friend from India. We didn’t share the same pigment color of skin, or come from the same economic background, it didn’t matter, she was raised right. It doesn’t matter what race, where you are from, what your social class is, or what you believe. Treat everybody with the same respect and dignity. Kindness goes a long way. I have carried this lesson I learned from Allene for 35 years.
I was raised in a blue collar home where I took care of my sister, made dinners, and cleaned the house, my stepdad worked as a landscaper, on the business end of a shovel, until he saved enough and started his own business painting houses, he later finished school at night to become a Pastor. He was often exhausted and would come home and beat the tar out of me for not setting the table correctly or not having dinner ready. My Mom was a school bus driver and took every extra trip they would give her. When I was 16 my stepdad put me out of his house and onto the streets, but I learned “otherness” through this too. I learned I am set apart because I am a fixer. I try to make everything better for others. This makes me more sensitive, more aware of other’s needs, it gives me a drive to step up and to step forward to help. I nurture, even at times when my plate is already full, just because I feel it is the right thing to do.
A person’s identity is multifaceted, it might include physical and gender identity, targets of employment, personal religious beliefs, and cultural heritage. Everyone has their own distinct identity and uniqueness. Sometimes it hardly changes their sense of self and sometimes it produces a different individual within them. People can significantly affect others. Situations can occur and sometimes a truth is revealed but our decisions and identities characterize us through it all. Your identity is both developed and inherited. In the decisions you make, you help build your identity. There are so many variables that also establish your identity, like how your parents viewed you, if you have siblings, and the cultural context in which you experienced childhood. Identity is not just who you are in the present moment, but who you are called to be.