Week 1 Homework

Defining Identity

“If internalized racism enters the souls of black folks through years of socialization then we are not going to be rid of it by simply giving shallow expressions to the notion that black is beautiful. We must live in our bodies in such a way that we daily indicate that black is beautiful. We must talk about blackness differently. And we cannot do any of this constructive action without first loving blackness.”
― bell hooks, Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery

Identity can be a complex issue, because it is defined at many levels. Individuals can define their personal identity through their style, attitude, and hobbies. But often identity is chosen for us based on our family, race, socioeconomic status, country of origin, and the communities we live in. Our culture can help shape the person that we become. Browse this website and explore different aspects of Latino culture.

In what ways can our culture define us? Do we share different values based on where we come from?

While we have the power to ultimately decide who we are, the identity that society imposes on us can have a huge effect on the way we navigate the world and our future opportunities. For people that grow up straddling two or more cultures, it can feel like they do not belong to any culture. This phenomenon of being an outsider in your own country has been described by numerous American authors, from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir Farewell to Manzanar to Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street (read page 28, Those Who Don’t), and slam poets like Denice Frohman in her piece Boarders (3:40).

Image from What I Be Project, by photographer Steve Rosenfield, where subjects confronted their deepest insecurities regarding stereotypes imposed by society.

How are other people’s expectations influential in our identity? Could society’s disbelief in your abilities, misunderstanding of your culture, or questioning of your heritage have an impact on your social development or your capacity to succeed? The inadvertent adoption of self-hate based on the constant endurance of racism is often termed internalized racism. Check out some of the videos from black celebrities recounting their first times realizing they were black. What impact can society’s perceptions of your race and common implicit biases to your ethnic group have on your self-esteem? Do you have implicit biases based on race? Find out by taking this short test. What was your experience dealing with race for the first time? Have you ever felt the need to code switch — change your language or behavior depending on the race of your audience? Why?

For Further Information:

Are you interested in exploring more on this topic? Check out Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. This book contains a mixture of prose and poetry detailing invisible borders that exist between countries, races, genders, sexual expressions, etc. Note: Anzaldúa uses both English and Spanish in her writing to demonstrate how Chicana culture is stuck between the border of languages. Proficiency in Spanish will facilitate the understanding of the content.

You may also be interested in Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s The Mis-Education of the Negro, a book written in 1933 that discusses how African-Americans were being culturally indoctrinated in schools to seek inferior positions in society. Do you feel that your education has adequately represented people that look like you?