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San Diego State University The Complexity of Identity Discussion

San Diego State University The Complexity of Identity Discussion


Answer only ONE question from each section. Make sure you number each section in your answers. Each answer must be at least 100 words in length. You do not have to include a work cited page. Answers must make use of the reading/video as evidence.

Part One – Tatum “The Complexity of Identity”

Tatum describes identity as “complex” and made up of many different factors. As you think of your own identity, what are the racial, gender, sexual, class, religious and other factors that have shaped it? Do you mainly focus on one or two aspects of your identity or do you think of your identity as “complex” in real-life, everyday interactions? Can you describe some examples of how various factors in your own identity interact with each other?

How do you think that (what Tatum calls) your “dominant” and your “subordinate” identities have shaped your sense of yourself – as you are today? As your experiences have changed over time? Were there any personal experiences that stand out for you that made you especially aware of a “dominant” or “subordinate” identity?

  • Are there social situations in which one or more of the factors among your identities seem especially challenging or which provide support for you? If yes, can you think of social situations in which your “dominant” or “subordinate” identities play out in different ways – either challenging or supportive or both?
  • Part Two – Johnson’s “The Social Construction of Difference”
  • Johnson quotes James Baldwin’s statement that “No one is white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country.” Can you identify one or two examples of immigrants who became “White” in the US? Were they considered “White” before becoming Americans? Can you describe how that process of “whitening” happened?

On the other hand, for immigrants who did not become “White” when they came to American, how were they identified racially? Had that been their racial identity before the process of immigration?

Johnson makes the point that the “social construction of reality” applies to sexism and ableism as well as to racism and that these social constructions have no significance except to provide privilege for some and disadvantage for others. Can you provide examples of how systems of privilege and disadvantage – concerning race, or gender, or any other system of advantage and disadvantage – may have changed over time, as the “social construction of reality” itself changed?

  • Johnson distinguishes between “diversity”/“difference” (“difference” need not imply inequality) and “privilege”/“oppression” (in which inequality is rationalized or justified by differences). Can you think of examples you’ve personally observed of “differences” that you have observed or experienced that do not convey inequality? Can you think of examples you’ve observed or experienced of “differences” that are used to justify privilege and oppression?
  • Part Three – Sue’s “Microaggressions, Marginality, and Oppression”. Make sure you also use this video on Microaggressions to support your answer.
  • (Links to an external site.)
  • Have you observed or overheard any of Sue’s examples of microaggressions in your neighborhoods or schools or families? Have you experienced them yourself? How does the accumulation of multiple microaggressions, day after day, make the person experiencing them feel?

Have you tried to interrupt a microaggression? Can you provide an example of interrupting microaggressions successfully?

Looking ahead to the next section, where Young describes oppression as the result of the “unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols … [of] normal processes of everyday life”: Can you give examples of how Sue’s approach to microaggression might illustrate Young’s description of oppression?

Part Four – Young’s “Five faces of oppression.”

Here’s how Young defines oppression: “Its causes are embedded in unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following these rules … in short, the normal processes of everyday life.” What examples of “the normal processes of everyday life” have you experienced or observed that fit Young’s definition of oppression? Why do you think these normal processes of everyday life are not questioned or resisted?

Young offers a different explanation of oppression from the explanation in Bell, Adams, and Zúñiga. Do you find it useful to have two different explanations oppression? Do they clarify different aspects of a complicated social system?

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