Identity is precious. Why are we toying with it?
Identity is precious. We were created to be identified as people of value, and we search for our identity in an attempt to feel and solidify that value. It is too precious to be strictly political, yet this age is obsessively tying our identity to a particular ideology. This creates tension and division. Our identities are complex because our experiences, our families, our beliefs, and our genetics are complex. There are parts of us that influence thought about a given issue, and there are other aspects of our person that might take us in an opposite direction regarding something else. The world is nuanced and we are nuanced. We are also capable of evolving, of admitting our blind spots, of emotionally maturing, of changing. Our identity can change. A person who comes to faith at the age of thirty now has an added layer to their identity, if not an altogether new one.
Of course our politics come from who we are, what we believe, and how we frame the complexities of life. But there is a danger in failing to step outside of ourselves to analyze issues objectively, to react and judge purely out of our emotional reasoning or through the preset lens we use because of a piece of our identity.
I am a white, Christian woman from the Southern United States. I am challenged constantly to think beyond that identity, because others have attached their own perceptions to those attributes. I am especially “encouraged” to deconstruct my immutable characteristics, the very things about me I can’t change, because others have deemed them threatening and harmful, regardless of my actions.
We don’t just play a dangerous game with our own identity, but we force others to participate in the affair as well. Identity politics inevitably pits me against you. Your identity and my identity will never align perfectly, therefore our beliefs and values likely won’t either, so someone must give, bend, acquiesce, shape their identity to look more like one that is suitable in the current climate.
Is that not irony or arrogance, at best? Is it not an assumption that we somehow know the character of a person based on what we can observe about their identity? At worst, is that not blatant judgment or morphing personal identity into a collective belief system?
I do not like being treated as if I cannot, as a white person, make a decision that is helpful to people of color without effectively detaching myself from part of my own identity. That is an insult to my intelligence and ability to empathize with others. I can know the limitations of my experience without giving up that part of me or forming into something “acceptable”, something it’s not. I do not like treating men like they cannot make decisions that are helpful to me as a woman because they aren’t one. How foolish! Diversity, the word we love to paste on every advertisement from here to Mars, is a collection of different individuals with unique perspectives sitting at the table. Yet we are throwing people from their chairs because we are white knuckling our identity groups at the expense of free thought and ideas and their valuable exchange. All the while, when we use our identity for a political convenience, it is effectively cheapened, and observers take note. That hurts us.
It may certainly be true that people of color know the best way forward in many circumstances, that women should take the lead on certain issues, that the LGBTQ community should have the microphone for some matters, but when we begin ousting others because they are not in our identity group conforming to our groupthink, that is not progress. That is exclusion. There is a balance to be achieved, but it can only be found through true collaboration. And if our identity is deeply threatened when challenged, maybe we should examine the foundations of our identity and find sturdier ground.
I am a lot of things, and none of those things hinder me from stepping beyond myself to see the world in a different light, to make each informed decision independently. I don’t have to give those things up, either, but I am not trapped within them. I am influenced, not dictated.
Identity is precious. We should value it and nurture it. We must find ourselves in something, and everyone is looking for that something, but I reject the idea that that something must be at the expense of true diversity, inclusion, the exchange of ideas, critical thought, and independent decision making.