Category Archives: reflections

Speaking up about Identity

I loved high school. I thrived in the small,  Lutheran private school. The community was uplifting and challenged me spiritually and mentally. I had good friends, that I can’t call good friends anymore but I still care about, we just took different paths. My path has led me to new friends that flex better into my new mindset. High school allowed me to challenge and find my strengths. I took art, english and environmental studies as higher level classes and I thought that would be enough but when I entered university I took an education class called self and other which allowed me to look at how I identify and influence other identities.

And thus a feminist emerged.

The quick definition is someone who fights for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. The part about the sexes is what everyone is hung up on but basically it’s someone who promotes equality and rights for all people who could be oppressed through any way that they identify. For myself, I identify publicly as female, cisgender, white, heterosexual and able. As for my personality, I identify as an environmentalist, a feminist, and a sexual and mental health advocate along with many other things. In my inner discourse to myself, I often wonder about how I identify and I’m scared to identify in other ways for fear of public reaction. Sometimes I even worry about how I know if I identify as a certain thing and how to be genuine to that identity. If I come out as a certain identity, can I change my mind? But then, of course, how I identify now is just as authentic as it was ten years ago because my reality as changed and so have I. I also don’t see identity as black or white. Identities are spectrums that intersect with each other to create unique people. The biggest example for myself is the spectrum between heterosexual and homosexual. They created the words:  bisexual for someone who is attracted to both sexes, pansexual for people who are attracted to any gender or sex and asexual for people who aren’t attracted to to any sex or gender, but I don’t think that anyone should make themselves try to fit into these definitions – they should only be used as an aid to help other people understand your thought process and how you feel. Sex and gender are also both spectrums for me. It’s neater and tidier to fit into societies boxes but it’s not genuine in my opinion.

I’m still scared to be true to some of my identities but university has given me confidence to, at least, question my identities as more than what society dictates I should be. I’ve surrounded myself with people who care about the same things and through this I’ve been able to learn more through them about myself, how I treat other people, how they treat me and how relationships work. I question every relationship I have and every word that I say to ensure that, with what I know to be true at this point in time, I am saying and being the most empowering and healthy person that I can be.

Being a social justice advocate is mentally taxing because it requires constant care. It’s also very relieving because I can allow myself to just work towards this. I will never create pure social justice by myself so I don’t have to worry about being the perfect social justice advocate. For a perfectionist, like myself, this is strangely peaceful; to know that I am doing the best I can with the knowledge that I have at the time is relaxing. In a year when I know better I can correct myself or if I feel that I have made a wrong choice then I can deconstruct my thoughts and wonder why I chose to be oppressive and not have to worry that I am the issue but instead recognise that society creates these standards and I’m learning to move against them.

It’s just as scary to stand up for what you believe in as it is to identify with something. Lately I’ve been worried that my voice is being brushed off by those around me. Being an advocate for things that don’t fit into the status quo means that the majority of the people you talk to will brush you off. Some of my friends couldn’t care less when I start getting passionate about the environment and other people’s eyes get hazy when I talk about rights and equality but having these conversations and speaking your truth is the only way to deconstruct the way that society is fashioned and upkept. “Say it loud and go from there” from the tenth season of Grey’s anatomy is how I choose to speak. Even if you think people don’t want to hear it sometimes you just have to say it for yourself. I was at a social justice panel held at the University of Regina and the one thing that I took away from that was if you say things loud enough, you will find allies who care about the same things you do.

Illuminating the Invisible: How Privilege Has Shaped My Experiences

At the lovely Katia Hildebrandt’s suggestion, I have started reading Revealing the Invisible:  Confronting Passive Racism in Teacher Education by Sherry Marx, a book discusses the “damaging effects of unaddressed racism and white privilege on the capacity of white teachers to effectively teach students of colour.”  Chapter 2:  “Illuminating the Invisible” explored the ways that Whites make sense of Whiteness and colour as well as the common role model and saviour constructs developed by preservice teachers. This chapter connected to an assignment (curriculum-as-place.docx) I did last year for ECS 210, in which I wrote an autobiography to represent my identity and to identify significant moments in my journey that shaped my life, beliefs, and values as a future teacher.  After I handed it in, I was asked to reflect on whether I included the ways in which my gender, race, class, sexuality and other parts of my identity affected my life experiences.  I reflected that I was able to leave those parts of my identity out because I occupy positions of privilege in those areas, but I did not reflect on the specific ways my experiences were affected by my privilege. To be honest, the reason it has taken me so long to write this post is because it’s not comfortable to recognize the ways my privilege has affected my life experiences.  It means I have to own up to the fact that the experiences I’ve had and the things I have accomplished are not all due to my own hard work.  After reading Chapter 2, I knew it was time to go back to this assignment and compare what I wrote to the patterns of dialogue between Marx and the pre-service teachers she engages with. The first thing I noticed when reading over my autobiography was the pattern of writing about myself as a role model/”self-aggrandizing helper” in my volunteer work, just as many of the young women in the book do.  When I discussed my first three experiences, I wrote in a very self-centred way, focusing on the ways I was able to help the youth I worked with.  For example, I wrote about how I helped a child come out of his shell, how my support was so encouraging to students in the Functionally Integrated Program, and how I could provide new and exciting experiences for my mentee.  My language consistently focused on myself and what I was doing to help the underprivileged youth I worked with. Marx explains that “while those acting as benevolent role models and saviours are often lauded as self-sacrificing, well intentioned, and in possession of hearts of gold, this construct of the helper necessitates that the person helped is constructed as needy, dependent, and incapable of achieving on her or his own” (pg. 72).  Looking back, I think I had a deficit perception of some of the youth I worked with, which in turn allowed me to construct an idealistic version of myself as a role model. In the next part of my autobiography, I discussed my experience on a humanitarian trip to Pachuca, Mexico, with the U of R Cougar Women’s Soccer Team without acknowledging that it was my privilege as a middle class female and member of a university soccer team that enabled me to go on this trip.  Additionally, I did not once refer to how my whiteness affected this experience.  This connects with when Becky, one of the preservice teachers, stated regarding children of colour, “They are people.  I’m a person.  And… I just like kids.  So, I just talked to them.  You know, I don’t really think about [racial and cultural differences.] (pg. 48).  Similarly, when I wrote about my experience in Mexico, I tried to cling to my sense of racial neutrality, using colour-blind language and avoiding discussion of experiences that emphasized my Whiteness.  For example, at one of the elementary schools we visited, my teammates and I signed autographs for children at the school for almost an hour straight.  They treated us like celebrities because of our Whiteness; however, I preferred to think that they were just excited to have visitors painting murals at their school. Another example of ignoring my Whiteness is from a blog post I wrote on our trip blog.  Describing the tour of Technológico de Monterrey, I wrote, “We received many curious stares, for a few possible reasons: because we were all wearing matching grey Cougars t-shirts, because we were all in shorts while most students were wearing jeans and sweaters, or (most likely) because we’re a group of 21 incredibly good-looking girls (plus Bob!).”  I am quite sure that the real reason we were stared at was that the majority of my team was White. Marx explains that this desire to shrug off the marker of race is a common feeling among Whites because we are so used to our race being neutral/invisible/normal.  She goes on to contrast this with the markedness of colour, explaining that Whites often perceive the White racial group as being extremely complex and ambiguous, while perceiving cultures of colour as homogenous, tight-knit identities.  Looking back, I think I also perceived Mexican culture in that way at times.  I remember making comments about not wanting to leave because there was such a strong sense of culture and shared history.  Through these comments, I was implying that “Whites are so diverse they don’t share any of those markers of culture.”  There are definitely the same elements of diversity within Mexican culture as within White culture, however it is harder (for me) to see because of the stereotypes/single stories I have absorbed. My privilege shaped the first three experiences I discussed by making it possible for me to view myself as an idealized role model while holding deficit views of the youth I worked with.  My privilege as an able-bodied middle class female made it possible for me to go on the humanitarian trip to Pachuca.  While in Pachuca, my White privilege made it possible for me to ignore my Whiteness completely and to think about Mexican culture as homogenous. This reflection forced me to make sense of my experiences in an uncomfortable way, which was necessary because I knew that the ways I had made sense of my experiences in my autobiography were not only inaccurate but complicit with oppression. Now my challenge is to continue reflecting on how my privilege shapes my experiences.  Even though it is a really difficult, uncomfortable process, I know it is worth it.