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Identity is an intrinsic idea of one’s life. Whilst there are no certainties, the struggle of identity often happens, and the conflicts may depend on the individual himself. The conflict may occur due to various factors in one’s identities including their sexual orientations, skin colour and religious background. These variables may cause noticeable damages to one’s mentality and psychology, and hence lead the individual to struggle with who they are. Individuals with homosexual preferences often experience conflicts in terms of their identities.
Social Identity is the understanding of who we are, and reciprocally, other people’s understanding of themselves. Richard Jenkins believed that this social identity is achieved through socialization within social groups. He argued that by placing themselves in the role of others, people, particularly children, gain a greater understanding of the role that they should play. For example, a six-year-old girl playing “mommy” with her dolls will, as she gets into the role, begin to understand what a mother expects from a daughter and will, in response, be able to perform her own role as a daughter better.
This is known as the play stage.
Identity taking or role-playing is, according to Tony Bilton, the primary way in which individuals creates and develops not only their social identity but also their personal identity as well. Jenkins noted too that identity is internal, that is, what we think of ourselves, and external, that is, how others see us. He claims that interaction, while a key factor in the development of one’s social identity is not solely responsible for our social development.
Social Class, Gender, and Ethnicity also play significant roles.
Social class is the clear distinction of the division of the population based on economic considerations such as inequality in terms of wealth or income. Karl Marx believed that this situation determined social identities of all individuals within society. Marx viewed class as greater than even gender or ethnicity.
Gender often refers to the socially constructed categories of masculine and feminine. Society uses these biological differences to assign various social roles to each of the two genders. Such as the age-old concept that women’s place are in the home while men, the providers, must work to support their wives and children. Sociobiologists in particular believe in the naturalistic fallacy, which is because of their genes males and females must act or respond in a specific manner. For example they would claim females are “cloy” and males are “aggressive”.
Ethnicity is a sense of belonging to a particular community whose members share common cultural traditions. Sociologists see this type of classification as the most flexible. It does not rely on biological reasons of explanation but rather points more to persons with common social backgrounds. Ethnicity, like gender and social class is essential in the shaping of social identity because whether we like to admit it or not we are greatly influenced by the people surrounding us. Like the fact that the white North American child born into the middle class will most likely receive a better chance at a highly paid job than their Latin American middle class peers, what society classifies us as will determine who we are in the future, no matter what we say to the contrary.
Bilton found that although “social relationships of race, class and gender are often considered in isolation from each other, in reality they operate together to generate structures of power and inequality” (Introductory Sociology pg 259). A clear example of the importance of these three elements in the construction of social identity is demonstrated within the recent rape of the Pakistani girl~ Mukhar Bibi. You will hardly hear of a girl in the USA being raped because her brother was seen walking in a deserted place with girl of a higher class and a different tribe. Yet the men who committed the rape declared that the girl’s brother had violated the social law of the country and that their honour was at stake. The victim, who is of the Gujar tribe claimed that hundreds of Mastois were outside the building cheering and laughing all while the horrible deed was taking place. Not only does this situation clearly highlight the status of women in Pakistan but it also demonstrates the emphasis that Pakistanis place on class and ethnicity. You are judged not upon merit or personality, but upon your class, gender and ethnic origin.
Throughout the ages, particularly the feudal age, gender has been considered to shape the behavioural patterns of the sexes. Women and men were expected to display similar characteristics no matter what part of the world they came from. However various people have proved such expectations wrong. Ann Oakley (1972) firmly believed that the culture of a society is what determines the type of behaviour displayed by the sexes. I believe that that assumption is right. If one compared the behaviour of a woman in India to that of a woman living in North America one would certainly notice a huge difference in behaviour. The constant demand of liberty for all helps to form female’s identity in North America. They demand and get freedom of speech; movement and can occupy any job in society.
This is not the case with Indian women. Not only when born is a girl considered a liability but she is also treated as inferior to the male of the species. In many cases, Indian women are viewed as possessions. As in the example of the Pakistani girl, “possessions” can be tampered with to teach lessons to the offending family. It is kind of like stealing cattle with the knowledge that the person who owns it will feel upset because they intended to kill it and get some meat. Because of this type of treatment, Indian women tend to be more timid and probably consider an American woman “bold”. They would not dream of interrupting a man while he is speaking far less disagreeing with him, certain jobs are closed to them and their world would more or less revolve around keeping their husbands and families happy.
The realization of one’s gender helps to allow us to fit into society better. A man, for example, would hardly be seen walking into a restaurant wearing a dress. He would carry him in a certain manner, speak in a particular way and certainly would not cover his face running from the restaurant crying if his girlfriend dumped him. If he displayed these characteristics, his family and friends for behaving “feminine” would ridicule him. Acknowledging our gender helps to create our social identities, this involves dressing, behaviour and even movements. It would look very strange to see a man walking with swaying hips. Knowing one’s gender is important to becoming socially accepted.
Homosexuality is considered wrong by part of the society because the majority- heterosexual human beings- partially as a result of religious influences over the past centuries due to the mass control the several religious convictions had over the human’s civilisation as a whole, sees homosexuality as breaching the norm of the social order. Homosexual individuals often try to avoid the controversy caused by confessing their sexual preferences, as ignorant people often judge them by being different to the society. In ‘The First Kiss’ written by Lian Low, Lian was a typical example of homosexual individuals struggling with their identities.
She has failed to embrace the fact that she was interested in women instead of men during her teenage years. ‘‘You’re not the L-word, are you? ’ Of course I denied it. ’ She didn’t want her ‘Malaysian Christian friends’ or ‘badminton buddies’ to judge her by her sexuality which caused a conflict throughout her high school life. Lian has been in a conflict between whether she should confess her sexual preference to her loved ones, or just pretending to be interested in men like all her peers. Like Lian, some homosexual individuals may have same issues as Lian faced and struggled in the same way with their character as she did.
Although homosexuality causes a lot of people to struggle with their identity, the damage caused by racism due to diverse skin colours is worse. As a result of historical factors, coloured races are often ignorantly considered inferior to Caucasian people, especially those with white skin throughout the world. Examples such as the 2005 Cronulla riots in Australia, a racial conflict involving Middle East Appearance, show that until today, people with coloured skins are still targets of racism due to bigotry and conservatism.
In the movie ‘Skin’, Sandra Laing has been struggling to figure out whether she was a ‘black’ or ‘white’ throughout her school life which can be shown when she said to her maid, ‘Am I black? ’ Sandra has been discriminated for her skin colour all through her tragic life. From her primary school classmates calling her ‘monkey’, the boy she went for a ‘date’ with saying, ‘you don’t have to feel bad for looking like a coloured person’, finally to her husband Pietrus who said ‘her skin is a curse’.
Sandra’s miserable life was a classic situation of a coloured person in the last century. She has been exploring her identity throughout the entire film including a change of skin colour identification twice, before she finally defined herself as nobody else but her children’s mother. Under the influence of bias opinions over coloured appearance individuals, for instance the apartheid system in South Africa, a vast amount of people are possibly undergoing similar conditions as Sandra, persevering to figure out there true identity.
Besides racism, a personal choice of approach to an event, one’s cultural background can also possibly cause struggle to their identity. As the modern society involves more immigrants changing their nationalities, children in recent generations may have multiple identities in terms of where they are from, and has become a social norm for the new decade. For instance, the Australian-born-Chinese people, also known as ‘ABC’ in general, has developed into a stereotype or even a race over the history of Chinese immigrating into Australia since the gold rush.
The act of immigrating to a new country can profoundly affect a person’s social identity. Within a country, the individual is at least given a chance to be himself. He may be treated with contempt because of his social class or gender but he at least knows the social rules of the country to understand why. However, when he immigrates to another country, he will not be familiar with many of the social rules. It is most likely he will not only meet contempt because of his class or gender but also because of his ethnic origin. Bilton gives the example that a West Indian immigrating to Britain in the 1960’s would undoubtedly have faced serious ethnic and racial discrimination.
However, it is difficult for these immigrant’s offspring to relate to their family’s culture as they may not have had any type of interaction with it. In the short story ‘Sticks and Stones and Such’ written by Sunil Badami, Sunil failed to understand the meaning of his name due to the lack of understanding to the Indian naming culture, was however conscious of his peers not pronouncing his name correctly, which further led him into obstacles of fitting into his friends’ groups and referring himself as ‘Neil’.
In response, he would have ended up living in the place where the rest of the population had so thoughtfully given “people like him”. Of course, these places would have probably been a better home for rats. The West Indian would have become withdrawn and insecurity would germinate. Style of clothing may have changed and the individual may have begun to question his values, beliefs, and culture. Because he is of an ethnic minority, his plight might never be considered as important by the authorities of his neighbourhood. Acknowledging ethnic differences are a major part of constructing one’s social identity.
Various persons have realized the danger of losing one’s social identity. As a result, when in a strange country immigrants usually look for persons who came from the same country as them, have the same culture or religion and usually of the same class. Therefore, a poor Gujar from Pakistan arriving in Britain would not look up a wealthy Gujar in hopes that he will allow him to live with him or even by him.
Although members of minorities can be found at all levels of the class structure, it is a fact that immigrants support the highest percentage in Britain within the poverty sector. According to Michael Banton, there is a strong link between an individual’s ethnic origin and social class when discussing how he and others view his place within society.
These immigrant’s offspring may even find it challenging to answer questions like, ‘where are you from? Using the ‘ABC’s as an example, should they answer Australia, where they have grown up in, or China, where their parents are from? According to a survey done by the Herald Sun in January, 77% of the participants answered ‘I don’t know’. The result has portrayed the difficulty of self-identification by ‘ABC’ racial groups, which also may apply to various societies with similar cultural conditions. Despite the main causes of identity struggling mentioned above, every individual in the human’s society will somehow doubt their identities in their own manner, including you and me.
Let us think back together, have we ever felt left out in a group of people? Did we question ourselves on sporting fields when we had a bad game? Did we ever think why are we even born in this world? The answer is yes. We have all questioned ourselves at some stage throughout our lives. It isn’t something to be ashamed of. By doubting ourselves, we can revise what actions have we done wrong, it is a motivation for ourselves to do better in all areas, with the ultimate goal to not doubt ourselves ever again-noting it isn’t possible.
One’s identity is intrinsic to the individual. Without the desire to explore their own identities, human beings are not very different compared to beasts like monkeys or chimpanzees. Although some particular individuals may experience conflict in their process of discovering their identities, but please note, a perfect elite in all areas only exist in fairy tales. As an ordinary human being like everybody else, I would like to say, ‘please keep on questioning yourself’.
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