How do you identify? The question that is becoming increasingly more common as time goes on. But what is that question really asking and why are people asking it? Identity is significant to us all – who we are, what we believe, what our interests are, and who we associate ourselves with. We take pride in our identities; they set us apart while simultaneously bringing us together. While it is crucial not to ignore the importance of identity, we as a society have formed a narrow definition of what identity really means and have put more emphasis on that definition than what is deemed necessary.
While becoming who we are can be a powerful and freeing experience, our identities can be used by others to limit us, to put us in a box. It is human nature for us to want to categorize -- identity gives us an easy way to do that. Once we categorize someone, we can make assumptions about a person’s ideas, political beliefs, even his/her personality. We have deemed this behavior acceptable.
In today’s world, we define identity by four different subcategories: race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. So, when someone asks how you identify, they are typically looking for you to check off the boxes within those categories. By these terms, I identify as a Black, Christian, straight woman. If I were to truly identify myself, I would say much more (midwesterner, sister, aunt, postgraduate, lover of baseball) but if society cared about the true meaning of identity, the act of categorizing would become much more complex. So we stick to the four main subcategories.
I want to reiterate that it is natural for humans to categorize. That is not the problem we face. The problem we face is that when someone’s political beliefs deviate from the assumptions we have made about them based on their physical and sexual identities, we begin to shame them. When the category we have assigned to someone no longer fits that person, we become angry and confused. No one’s identity is contingent on how they think or vote. You are no less of a man, woman, Christian, Black, Hispanic, or Muslim because you think differently than the masses expect you to think. We are so much more than how we identify.