Identity

By Ben Davis, TIWP Student

My identity? Well, I don’t really know. I mean I go to a much better school than most, live in a safer neighborhood than most. So I’m more privileged than most, which defines me I suppose. I mean, I’m certainly empathetic to everything, sometimes too much at times, but I can’t really feel sympathy. I was watching a John Oliver bit on the Black Lives Matter Movement, and he brought up a statistic that was something like 1 in 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by the police. And on top of that, just consider the arrests. It was something like at least 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites. It’s a broken system, undoubtedly, but because I’m white and living where I am, it’s not something I personally have to deal with all too often.

My identity is very closely matched to where I was born I suppose. I’m a lot more impressionable than most others. When I was young, and even still now, I do as I am told. I never cried much when I was young, because my parents didn’t want me to, so I didn’t. But say I was born in the south, where racism can be more common than seeing a Tesla in Orinda. Who would I have been then?

Identity is more nurture than nature in my opinion. Like, I’m not a reader, although I really want to be. I don’t work hard despite the environment I’m in. My identity, me, isn’t really an individual, so much as others’ traits. I learned at a young age that I’m not great, that no matter how good I think I am there’s always more and more to be achieved. I learned not to care for myself, but instead to make others happy, in an attempt to find it myself. As such, my identity is my peers and family more than me. I simply observe others, learn what people like about them, then try to replicate it to the best of my ability. 

My identity is one of privilege and safety, not by choice necessarily, but by community. The community around me made me care about others, made me empathetic, made me liberal. But to a certain extent, the community and I can only be similar for so long. Sometimes I look around at my community and wonder if I fit in at all. All these high schoolers taking drugs or literally f*cking around. But I’m not like that. So who then is more in line with the community identity, me, or them? Or is it that together we make a community identity that separately shapes our personal ones. My parents are liberal, so am I. Some others’ parents are conservative, so are they. But there are some who break from their parents and align themselves differently. Your identity comes from your community, but that doesn’t make it the same. Many raised in the south hate it, as they should, and some raised in the north hate it there. Someone once said to me you either become your parents, or the opposite. The hard working rich family has a slob of a son? Boom. The racists raise a saint, polar opposites right there.

So what’s my or your identity? Well, it’s a unique one, baked on the same core mechanics. Like DNA, we’re all about 99% the same DNA, but what changes are the switches within it. If this string is active then they have blue eyes, if not, then brown. Our identity is similar. Do you conform to a community or rebel? Your identity is whatever you call it. “I’m an artist, a poet, a writer. I’m an athlete, and entrepreneur, a dancer.” That’s not who I am necessarily, but if that’s what I felt my identity was, that’s what I’d say. And no doubt race plays a part, for a black man will have a different experience than a white one.

Your identity is a puzzle completed on your deathbed. Of course, you might have many of the pieces now, but you’ll change, overtime we always do. Me in 10 years would be barely recognizable to myself in 50, but not necessarily because of appearance. I’ll be liberal my whole life, and that’s undoubtedly a part of me. But is it that core belief that makes me, me? Would an activist liberal and a shy one have the same identity? I’d wager a yes, but not entirely the same.

Define your identity however you wish, and perhaps that opinion is part of what identifies you. Identity is difficult to define, but I think this little rhyme explains it best:

Your identity is you, what you chose to be, and what you chose to do.

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