identity: disadvantaged, privileged… at the same time?

2011 July 12 § 1 Comment

Today was the second day of R.A. training for the Summer Summit. I can’t say I was glad that I’d only managed two-and-some hours of sleep in the wee hours of dawn, but I’ve been truly excited to become a part of this program, especially after I resolved to make steps to pursue my current career goal: a job in education or education administration, working in an advisory or counseling capacity.

The first day was a lot of basic information, ground rules, and going over things we needed to know about do’s, don’t’s, and the gray areas in between; communication, and its importance; nonverbal and verbal signals during conversation, where you have to read between the lines to understand the whole of the conversation. During the triad session today, I was mentee, observer, then mentor – and it really made me appreciate the help I got from CAPS, and how great Autumn was helping me to work through my issues and problems.

Being the mentor also helped me realize how important it is to listen: to focus on what is being said, NOT trying to think of a response, question, or reply while the other person is talking to you.

(I’ve been able to apply my lessons in customer service to so many things!)

The activity that really impacted me the most today was a group activity about identity: sex, gender, sexuality, race, class, or another identity that could be anything or anything.

Four sticky dots in four different colors, representing four different feelings. We were supposed to identify which category the feeling applied to, and place the sticker in the appropriate box.

  1. RED: The identity I felt most disadvantaged in.
  2. BLUE: The identity I feel most privileged in.
  3. GREEN: The identity I feel most comfortable with.
  4. YELLOW: The identity I feel most understood.

The boxes were at once restrictive and teaching. I try hard to focus on myself, rather than on how others see me. I have long believed in the strength of my own conviction – that if I believe in myself, love myself, and have confidence in myself, others will sense that and see not a girl who stands 5’2″, but someone who can get the job done, and done well. In our discussion afterwards, I voiced a conflict I had felt when I confronted my gender, my race, and my class through this activity.

In trying to find a box for my red spot, I realized that I couldn’t pinpoint my disadvantage to only one category. Pride in my ethnicity and my background do not exclude that I can be disadvantaged by them; and by the same token, disadvantage from being Asian, from being female, do not mean that I can’t also be privileged as an Asian-American woman.

I love my heritage and my culture, but I’ve known for a while now that others might seek to box me in as I strive for my goals. Typically, writer + Asian American + female = the perfect formula for a story about identity, about reconciling differences in my culture and my parents’ culture, struggling with cultural and parental expectations, stepping outside of the stereotyped career choices of “my people.” That’s the story publishers will think of when they see a Chinese name. These identities that I am so proud of, that I have grown up in and have lived, might later be the losing cards in my hand.

It’s not the first time I’ve realized this, but I think today was the first time I voiced those fears in a circle of my own peers.

I applied to be an RA hoping to continue my explorations into my chosen career field, but I have a feeling that this program is going to give me a lot more than the summer job experience I expected originally.

And you know, I’m not sure what all it is that I’m feeling right now – the muddle of thoughts and emotions concerning identity, privilege, and me – but I hope I can challenge myself to discover more of who I am.

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§ One Response to identity: disadvantaged, privileged… at the same time?

  • sui says:

    in my own experience in this social justice activism world, I didn’t find it was for me. for instance, the privilege box didn’t work for me. I don’t define myself by my gender, ethnicity, nationality, blah blah blah. I applaud the work that’s been done, but after being deeply involved in it, I also have some criticisms. I actually feel that discourses of privilege disempower people… i.e., making them believe that they are disadvantaged. it is true that there are people who are disadvantaged, but disempowering ourselves is not going to help. anyway, I’m ranting now & I know a lot of activists wouldn’t agree with me… so Imma stop. :)

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