16 May 2006

An American Identity Is Just a System of Labels

JesseH asked me to post this for him.

An American Identity

An American identity is just a system of labels. As Americans, we define one another and ourselves by these labels. These labels consist of many complicated categories. Most Americans perceive an identity based on gender, sexuality, religion, politics, location, heritage and ancestry. Every person has a border in their identity that overlaps or is misconstrued. There are gaps in these labels. Not everyone is specifically one division of any one of these categories. People define themselves differently, but what is the purpose of labels practiced here in America? America the home of the free? The only two obvious purposes that a labeled identity serves are for people to fulfill their need of being accepted and belonging, and to categorize people based on their life styles and practices. My identity within America is based on these numerous categories, as well as my self-identity. Stereotypically, I am the American identity of the typical and common heterosexual male, the over privileged white man. In America I am a dime a dozen. It’s funny how these self images projected through society determine the way we choose to view and ultimately live our lives.

My American identity of being the typical white male is not how I would entirely define myself. The background that I project on myself would be Native American. I am about one-sixteenth Blackfoot on my Father’s side, and one-thirty second Cherokee, one-sixteenth Seneca on my Mother’s side. I am mostly Irish overall but most of my family identifies with our Seneca heritage. Most of my Irish comes from my Mother’s side. My Father is mostly English, a little Pennsylvania Dutch, and Irish as well.

The question that comes forward is why? Why would my family and I identify with the smallest part of ancestry of our heritage? The answer seems simple: all the stories and history comes from the Native American heritage. But as I dig deeper I see the need to place myself as being native to this land. The underlining projection society struggles to obtain is to be one with the land of America. Since the colonists first came to this land, there has been this necessary theme and ever present desire of being native to the land in one sense or another--the idea of finding a place to be from and belonging to. It seems to me that for my identity I only take what I want from Native American culture. I don’t take upon their struggles; sure I’ve been called a few racist remarks, but I don’t share their same problems. I grew up far from the Rez in peaceful white town. I’ve never had to deal with dirt, poverty, and lack of opportunity. As Americans it is our tradition to take only the best or what we desire, taking what we want and leaving the bad aspect or what we consider undesirable. We are a nation built on fulfilling our selfish desires.

This is not to say that being native to the land grants you an easy access pass of acceptance and fair and equal treatment. My great Uncles served in World War II; in Paris they were permitted to go into the bars and have a drink, but here at home they were not. My great, great grandfather was not permitted to sell the milk of his cows at the stores in Ellicottville just because he was Native American. He was then forced to walk his cows forty miles to Chafe in order to sell the milk. Also, when my Great Grandma Ponde was a young child, the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses outside her house and fired guns shots off into the air. Much of the Seneca culture in relation to me was literally washed away; the state didn’t provide the Seneca Indians enough time to evacuate the land before they let the water from the Kinzua "damn" out and flooded the land. One thing that I personally remember from when I was younger is that my ex-Uncle Ben burnt hundreds of rubber tires on Highway Seventeen in protest of the state not honoring old Indian treaties. Most of my identity comes from knowing this and the stories that my grandmother has passed on to us.

When it comes to religion, my identity seems to match an American identity. Religion in America has been and remains free and ever changing. Fifty years ago the major religion across America was Christianity, which is what I identify myself with. Over time as our nation has grown and changed so has the quantity and diversion of America’s religions. Christianity is still one of the most popular religions here in America, but I think much of religion has changed. The strict interpretation of religious books has diminished as society has changed to be less structured as whole and more the idea of, each person, and their own person within social boundaries. A perfect example of this would be easy to in the movie DOGMA. The thirteenth apostle Rufus said that a strict religious interpretation was dangerous and it was better to just have a good idea. I think that much of the Christian religions are following in this same path.

Another type of identity here in America is the place you grew up. You are labeled and perceived differently based upon your location. People from New York City have a distinguished perception of themselves. This identity or label presses them to act a certain way. They act in a way to represent their location. This is done across America and it seems to that it’s almost like a tribal instinct, defending one's perimeters. I am from a small town in Western New York, East Aurora. My identity would probably be labeled as a hick or country bumpkin. This is a pretty accurate description, but I refuse to be personified or considered ignorant, as a typical stereotype would elect me. I’ve always tried to push myself to have a big city attitude. This is just how my friends and I have altered our identity. This is probably because even though we weren’t living in poverty we still had to always be concerned with money and other domestic problems. We could see the “rich kids” who didn’t have to deal with the economic and social struggles that we did, or at least that’s what we believed. We always took on the identity of being stronger and harder than them. We envied them so much I think we began to hate them. So class distinction formed us in our own niche and them in theirs.

Sexuality is a large way we identify ourselves in America. This label appears so much more important to us as Americans than to most other cultures and countries. American culture is extremely sexually driven. America has created an image about sex and sexuality to have the people express this need to share about their own sexuality. We are a sexually charged nation. Ancient Greece was also a very sexual in nature. Grown men would take on boy apprentices to teach them the ways of the world but also to have as lovers. Having sexual intercourse with a man in Ancient Greek was not part of your identity, it was just something you did or were involved in. It seems that we define ourselves by sexuality in order to prove ourselves or to strive for acceptance. American culture has become much more focused on the primal instinctual needs; the need to eat good food, hence obesity; the need the primal need to fuck, hence the diversity in sexuality. The label of sexuality is important in America because the media presses this view on us. You can’t switch on the television or radio without being bombarded with the media’s versions of sexuality and how you should think of your own sexuality and those around you. We are influenced by these mass amounts of media, to be constantly striving for our image, sexual and otherwise. America places the idea that we are all unique. Our American culture pronounces that we are so divided. In actuality the most accurate view of America and the world is that we are all so similar especially concerning sexuality. The media attacks and misconstrues ideas of sexuality. The media knows that sex sells so they sell it. We keep buying it and the cycle continues. America’s image of being a sexually descriptive and discriminatory country will continue till we can fully accept people for who they are and not who they have sex with.

Overall I would like to see a world without labels, just to see if we could function better as a society. I think a world without labels takes away barriers and would open us up to greater possibilities. A lack of labels tends to take away our identity that we have established that we need. It is our primal need to have an identity. Aristotle said that man is a social animal. So man will continue to need to define himself within relation to his fellow man. In America, identity is all about a description or sense of pride of one's self. As long we don’t abuse labels then they are the most sufficient way of identification.

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