My Own Identity
While growing into a knowledgeable individual it seemed as though everywhere I went I had an identity already established. I never understood this and I definitely never enjoyed having someone else’s definition of me proceed my own. The idea of someone already sizing someone up before they actually meet is quite unfair. Our society feels the overwhelming need to label everyone. There seems to be a metaphoric box for every individual to fit in or claim. I often wondered where this need derived from, and I also wondered whether how I identify myself will even be accepted in a society that feels it already has the right methodology of identifying everyone. I have come to learn that it is not about trying to find a difference, but to find one’s self.
I remember one day a long time ago asking my mother “Ma, what am I?”, and she answered “You’re black, do you want to be something else?” Till this day I really do not know what kind of answer I was looking for, but that answer did not satisfy me at the time as much as I had hoped it would. At that point I wanted more and I think I even wanted to be something else. I guess with the way our society seems I just wanted to have some deep historical family tree or sole ancestor to tell stories about, because evidently it matters. I just did not have enough information to fall back on in case someone asked me the same question in the future, which is bound to happen in my lifetime. I mean, even impersonal institutions ask for our race on a normal basis. Back then I did not feel like a complete person, because I did not know my complete past. People in our society who actually research their past can be split into two categories--those who are trying to find out their complete heritage and those who are just trying to find out their complete race. I truly was undecided between the two.
The older I got the less I cared about my past and the more I became focused on the identity I was making for myself. I know now that nothing back then could truly define who I am as a person now. I am African American, but I do not thrive off of knowing that alone. Why do some only rely on knowing their nationality? Would they do so if they were blind? I never anticipated being treated a particular way because I am black, but that is what society sees and for some reason it holds a lot of ground. I consider myself a nineteen-year-old talented, intelligent man who has the chance to make his identity even more distinct and complex by what I choose to accomplish during my lifetime. I was born and raised in Harlem which has had effects on my identity. Harlem, New York, is where my home, friends and family are. They are as much a part of my identity as anything else. Every individual’s identity is based on the similar aspects if not the same. There is nothing I can do about my race, but I will not let that define who I am.
I think what defines me the most is how I was raised and what I have learned throughout my lifetime. With what I have learned in my life I can control many future situations in which I am placed no matter how unfair. Whether it is politics, education or even law you still can give yourself a chance despite inferiority due to race. Your faith and personality will have to get you through adversity. I have also learned that no one has the exact same personality, and what can you identify with more than your own personality? I guess what I am saying is that I cannot be anyone but myself and if I don’t fit into your “box” then that is not my problem. I will do whatever it takes to prevent my race from deciding my life. That is my approach to life and my own identity.
To myself I am Christopher Perry, but to others in this country I may be nothing more then a African American male destined to fail. It’s a shame some people think and feel this way but it is a part of life. No one is immune to the trials and tribulations of life, and my ethnicity will be the reasoning behind some of the unjust things I will go through in my lifetime. My high school economics teacher stopped the class one day and said “These boys in this class will go through some things you girls will never experience.” I think she decided to express that notion because we had recently finished reading a article about the lack of African American men in the workforce. Unfortunately it is believed that the odds are against us, even in our own community. I thought it would be easy for me to get a job being a college student, but I had absolutely no luck. Sometimes it honestly feels as if the odds are against me as soon as I step foot outside my own home. I find it highly unlikely that individuals from every race, of the male gender, feel the same way when they leave their homes. What separates us all is our fears.
One day as I left my house on my way to the barbershop, a routine that I have done a hundred times before, I was stopped, yelled at and thrown up against a gate in my own courtyard. The police officers decided to do so because they thought I was a drug dealer. I felt totally violated and disrespected. I did nothing to imply that I was involved in any drug activity and I was only fifteen years old. Unfortunately this was not the first nor the last time I was thrown up against a wall and treated like a criminal. I understand the need to keep the streets safe, but I do not appreciate being treated like that in front of my own home. Everyone hopes things will change, but a line will never be drawn. Who's to argue with the ones in power? Who do you think will win the argument? It has nothing to do with race, it's just a constant attack at the throne and whoever is king at the time will defend their reign. The more supporters, the longer they will stay in power. It takes a collective conscious effort to change things. How far can we get if we are constantly attacking each other in this one country?
In my own neighborhood I have come to realize how different people can act towards each other based on anything, whether it be fact or fiction. I remember after the attacks to the World Trade Towers on September 11th the community’s attitude towards Arab and Palestinian people became ridiculously cruel. In my area I would say 95% of the corner grocery stores are owned by either Spanish, Arab or Palestinian families who have decided to open their own chain of grocery stores. These stores and their owners are as much apart of the neighborhood as any other establishment. Their ethnicity never mattered before and everyone seemed to get along fine, but after the attacks people began to change and began to look at them as if they were terrorists. They were at the losing end of the power struggle at this point. Every now and then some one would call a store owner “Osama Bin Laden” and harass him. It was really uncalled for and they did nothing to deserve such treatment. It was partly the media’s fault and the ignorance of some individuals.
People can change in a heartbeat. It seems like one minute they love you and the next minute you’re their worse enemy. Most actions are based on what you believe to be a true. Stereotyping has become so integrated into our thinking that it seems to be the basis of most jokes on prime time television, movies and even cartoons. Every day people get away with saying a lot more. The need for a racial identity is becoming more and more irrelevant in America, but deep down inside individuals will still judge based on race, sexual orientation and religion. After witnessing what I have witnessed you ask why the world is the way it is, and you realize what has happened before has a lot to do with what is happening now. I would admit that I now look at all police differently based on what has happened to me on several occasions. I know that is not fair but it is not a way I want to think; it is a combination of developed feelings I have collected over a matter of years. I do not expect anything good to happen when they are around. I also know that propaganda can turn the world against you no matter how substantial their word may be. This is not my fault, this is America’s wrong-doing that may never be fixed.
To decide how we should claim our own identities in America is no easy task. Regardless of what people say, every person desires to belong to some group, some cluster that they can claim. A support system is something that everyone needs. Does one’s support system have to be people of his or her own race? I personally think that overall skin color is not a factor at all when deciding one’s identity. From what I have observed one’s roots, heritage or origin seems to be very important to most. The idea of acknowledging ancestors does not seem detrimental to me. Relating with a past relative and where they came from is a positive thing to know, but when asked about one’s identity that should not be brought up unless specifically referred. This can be considered as personal history not your identity. One can only decide how the world sees him or herself. Their identity should not be based on race, color or creed.
Who you are as an individual and what you do in life to live that life righteously is what decides who you are as a person. Your identity should be nothing more then your name, age and what you have accomplished as a person. Whether or not you want to include your personal history should be an option. Why do corporations, educational institutions and financial institutions have to know where you are from and how you look? Racial profiling is a huge problem in our country. Institutions and groups of people make up their minds about some before even giving them a chance. This is where it all begins to get complicated. This is where hate, constant disagreement and wars stem from. Constant debates over misconstrued history have resulted in the total lack of respect of people all over the world, not just in this country. Racial baggage leads to the development of issues that can never really be solved.
America is a “melting pot.” There can never be a single American identity or even narrowed down to a few. America is supposed to embody freedom but it seems like no one wants to be independent. They want to be tied down to an identity solely based on how they look. If America lived up to America there would be no problems because all mankind would be treated equally. If this were the case there would be no problems with people identifying themselves. If we were all treated the same, ethnic information would be irrelevant. Our society relies on demographical information to make major decisions, and even though this may be used for good it also holds us back. Our nation is one of great unbalance. There are a number of countries whose development has been staggered and therefore countries look at each other as if they are all on a different levels. From this a type of hierarchy formed. The problem doesn’t necessarily have to end at race; wealth also plays a role. It often seems like a competition, and there always has to be a loser. We do not look at each other and see similarities; we only see differences. This goes hand and hand with respect. The land and race a person claims today is the one they respect the most. One’s ethnicity should not decide whether you treat them with respect or not. What determines an American identity is how he or she uses their American liberty to live their lives.