I sat around in a circle two days ago, able to see each and every one of my new fellow educators, while we participated in activity called “The Social Identity Wheel.” I’ve attached a picture of it below for you to see. The point of the activity was to bring our many identities, our perceptions of our identities, and the way others perceive our identities to the forefront of critical discussion. Not only was this a great way to get to know each other better, but it was a great way to practice vulnerability and empathy. It was a great way to let ourselves “be seen,” meanwhile taking a close and non-judgmental look at ourselves and our peers. The diversity in the room was humbling, diversity that I was unable to see just hours before.
Generally, when we discuss diversity, we’re apt to refer to more visible identities–identities such as race, ethnicity, biological gender, or socioeconomic status. Of course, these identities are not clear either, and in some contexts, more or less visible than others, but the conversation brought to light so many more types of identities that are seemingly much more invisible to the naked eye–identities like mental health, sexual orientation, ability, or even the blurred lines of gender identity. They are invisible unless you engage with others, let yourself be seen, and make an effort to help others take down their shields and show themselves for who they are.
Why are some identities invisible?
Many times identities are invisible due to shame. In many cases, someone has shamed us–or we’ve shamed ourselves–into believing that these invisible identities are invisible for a reason. It’s none of my business, people will say, or I don’t care what you do behind closed doors; I just don’t want to hear about it.
I always think about this approach in the context of kids, and in the context of my own identity. Last year, when I was trying to promote gay marriage as an accepted topic to be discussed in the classroom, I was simply told that the world wasn’t ready to discuss the topic with kids. It was too “taboo.” My face sunk, and my heart broke just a little bit more. My identity was being shamed right before my eyes.
“Maybe in ten years or so we can talk about it. Just not right now,” she said.
My face continued to sink, melting into my body.
“Are you okay?” she continued.
“Yea, I’m fine,” I replied–clearly not okay.
“Well, you don’t seem okay,” she said.
I dumbfoundedly replied, as respectfully as I could, that I was both “okay” and “not okay” at the same time. Would I let this affect my students? Of course, not. But could I say I was “okay” with the fact that an organization (one to which I had dedicated so much time and energy) wanted to silence one of my identities? One that asked me to only bring out this integral part of my identity if “I needed to?”
Identities are not independent of each other and cannot be addressed “as needed.” They crawl into every orifice of our body and intertwine with our other identities malignantly. The current versions of ourselves would crumble if it was not for each of these identities so beautifully depending upon one other to build our personality and identity structure. Not only is this important for us to recognize, embrace, and share for our own happiness, but it’s critical to do if we want to model self-love, empathy, and acceptance for our students, many of whom are delicately forming their identities and a sense of self-love in the process.
So embrace your identity, let yourself be seen, and please, do not let anyone ever try to silence or shame one of your identities. It makes you who you are, and it makes you beautiful.