How We See Ourselves: On Identity, Labels, and Privilege

Do you know the story about when a man is asked to look in a mirror? He’s asked what he sees. He says “myself” (usually he says his name, “I see John,” etc).

A woman looks in the mirror and says, “I see a woman.”

A black woman says, “I see a black woman.”

How we describe ourselves says a lot about where our labels and distinctions lie. When you are an “other,” that identity is put in front of your name, your personhood. You are now a {category}, {category}, person.

We describe ourselves based on our inclusions and our other-ness. If we’re the only white person in a group of people of color, we might shift our narrative and self-describe as “I am a white man.” We define within and against the groups around us.

Listen to what labels you use to describe yourself. Are you a “quiet” person? This suggests that the norm is not to be a quiet person; that society expects extroversion and gregariousness to be the defining factors of human jubilance.

If you want to know what group of people has the most privilege in a culture or society, look for the group of people that just sees themselves as people, no labels.


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