By: Maxwell Bruns ~Advertising Manager~
In my experience, the most intimidating challenge that people of minority status must overcome when they process their identities and learn different ways to express them is precisely that this formative process feels confined to them. Because they are a minority status identity, they have the challenge, almost the imposition, to simultaneously recognize, come to terms with and then express that minority identity in a way where society does not feel affronted by their very existence.
I am a cis-male student who loves to read and write. I am German-Italian and therefore white. I study classics and English, and I love to travel. When I was growing up, these traits were fun things to process. They were productive things to process, and they are now extremely fun to explore and engage. That’s because they’re majority statuses, they’re non-affronting and they’re normative. They did not even feel like points of identity. They were and are societal assumptions, and so I only ever felt positive about them.
I am also gay. When I was growing up, this was not a fun thing to process. It was not productive, and it was not positive. It’s fun and productive and positive now, but only because I have recognized as a thinking adult that sexuality is something everyone has to come to terms with. We just don’t teach our children about identity that way.
I love my parents. They’re fun, free-spirited, adventurous, supportive, caring and open-minded. When I came out, my parents were awesome about it. I think the real reason why I thought they were so awesome is they treated the self-revelation of my sexual identity the same way they treated the self-revelation of my other identities: with mild intrigue, encouragement, support and an emphasis on education. They did not confine me to a minority identity because I think that on some level, they didn’t see it that way. They knew that my being gay wasn’t “the norm,” but it was our norm, and so it was not contentious or problematic.
If you are a reader who is predominantly majority identities, I task you with a social experiment. Walk around, just for one day, treating the self-revelation of your identity as minorities treat theirs. If you are straight, come out to someone. If you’re cis-male or cis-female, don’t just say male or female, add the cis to it. If you’re white, speak about your whiteness and not just the abstract idea of racial constructs. After one day, you will feel, in rapid succession: confused-embarrassed- awkward-afraid-alone-tentative- pissed-furious-tentative again-stressed-anxious-content-happy- elated-euphoric-free-empowered- strong…OK, so maybe not all in one day.
This is a small taste of the emotional cycle that the average person who is a minority will go through over years of coming to terms with who they are. Some of them never make it past afraid. Some of them never make it past confused. This is the system of heteronormativity. This is the system of minority/majority identification. This is the destructive side of labeling.
We have kids, and we have gay kids. We have people, and we have Black people. We have men, and we have trans-men. We have women, and we have feminists. Some people may see those identifiers and think, “hey, it describes them.” Other people will see those identifiers and think, “hey, these are the things people have to lead with so that other people will know how to treat them.” In today’s society, non-normative identity comes with a warning label.
I think the goal of being conscious of and implementing diversity and inclusion into our everyday lives should be getting rid of the negatives of the above emotional cycle. Some of the negative emotions are necessary. Confusion is always necessary when thinking about identity. So is healthy embarrassment, in the “I want to learn how to be a socially conscious person and not an asshole” way. Awkwardness and tentativeness are also necessary emotions when coming to terms with an identity. Fear, loneliness and being isolation are not. Yet the reason people cycle through these emotions when coming to terms with their identities as minorities, they feel repressed and affronted.
Thus, diversity and inclusion should drive society toward mutual compassion, toward a thirst for an understanding of difference and not just the recognition of it and toward making the bold step to stop treating minority identities like statistical anomalies and to start treating them like people who are unique.
When you, reader with a majority identity, stop acting privileged because you’re one of the norm and start acting unique because you’re a unique person who is more than just a majority identity, you will show other people how to let go of their privilege.