Identity: an umbrella term used throughout the social sciences to describe a person’s conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations
My professor said, the family gave you the initial identity - your name. Then the clan, the tribe, the village, the town, the nation, the ethnicity, the race, the gender, the sexuality, etc. This was not the first time I heard this. Throughout the 20-something years of my life, I have relentlessly fought against these establishments in order to show the uniqueness my personal identity. Just recently, I’ve realized a deeper meaning in this matter.
I thought, being an Asian or being a homosexual male does not give me an identity. They are the biological properties of my body which help others recognize me. I believed that the identity of a human in comparison to other animals consists of the possession of higher intelligence, greater communicative skills and the ability to reason. Therefore, I identified myself based on the accords of my internal thoughts, emotions, rationality, personality traits, interests, moral values, religious beliefs, understanding of the world, etc. And I expected everyone to do just the same.
I used to laugh at people who used race and sexuality to justify the consequences of their actions. Tell me if you haven’t heard this before, “I became promiscuous after I realized I was gay,” or this “Do you know what it feels like to be black?” I thought they were too simple-minded that they couldn’t reason for themselves. And from that, I have created a larger distance between the majority of the world and myself. I have avoided associating with these people because I want others to see me as someone independent and critically thoughtful.
What I have recently realized, is that the human social psychology is much more complex. When it comes to identity, it is an unimaginably mind-blowing world. Everyone’s psyche is unique. Many of them are heavily affected by their experience of life. Everyone’s experience of life is worth of great respect. Therefore, being gay or being black is as relevant a personality as being introverted or being socially progressive.
I am starting to look at people through their experience with their family, their local community, their regional culture, their national history, their political and religious affiliations, etc. to further understand how race, gender or sexuality is the motivational factor to their personal development. However, this doesn’t mean I only recognize people through their physical properties because it would be shallow. It simply means I recognize people through both of their psychological and biological identities and then make a judgement about their personal identity.
That leads me to the issue of labeling. Many of my friends are against it. Such hipsters. In political sense, generalizing and categorizing help make governing systems more effective in balancing collectivism and individualism. In sociological sense, labeling is used to integrate and separate different cultures/subcultures. Even in biology and chemistry, certain set of related animals or related elements has a name too. So labeling is a way of naming certain repetitive patterns. When you see a bunch of kids acting the similar way, you call them hipsters, nerds, morons, douches, poptarts, skanks, etc.
"Oh, so you’re into labeling now eh?" It would be very immature of you to avoid labeling. When you meet a new person, you’ll always ask yourself "What KIND of person is she?" Labeling gives you the initial idea of who you are dealing with. There is no way you can understand another person without labeling her. The identity of a person is made up of a large number of labels. Let’s say there are three types of labels: biological, intellectual and empirical.
Biological labels: 3/4 Asian, 1/4 European, gay, male, introvert, …
Intellectual labels: liberal, atheist, vegetarian, artist, emo, …
Empirical labels: Vietnamese-born, Western-educated, architecturally trained, …
So, let’s put all this together: 3/4 Asian, 1/4 European, gay, male, introverted, liberal, atheist, vegetarian, artistic, emotional, Vietnamese-born, Western-educated, architecturally trained person. Close enough.