Tag Archives: individualism

Multi-layered Identities

Because I don’t live under a rock, it was probably inevitable that I’d eventually be exposed to the term “intersectionality.” As I understand it, the term was coined to express some of the complexity of our identities. It was originally proposed in 1989 by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how race, class, gender, and other characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. Like so many terms that can get polarized, intersectionality has sometimes become a catch phrase, used to stigmatize people rather than to empower them. 

Part of me wants to resist being characterized as part of any group—evidence of the individualism, often overdone, that can be both blessing and bane in American society. Because I’m older, I remember that most labels we’ve used on each other and ourselves have changed over time. They can be used for praise or derision, construed differently by different people—European-American, white, honky, cracker, trailer trash; mixed race, African-American, black, colored, Negro, n*****; straight, gay, lesbian, gender-nonconforming, queer, fairy, fag; able-bodied, physically challenged, disabled, blind, deaf, gimpy, crippled; rich, poor, middle-class, economically challenged, worthless, parasitic; young, old, middle-aged, mature, over the hill, elderly, has-been, etc. etc. Especially since September 11, 2001, we’ve too frequently tended to conflate “Moslem” with “terrorist,” and/or to label immigrants as trespassers. 

Some of the labels applied to me put me in a “dominant” or advantaged group; others put me at a disadvantage. It can get confusing and irritating at times. It helps if I can recognize myself as a complex, flawed, redeemable human being. I’m better than the worst things I’ve ever done, yet rarely as good as my best self. I’d like to be able to answer to a characterization as an aging seeker capable of occasional flashes of humor and perspective.   

Having recently relocated to a new physical environment, I sometimes attempt here to go nameless and label-less. If pressed, I tend to respond with my given name, and then to ask, in what I hope is a neighborly way, “Who are you, and what would you like to be called?”