Identity is dynamic – what matters is what matters to us

Who am I? At first blush identity seems straightforward. There is some set of characteristics, both inherent and learned, both chosen and given, which defines my identity. Identity seems to come from within. To understand identity, however, we also need to look out, to the environment.

When I lived in Alabama, I was a Northerner. Now that I live in Germany, I am an English speaker. Previous to living in these two contexts, these aspects of my identity were not particularly salient because it was normative to be a Northerner or an English speaker. Moving to these new environments prompted me to reconsider my identity.

Mariann Märtsin has put forward the notion that when we undergo a life transition such as moving to a new place, we are driven to make sense of it and this includes adapting our sense of self to incorporate our new relationship to those around us. To understand identity, then, we need to appreciate that although it feels constant – I am me, I was me and I will continue to be me – identity is something we are creating and recreating all the time. Aspects of ourselves may always have been with us, like my Northern-ness, and yet it can sometimes take something outside of us to trigger our awareness of them.

That identity is constructed and that such efforts at construction take place as the result of life events, should influence how we do our diversity and inclusion work. For example, in my case, this has involved an awakening to my privilege in the US as a Northerner and in the world as a native speaker of English. As such my advocacy can seem suspect, inauthentic, patronizing or self-serving. My presence alone can stimulate feelings of being one down. I need to be conscious of how who I am can stand in the way of my being a catalyst for people forming more empowering personal narratives and claiming the full richness of their identities. This mindfulness around identity being constructed and relational is the diversity dividend.

 

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Identity is dynamic – what matters is what matters to us