Identity and Race

I touched on names and identity last week, and this week I read a couple insightful articles about the development of racial identity.  One excerpt I read discusses the outside “triggers” that make one aware of one’s race as a unique characteristic.  This concept made it easier to understand why minorities recognize their racial identities more keenly and from younger ages.  Often times the outside triggers are negative, like media portrayals that depict black youths as gang-bangers or neglect to feature Native Americans at all.  The article explains that these outside influences are pitted against “deep conscious immersion into cultural traditions and values” coming from closer to home, like one’s family or church.  And because literature suggests that racial identity is a socially rooted concept based on others’ perceptions, the negative message from the majority can be difficult to overcome or to reconcile with one’s minority culture and upbringing.

I’m part of the racial and cultural majority as a white person, so I am often unaware of my race in situations where minorities would be conscious of theirs.  I don’t have to worry about being racially profiled by police, service personnel, educators, politicians, etc.  My race isn’t underrepresented on network television or in best-selling literature.  People don’t point me out as, “that white girl.”  The authors explain, “For [white Americans] ethnicity is usually invisible and unconscious because societal norms have been constructed around their racial, ethnic, and cultural frameworks, values, and priorities and then referred to as ‘standard American culture’…there is little conscious instilling of specific ethnic identity through white communities.”  This rings pretty true to my experience.  The only time I’m conscious of my race is on the rare occasions that I’m the minority, and even then I’m not self-conscious due to any supposed inferiority of white people.  I do recognize that I’m fortunate in my experience; I’m lucky to be white and I’m lucky to have many other privileges in my life.

Here’s a link to the chapter I have been referencing:

This piece also pointed out that the term “melting pot” for the United States has fallen by the wayside.  Instead of this image of homogenization, researchers are working to define the diverse population and all the unique personalities encapsulated therein. Another article I read also discussed the changing face of race in America and described how youths are defining and embracing their multiculturalism. At the University of Maryland, students have formed a Multiracial and Biracial Student Association, exhibiting pride in their mixed heritages and taking the question of their race into their own hands. I was surprised to learn that up until the 2000 census, citizens were forced to select just one racial category. Most people with some African-American ancestry identified as “black” because they were perceived that way. These college students “are asserting their freedom to identify as they choose,” and they’re not the only ones. The 2010 census reflected a 32% increase in the population identifying as “mixed race,” for a total of nine million mixed race Americans, around 3% of the total population.

If you’d like to read the article about young Americans and their blended races it can be found here:

This site shows some interesting statistics on the changing racial demographics of America per the 2010 U.S. Census:

This page is an exploration of the stages of racial identity development:

How do you conceptualize YOUR personal identity? If you were asked to describe yourself, how would you begin? Are you first and foremost your gender, your profession, your race, your ethnicity, your nationality, your religion? Do you identify as multiple races or just one? Has your race conferred privilege, challenges, or a bit of each? Has anyone ever asked, “What are you?” referring to your race? Have you ever wished you were a different race? Have you considered how your life would be different if you were born black, white, Asian, Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander, or some mixture of multiple races?

Here’s one last excerpt from the New York Times article “Black? White? Asian? More Young Americans Choose All of the Above.”

“What are you?” they asked, and “Where are you from?” They were fascinated by her father, a Latino with Asian roots, and her mother with the long blond hair, who was mostly European in ancestry, although mixed with some Cherokee and Shawnee.

“I was always having to explain where my parents are from because just saying ‘I’m from Takoma Park, Maryland,’ was not enough,” she said. “Saying ‘I’m an American’ wasn’t enough.”

“Now when people ask what I am, I say, ‘How much time do you have?’ ” she said. “Race will not automatically tell you my story.”

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share your insight and your story in the comments.

-Kerry Roberts

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Burka Avenger

I just stumbled upon an article in Entertainment Weekly about this award-winning new TV show.  It’s a Pakistani cartoon about a female superhero whose primary goal is education for girls and women.  Her non-super personality is Jiya, a teacher (and does not wear a burka or scarf in that role), but when she’s in super mode she’s a burka-disguised pen- and book-wielding bad-ass who fights forces of evil and oppression like the Taliban. 

The creator explained why the burka:  “We wanted a local relatable flavor…And so she chooses to wear the burqa only as a disguise, she’s not oppressed … and on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of female superheroes in the West are objectified, and sort of sexualized in their costumes, like Catwoman and Wonder Woman, and that certainly would not work here.” 

The Washington Post says of the ground-breaking series, “Pakistan’s new superhero makes the hoop-skirted, Prince Charming-obsessed Disney princesses look downright antiquated. She was not born into royalty. She does not obsess about her beauty. And she definitely does not want or need to be whisked off on some white horse or magic carpet. No, Jiya, or the Burka Avenger, is too busy defending women’s rights and education for all. Now that’s what I call a role model for girls.”

This is a great inspiration for young Middle Eastern kids and a win for feminists worldwide!


-Kerry Roberts


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Identity and Names

What comprises our identities? There are categories we’re born into, like race, name, nationality, gender, class, and sexuality; and there are those we choose, like religion, career, and club membership. Of course we may have degrees of flexibility when it comes to those former categories, too. One may move and change citizenship, reject the gender he or she was assigned growing up, change any or all of one’s name, and we would certainly like to think we have a great degree of class mobility in the United States. The very first marker of identity is one’s name, and here I discuss how names reflect our identities.


I read a few brief articles on the topic to see what the popular consensus was on names and identity. The best was by H. Edward Deluzain, who touched on naming ceremonies across different cultures; the symbolic power of banning a name; uniqueness of identity and names; offensive mispronunciation of names; and historical and psychosocial recognition of names as integral to identities. I highly recommend this piece:


Deluzain points out that Black Muslims such as Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) and Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) rejected their given “white” names and adopted their own identities. The author also brings up the practice of denying a person’s name as a symbolic punishment. The most common instance of this is prisoners being assigned numbers and their names revoked. This instantly made me think of the beginning of Les Miserables, when Jean Valjean asserts his identity as his given name and Javert insists on calling him 24601.


One article I read described a woman’s internal struggle with determining whether or not to change her name when she gets married. Both she and her husband feel strongly that their names are a part of who they are, and she is hesitant to change her name while her husband is insulted that she doesn’t want to adopt his. (Ultimately she takes her husband’s last name.) Another author points out how we choose many of the labels that comprise our identity and they change over time. A woman named Susan may go by Susie when she’s young, Sue for short, and Susan if she’s being formal.


I also read a brief piece written by a woman named Sandeep who described her difficulties with people misspelling and mispronouncing her name. She’s pretty understanding about the confusion, admitting she often concedes to let her name be Anglicized or misspelled. However, she does feel that her name is part of who she is, reflects her heritage, and is important to her.

This is why Deluzain says,

Most people take great care to make sure they pronounce another person’s name correctly, especially in introductions. The reason for this concern is that people generally resent the mispronunciation of their name because mispronunciation amounts to a distortion of their identity. Accidental distortions are annoying, but mispronunciations and distortions of a name on purpose are sizable insults…”


Another article discussed studies that explore behavioral differences based on names. For instance, boys with names we associate more with females had far more disciplinary problems than other boys when they reached adolescence—particularly if they shared the name with a girl in their class. This seems to reflect a psychological conflict between the boys identifying as male yet having a name that does not best fit that expectation.


Again my pop culture brain kicks in and gravitates toward Johnny Cash’s song “A Boy Named Sue.” If you’re not familiar with the tune, the premise is that a bastard son’s father named him Sue before skipping town. The boy always resented this and finally confronts the father, who assures him he did this so that the boy would toughen up quickly. The research now seems to support that theory! The article says, “People who particularly dislike their name and also if other people think it’s an odd and unlikeable name…tend not to be as well-adjusted.” If you haven’t heard this humorous classic song, take a listen:


-Kerry Roberts

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“The Accused” Film Review

As painful as it is to watch parts of this movie, The Accused is a great and important feminist film. This 1988 film is about a young woman, Sarah Tobias, who is brutally gang-raped at a local bar while spectators either cheer on the assailants or ignore the crime being committed before their eyes. This is one of the first Hollywood films to touch on such sensitive subject matter, and it does so in a direct and unforgettable manner. The first scenes of the movie throw us right into the glaring aftermath of the attack, as Sarah is examined at the hospital (by an African-American female doctor). She then bravely returns immediately to the scene of her attack with the prosecutor, Kathryn Murphy, and law enforcement officials. The three audacious criminals are still at the bar (a sign that they are shameless and fearless, probably because they doubt the ability of their female victim to effectively confront and convict them) and are promptly arrested as Sarah points them out as her rapists.

Sarah’s character is a classic Jodie Foster role (and one for which she won an Oscar): a flawed but very strong and unapologetic woman who lives life her own way. Her boyfriend is not patient and understanding with her after her attack, so she kicks him out of her house. She responds indignantly, and rightly so, when asked all the typical victim-blaming follow-up questions that inevitably come with rape cases: were you drunk? were you stoned? what were you wearing? are you promiscuous? do you drink a lot? do you have any criminal record? The prosecutor, Kathryn, assures Sarah that she’s only asking such questions because the defense attorney will do so, but she seems concerned by Sarah’s party-girl lifestyle. What’s so smart about this movie is that Sarah was drunk and stoned, she was dressed provocatively, and she did come onto one of her attackers—but the depiction of the rape still makes it clear that Sarah did not consent to the sex or solicit her rape, and the crime was as equally indefensible as every other sexual assault.

The rape scene is gruesome, due as much to the apathy and amusement of the onlookers as to the brutality of the attackers themselves. I wanted Susan Sarandon to show up with a gun like she did when Thelma was being assaulted in Thelma and Louise. I wanted the character Ken Joyce, the one witness who is appalled by the crime, to break out of his stunned stupor and fight off the rapists—or at least to shout, “Stop it! What the hell are you doing? Get off of her!” By the time Ken finally decides to make a 911 call, Sarah breaks free from her third gang rapist and runs frantically into busy traffic outside. The scene elicits the exact emotions it is meant to: disgust and horror. It forces a viewer to sympathize with the powerless and violated feeling experienced by rape victims.

Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) is the other lead in the movie, and she is a very strong female role as well. At first she pleads down the rapists themselves to a non-sexual offense, reckless endangerment. She makes the deal because her case is weak due to witnesses not being very forthcoming (their best witness is on probation), because Sarah has a charge of coke possession on her record, and because the district attorney tells her to make a plea bargain. Sarah confronts Kathryn angrily about the plea deal, and Kathryn realizes she made a mistake not giving Sarah a chance to publicly condemn her rapists. “You did all my talking for me,” says Sarah, “I thought you were on my side.”

Meanwhile, Sarah is hit on in a record store by a man who eventually comes to recognize her as the victim he watched being raped while he cheered on the attack. She spurns his aggressive advances but he continues to harass her and make lewd gestures, and he parks his truck such that her egress from the parking lot is blocked. She is emotionally disturbed by his provocations and slams her car into his in a fit of rage. She then backs up and does it again. When Kathryn comes to the hospital to see Sarah, she not only feels regret that she didn’t charge the rapists, but also recognizes the slime-ball spectator from a witness description. Kathryn finally realizes the plea bargain made Sarah a victim all over again, this time a victim of the justice system who is psychologically tormented by her lack of closure.

Kathryn decides to punish the spectators who encouraged the rapists and determines that she can charge them with criminal solicitation. Kathryn’s boss, the D.A., however, tells her not to charge the three men. He says she’ll either lose or, even if she wins, she’ll “look like a vengeful bitch.” Instead of toeing the line this time, Kathryn goes off on her own and builds a case against the men. She tracks down Ken Joyce and convinces him to testify, and his account of what took place in the bar is the backbone of her case. To his credit, the defense attorney during the case doesn’t degrade Sarah and treats her testimony about her rape as valid and the rape as despicable. In the end, the jury decides that they believe Ken’s testimony about the men cheering on the rape, and they convict all three defendants of criminal solicitation–a victorious ending for both our courageous female leads.

This movie is loosely based off a real case, and surely its premise is an all-too-common tale. Sometimes instead of a gang rape it’s a date rape; sometimes it’s a lover who doesn’t stop when his or her partner says “no”; sometimes the attacker is someone even closer like a family member; sometimes the victim is a promiscuous woman; sometimes it’s a child; sometimes the crime is reported; sometimes it’s kept secret. The point is that this movie brought sexual assault into the limelight, forced us to see its horrific nature, and opened up a dialogue about the laws, the victims, the perpetrators, and the psychological and social repercussions of that most taboo of R-words: rape.

It might sound absurd to ask What is rape?, but actually it’s important to clearly define what constitutes a rape:

This is a link (referenced in my previous submission “Links to Explore”) that gives the scary results of two studies asking carefully phrased questions about whether the subjects committed sexual assault.

Statistics on sexual assault (I recommend exploring each of the four categories):

Until next time,

-Kerry Roberts

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Links to Explore

I’ve been “falling down a YouTube hole,” as my husband calls it, watching various feminist-related videos (and reading a few articles), most of which I found through Upworthy on Facebook. I’d like to share them all with you, but since you may not have time for everything, I offered a blurb describing each one so you can check out those which interest you most. I hope you enjoy these links!

This is a wonderful TedTalk about men’s role in feminism, recognizing the need for courageous men to end the cycle of tacit consent for harmful cultural stereotypes and practices—for the good of all people.

This article debunks some of the long-standing myths about Betsy Ross, explaining that she was not a seamstress but an upholsterer and describing her as a “pragmatic capitalist” rather than a delicate widow.

This graphic gives statistics on women’s initial entries into education and business and their diminishing success getting to the TOP of those fields.

This clip from The Daily Show exhibits the ways women have to protect themselves from threats of date rape, assault, etc., in the college atmosphere.

This is a link that gives the scary results of two studies asking carefully phrased questions about whether the subjects committed sexual assault.

This is a map depicting the 48 states which allow therapists to offer “conversion treatment” for homosexuals, despite medical evidence that the practice is harmful and unwarranted.

This is a speech Lupita Nyong’o gave acknowledging the evolution of beauty perception with respect to race, and recognizing the need to value inner beauty.

It also reminded me of this link I stumbled upon last month, which criticizes our cultural emphasis on aesthetics:

This is an inflamed young feminist woman listing many good reasons to be an activist.

This article is about a young woman who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household but who became an atheist and an activist in her early adulthood, and who finds herself alarmed by the recent Hobby Lobby ruling. Her brave story is compelling and enlightening.

-Kerry Roberts

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“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” Film Review

I enjoyed watching this movie for the second time. I remember loving the book and movie To Sir, with Love as a teenager, and Sidney Poitier possesses all the same gallantry and passion in this movie of the same year. Of course, this film is more about racism than feminism, but it capped off Katharine Hepburn’s long-lived collaboration with Spencer Tracy, which included such feminist-focused features as Woman of the Year and Adam’s Rib. Hepburn herself was a very outspoken trouser-sporting feminist in the midst of a hostile climate for such assertive behavior.

Both civil rights and feminism really came to a head in America in the 1960s, and this film brought the interracial marriage question into focus. One of the strongest scenes in the film brings up the point that the color line is changing with each new generation, that civil rights are rapidly evolving for women and minorities. Poitier’s character explains to his father, “You think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.” Although I’m sure all minorities in this country are conspicuously aware of their races at times, I think it has become easier for, say, a black man, to not constantly feel “different.” I certainly hope this is improving with each generation and with more honest education. Meanwhile, cases such as the Trayvon Martin tragedy remind us that the battle against racism is far from over.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner centers around the Draytons, a liberal white family in California: the father is Matt, a successful newspaper editor; the mother is Christina, an art gallery owner; the daughter is Joanna (Joey), a twenty-three-year-old girl who has just fallen head over heels for John Prentice, a thirty-seven-year-old doctor she met in Hawaii. He is a highly esteemed Ivy League-educated physician who works for the World Health Organization, including significant humanitarian work in Africa. Joanna and John are deeply in love and plan to be married in Geneva quite soon. The “problem” is that John is African-American… and it’s 1967.

Joanna is anxious to introduce John to her parents, insisting that they are liberals through and through and will have no qualms about her marriage to a black man. John is more realistic. He has seen prejudice first-hand his whole life and he has his doubts that he will be welcomed so warmly into the family. John’s misgivings turn out to be well-founded, as Christina and Matt are taken aback by their daughter’s choice of mate. Although her character is the most one-dimensional of the cast, Joey does get to assert some feminist chutzpah. She tells her parents that no matter how they feel about her relationship, she and her fiancee are going to be wed. Of course, her claim is totally undermined by John assuring her parents that he will not go through with the marriage without their blessing.

Matt and Christina are well-intentioned, of course, but their concerns about the pairing are overly paternalistic and too mindful of society’s hang-ups. Their worries about the trials the couple will face reminded me of people who say they hope their children aren’t homosexual, not because they condemn that lifestyle but because it would make life harder on the child. Life is hard. It comes with unique challenges for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from what makes us happy at the risk of experiencing some discomfort. Social change to make sure interracial couples and homosexuals are NOT treated differently will come about a lot faster if their presence is open and ubiquitous.

On the less feminist side, Joanna’s role as the wife sounds like it’s going to be rather auxiliary. She doesn’t really mention what career she might pursue in Europe. Are we supposed to assume she’s going to be raising children? Or is she to serve as Dr. Prentice’s assistant—provider of love, laundry, meals, a clean home, and emotional support…but with no identity in and of herself? Even Christina reflects on the days when her husband’s work was difficult and when she needed to help him all the time as some of the best times of her life. That’s sweet, but it does not exhibit a traditionally feminist sentiment. Still, Christina is willing to stand up to Matt should he disapprove of Joanna’s engagement.

One review I read noted that, in order to fixate on the solely racial part of the argument, the film had to place other factors in their ideal control state. That is, John Prentice had to be the perfect, successful doctor, and maybe Joanna had to be the typical wife figure, so that there could be no arguments made against the match on non-racial grounds. I’m ambivalent about that point. I see the use for it philosophically, but it’s unrealistic and it may even prevent someone from using this couple as an example because they’re too ideal. It doesn’t bring up the idea that a detractor might use some other insignificant flaw in John’s character as a means for justifying a prejudice which is actually racially rooted.

The strange part of watching the film in these times is that black people were called “negro” and “colored” at the time, even by liberals. Those words stick out nowadays, and it’s absurd to the point of being funny to hear Joanna’s character say to her mother point blank, “He thinks you’re gonna faint because he’s a negro.” That struck me as bizarrely humorous, I guess because it’s so absurd since it’s 2014 now. My sisters and I are white and only one of the three of us married a white man, and there were never any awkward moments or discussions about what color anybody was. My mom always told us there was really only one race—the human race. (Of course that phrase oversimplifies things when we need to look at issues like racial discrimination, cultural subjugation, diseases more prevalent among certain races, etc.; but it’s brief and poetic and I like its egalitarian message.)

One of my favorite scenes, which could definitely be characterized as feminist, is the one in which Christina fires Hilary, her gallery manager, because Hilary is being, as Joanna asserts, “an absolute bitch.” Indeed, Hilary is poking around in a judgmental fashion, clearly appalled that Joey is romantically involved with John Prentice. Christina doesn’t consult her husband or any other male superior; she takes the initiative and fires Hilary in an abrupt and amusing manner. It’s a gratifying moment for the viewer to see this self-righteous bigot knocked down a peg, and it’s classic Katharine Hepburn.

Of course, in the end, three out of the four parents agree to the marriage, and apparently that’s good enough for a happy ending. It does feel like a happy and progressive film for its time. If nothing else, it brings interracial marriage into the spotlight and forces people to think about the issue. Here are the links I referred to, and I recommend them all:

-Kerry Roberts

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Hobby Lobby and Supreme Court v. Women’s Reproductive Rights

So the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that closely-held corporations (corporations where more than 50% of the stock is owned by five or fewer individuals) can refuse to cover certain forms of contraception in the health plans they provide their employees.  The ruling apparently hinges on the idea that requiring the individuals who own a corporation (in this case, Hobby Lobby and a Mennonite-owned company based in Pennsylvania) to adhere to federal laws regarding employee health benefits when it goes against his or her “sincerely held religious beliefs” is an infringement on his or religious freedom.

Disregarding the scientific, medical reality of how sexual reproduction and modern contraception work, the owners of Hobby Lobby believe that certain forms of contraception – IUDs and “morning after pills” – are equivalent to abortion (a medical procedure which is legal, by the way), and feel that they would be compromised by having to provide these things for their employees.

This strikes me as a pretty sinister bit of semantic manipulation.  Once again, we have a situation where corporations are being treated as individuals with individual rights, but now it’s under the guise of protecting the individuals who own these corporations.  And this is all at potentially great cost – financially as well as in terms of autonomy and quality of life – to the actual, literal human individuals that will be hurt by this ruling.  The purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to protect Americans from this runaway corporate/industrial train that has left so many without access to basic health care.  I can’t believe that the Supreme Court would make such a backwards ruling.  I can’t believe they would so transparently favor wealthy business owners over working Americans.

It might bear mentioning that the five-person majority that made this ruling is comprised of men who are all openly catholic.  I’d ask rhetorically, “who let all these yahoos in here?” but we all know who did.  (Vote democrat.)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has written a pretty…I’m tempted to say “scathing” or some other word like that, but really it’s just a logically sound and perfectly sensible dissenting opinion on this ruling.  And logic is important in a case like this.  Ginsburg points out that this sets a precedent for other religiously extreme business owners to refuse to cover less-controversial things (blood transfusions, medications containing animal products, antidepressants) on these newly-established religious freedom grounds.

Justice Samuel Alito has stated in the majority opinion that this ruling only applies to the contraception mandate, but what does that imply, exactly?  If we take a couple of steps back and consider that there shouldn’t be any controversy over whether or not women have the right to be sexually active and autonomous with regards to their reproductive health, this whole thing starts looking pretty sexist.

And what about those would scoff and say that it is ridiculous to suggest that an employer would refuse to cover blood transfusions, medications containing animal products or antidepressants on religious grounds?  Would that be any more ridiculous than wanting to deny a woman contraception for that reason?  I think not.  But if we consider the fact that a Supreme Court majority has stated that it is acceptable for a Christian business owner to be exempted from federal law and deny a woman health care access because of his Christian beliefs, but that this exemption will not be extended to other areas of the ACA that might be deemed at odds with the beliefs of members of other religions, it starts to look less like an issue of freedom of religion for all and more like our government is implicitly favoring Christianity and Christians.  Which isn’t good news for women, non-Christians or the First Amendment.


Here are some excellent informative and editorial pieces concerning this ruling:\

This is the text of the ruling itself, with Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion included:

And a couple quick, funny video clips (the Schaal one is older, but relevant):—republican-policy-routine


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