What is identity and how is it that we are socially defined by this one word? This term is so much more complex than the simple idea people give to it, the idea that identity is what makes us who we are. Individuals are made of what makes them themselves, nothing else. Our values, ideas, and beliefs make us who we are. Certain factors that also make a person who they are usually include their families, cultures, and people that they associate with.
To try to centralize someone’s identity is impossible because no one has just one thing that makes them who they are.Creating one’s identity is a continuous labyrinth of ideas, likes, dislikes, and other factors that somehow end at one person and affect their whole character. Having read Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama over the summer, I found out how he formed his true identity through the knowledge he gained of the different events and episodes of his life. Some people find out who they are at a very young age, but for others it becomes a constant struggle to find out the true person that they are; and even after finding it, it isn’t easy to sustain.Your true identity is something that can never be taken from you; it is yours and yours alone.
Barack’s story is not unlike mine, yet he has had to go through a lot more than I did, but we all have our own path and our own obstacles to overcome. Other things that aid in finding your identity are the places you grew up in and the people in them because they factor in your social being and sense of community. A community is generally defined as a group of people of similar background who have the same issues and view life in the same way.These people in neighborhoods, towns, states, and other countries that make up small communities are very important and are never really forgotten because they are the people we identify ourselves with.
Barack Obama discusses how identity is formed and sustained through different accounts in his life in his memoir. He also explains how his sense of community was lost because he was constantly bouncing from location to location. Identity is formed by self-analysis and sustained by the confidence in one self’s unique, inner characteristics, values, and thoughts.A community is defined as people working together towards a common goal, and is therefore valued for support and growth for the group receives as a whole. Defining who you are is probably one of the most difficult things anyone will ever have to do.
Identity itself can change throughout your life due to many different factors just as Barack Obama has shown in his novel. An individual’s identity begins to form from the moment of their birth and progressively changes throughout the course of their life.Early on in Barack’s life, he defined his identity through the things that were inherently given to him, his social economic class, physical traits, and gender. As a child he did not think his race to be a factor in his identity as he recognized the fact “that my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind” (10). However, as the years went by Obama began to look at the things that were given to him, as well as visible to the outside world.He became conscious of his family life and stated “I would not have know at the time, for I was too young to realize that I was supposed to have a live-in father, just as I was too young to know that I needed a race” (27).
Learning this lesson, took Obama some time to process and fully understand. He acknowledged that he was different and accepted it on the basis that he knew his race was not the only thing that formed his identity. Obama recognized that the definition of identity went way beyond the physical, and rather dealt with the internal characteristics that formed his ideas and beliefs.Barack was born into a family that was not seen as the typical American family. His mother was a white woman from the Midwest and his father was a black man from Kenya. By just knowing these two pieces of information about his parents, Barack understood that he was essentially given a mixed identity, which was something he had no control over.
His identity set him apart from most people, as he was a mix of two cultures, but took on the physical characteristics of his father.He became aware of this difference just by observing the looks on people’s faces as he stood on the street and realizing they were not the same kind looks given to his white classmates. However, he knew “my identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn’t, couldn’t, end there” (111). This belief of knowing his skin was not the only thing that defined him, helped him find a part of himself, but at the same time confused him when it came time to choose what race he was to identify with.Barack knew that he was physically a black man, but he chose to follow his mother’s race so as to further himself towards the idea of white superiority.
Nonetheless, this choice changed as he grew older and when he truly accepted the fact that being a black man would always make him different from everyone else. In college, Obama met someone who brought up a conversation that would make him question his views on race in a different light. Joyce spoke about her own self-discovery with race and explained ‘I’m not black… I’m multiracial.Then she started telling me about her father, who happened to be Italian and was the sweetest man in the world; and her mother, who happened to be part African and part French and part Native American and part something else. ‘Why should I have to choose between them? ’ (99). I strongly agree with what Joyce says in this passage.
Joyce was a mixture of many cultures and rather than having this confuse her, it helped her shape her personal identity. Why did Obama believe that he had to associate himself with one race? What is the point of listening to the views of society when all they tell us to do is choose?Why should we have to choose one ethnicity to relate ourselves with when we are supposed to be creating a unified community? Joyce also goes on to answer this question by stating ‘Its not white people who are making me choose, maybe it used to be that way, but now they’re willing to treat me like a person. No—it’s black people who always have to make everything racial. They’re the ones making me choose.
They’re the ones who are telling me that I can’t be who I am…’ (99). She believes that blacks are the people forcing her to choose a side when it should not be that way at all.Obama, having been exposed to a different environment growing up, believes she is wrong and does not understand why she cannot just support her own race. At this point in the book Obama was still very much confused with what identity truly meant.
Identity does not mean having to stand behind your race and support it all cost because you believe that the whole world is against you. Identity means knowing who you are and not letting anyone tell you different. We form our own identity based on our own ideas, and the people around us should not easily influence us.All people want to be able to say that they are part of a community. However, the problem with this is finding the right community to associate yourself with.
This is the problem that Obama encountered in many occasions. A community is simply defined by most as a group of people who share common interests and values and work together toward a common goal. A prosperous community supports the mind of the individual rather than concerning itself with factors such as race, sexual preferences, or location. Obama struggled with the idea of community because he was never able to settle down and observe one for himself.He explains that “Hawaii lay behind me like a childhood dream; I could no longer imagine settling there.
Whatever my father might say, I knew it was too late to ever truly claim Africa as my home” (115). Having moved around a lot as a child, Obama recognizes that his sense of community was lost due to his constant change in location. He was not able to find that group of people that shared the same values, interests, and ideas therefore confusing his sense of identity once again. His confusion came from not know which community to associate himself with and his struggle connecting with the individuals in that group.Obama accepts What I needed was a community, I realized, a community that cut deeper than the common despair that black friends and I shared when reading the latest crime statistics, or the high fives I might exchange on a basketball court. A place where I could put down stakes and test my commitments (115).
Obama needed to feel a sense of belonging; one that moved past joking around with your friends in the classroom, but rather encouraged connections between individuals on a deeper and more meaningful level. This is exactly what a hoped I would be able to find once I arrived to college.I wanted be able to talk about the issues that I felt still existed in our society without getting judgmental looks from the other people in my class who were clearly thinking, “what is she talking about”? Real discussions and about the things that matter is what I hoped to find and I did once I finished reading Obama’s memoir. As individuals seeking out a place where we can be ourselves, we need a community of people that do not judge based on race, gender, or economic status and include people that share our same values based on the beliefs we have chosen to follow by feeding off the ideas of one another.Working towards similar causes and pushing past the hard times together are what keeps these communities going.
Many times an individual has a different interest or opinion on something than those in their community. These differences usually lead to tensions and conflicts between individuals, as well as communities alike. However, what shows growth and the true formation of a community is how these conflicts are dealt with. An example of a conflict dealing with personal and community interests is when Barack Sr.
handled a situation in his town as best he could.Having tribalism in his town was something that really bothered him and as much as he tried to deal with it as the other community members had, he no longer could. Barack Sr. took action by speaking out against the tribalism occurring and hoped to get people on to his side so as to stop it.
Unfortunately, most of his community turned on him, and longer accepted or treated him in the same manner as they had before. Even though he did not get the result he wished for, Barack Sr. proved to be a man who stood up for his beliefs and expressed the individuality he had worked so hard to find.As an individual, Obama found a different way to let out his frustration against the community he was surrounded by. Along with his friends, they played basketball in the courts of Hawaii, which at the time was considered the boys’ escape.
On the court they let out their anger that was mostly based on the struggles of being a black individual. Obama explains At least on the basketball court I could find a community of sorts, with an inner life all its own. It was there that I would make my closest white friends, on turf where blackness couldn’t be a disadvantage.And it was there that I would meet Ray and the other blacks close to my age who had begun to trickle into the islands, teenagers whose confusion and anger would help shape my own (80). This was Obama’s way of dealing with the tension he had built up inside, all of the hatred he felt was let out during the games they played. His sense of community at this point in his life shows how he began to identify himself with the people around him, blacks and whites alike.
It may have seemed that the only problems Obama dealt with had to do mainly with race, but it went beyond this issue.As teenagers they struggled to find their own identities as growing men. These examples show how both individuals and communities used different methods of dealing with their conflicts. Barack Obama’s journey has its ups and downs, but his story is one that can be used as an example of how we must change the way we look at people. Many people look at Obama now and assume he must have been successful all of his life, but after reading this novel will realize that his life was a constant struggle, just as it continues to be everyday.
There are many lessons to be learned from his novel and they deal with two different words, identity and ommunity. Barack discusses his confusion of self early on in his life and how he fought so hard to find his identity. There are so many factors working against the development of an identity that at times it seems nearly impossible to truly define yourself. I believe that an individual’s identity is the most precious thing someone can posses so we must strive to form a strong identity and sustain it as best we can.
Obama struggled to find and sustain his identity because he did not know the true definition behind the discovery of identity.Identity is formed by self-analysis and sustained by the confidence in one self’s unique characteristics. This self-analysis occurs when a person disregards their race, gender, and orientation, and rather focuses on the individual’s mind and his or her core that deals with their opinions, experiences, and beliefs. I understand that individuality is ever-changing because of all of the pieces it is comprised of due to a person’s personal experiences, but how we balance them all is the key to discovering who you truly are. Communities can also be seen in the same light because they are made up of many different individuals.Obama struggled to find his sense of community because of his constant change in location and confusion behind how he should interact with the individuals in these communities.
Throughout his life, he came across many different communities but never really accepted them as his own because of the lack of connection he had with them. In order for Obama to identify himself with these individuals, he had to find a group that shared his interests and understood his confused sense of identity. His community had to be one that would accept him the way he was, disregarding race, orientation, and location, and supporting him and his views.Communities are formed and kept strong by accepting each other, regardless of how different their identities may be. I can honestly say that this memoir has affected my way of viewing the world in so many different ways.
My ideas on race, gender, and orientation had been clouded, but now I feel that I better understand what each one is and represents. I would like to acknowledge the highly respectable Jane Elliot in her speech on racism and how it still exists in our society today. Jane Elliot, along with Barrack Obama’s views, have taught me that there are far more important things than the color of your skin.The way we judge people should not be affected just because their physical appearance is different from ours.
Colorism should not matter because there is only one race, and that is the human race. The human race is the only race that should matter and I believe that this is the deeper meaning that Obama was trying to get across in his memoir. We should stop judging people based on their physical characteristics and rather accept everyone for who they are based on their individual identities and their sense of community.