Symbols surround us. Every day we don ribbons, buttons, T-shirts, and the like. We move through life every day not even realizing that we wear ourselves, our personal beliefs, likes, dislikes and inner-most thoughts, on our sleeves every day.
The other day I was visiting with a friend of mine and I noticed a Star of David hanging around his neck. For the length of time I have known him, I knew he was Jewish, but it never occurred to me that this was such an important part of who he was, an identity he clings to strongly.
I have a rainbow ribbon pinned to my backpack. I have it there for many reasons: to let others know that they aren’t the only one out there, so people stop asking me if I have a girlfriend, and because this is an identity that I cling to strongly.
Pictures on our desks, posters on our walls, the way we cut our hair. These are all symbols of who we are.
So why is identity so important? Why must we wear our lives on our sleeves? I asked a friend and professor of mine, Dr. Eric Aoki, for his thoughts. Anyone who has taken a class from him knows the value of identity and the symbols we use to express that identity.
He believes identity is important because “we still live in a world where not everyone’s identity, and cultural identity, is recognized, acknowledged, discussed, or respected.”
Which is incredibly true. On November 8, the sentence “Also, is the city ready for some conservative group to take this law into court?” appeared in our very own Rocky Mountain Collegian. Ironically, it appeared in an editorial opinion regarding same-sex partner benefits and building a community of equality. Targeting one group, be it the gay community or conservatives, is not a step in building a community of equality.
So it’s not OK to be gay because you’re a sinful fag, it’s not OK to be conservative, and it’s not OK to bear Greek letters because (insert your favorite disparaging put-down here).
Did it ever occur to us that this might be the very reason we cling to our identities?
As Dr. Aoki so eloquently stated to me, we live in a society where identity is not accepted but negotiated. Imagine that! We negotiate the very foundation of our beliefs to live in a society that can’t openly accept many of us. We struggle to create some kind of discourse, conversation, on who we are and what our beliefs are in hopes of establishing a sense of understanding and community.
Now this may sound like a bunch of nonsense, and it very well could be. But think about this for a moment: If we lived in a society where this negotiation didn’t exist, if we lived in a community that accepts us fully for who we are, would we really be “struggling” to be who we are?
Would the need for identity really exist? Would we have to “find ourselves?” Or would we just be?
So what can we do to try to create this ideological world? Though we may be poor college students now, we are the leaders of tomorrow. Eventually, we will be the power-holders in a society that openly discriminates. We can change that. We can use the power that is being given to us by the mighty powers-that-be at our schools and in our communities to actually make a difference.
We can wear our symbols with pride. We can ask about those symbols. We can create an open dialogue about what it means to be in this society.
Above all, we can listen. We can understand. We can disagree but still accept. Tolerance should not be an option. I should not have to tolerate you, and you should not have to tolerate me. We should build an understanding of each other so that we can live. Together.
“To be nobody but yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.” -e.e. cummings