Eye-Opening: How Learning the Truth About My Social Identities Impact the Way I See the World

What do you know about social identities? Honestly, I had heard about them and even received training about social identities a few times at work. Then, went back to life as I knew it.

Then, in October 2021, I was exposed to work around Race, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (REDI) as part of my senior leadership program at Harvard. That catapulted me into diving a lot deeper to learn more about racial and social justice, discrimination, inequities – and I was very angry.

I was angry because I learned I had played a part in creating inequities, even when I didn’t know I was doing so; angry because I had the power all along to help create change; angrier because I then learned I was part of many of the marginalized groups even though I didn’t never thought I was!

How did I really learn about social identities?

It all started on the very first day of our certification program on DEI where we learned about social identities, theories, history, etc.

In April 2022, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program Director at Georgetown University, Sukari Pinnock Fitts said to us something that stayed with me more than anything else that was discussed throughout the program. I may be paraphrasing here, but the words “This work will challenge you, will make you question yourself, and may even make you uncomfortable.”

Sukari was not kidding.

I went home after that first session contemplating how I had been living life almost oblivious to so many things. I left outraged – I felt emotionally drained. At the same time I was inspired, and engaged, and committed to learn and to take on the challenges that came with doing work around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – plus some more.

There is so much to talk about regarding social identities from theory to spectrums to grids to social groups, in-groups vs out-groups, etc – I will need a full video to go deeper, but that may come later.

The truth is, I was changed.

Who am I, a year later?

To put things into context, below is my response to our Program Director’s exercise in which she had us work with our partner to discuss where we each fell. There is definitely a lot more to this exercise, for sure.

Well, hello there! My name is Ana Valentin, my pronouns are she/her/ella. I am a heterosexual, cisgender female descendent of Indigenous Taínos from the island of Boriken, most commonly known as Puerto Rico. This makes me a Latina, and US Citizen by default. I also have an invisible physical disability and I am neurodivergent, carrying childhood post-traumatic growth syndrome. I am a Solitary Witch who honors the Wiccan way. I consider myself middle-class and a fierce Genexer (Generation X).

What did you just read? What does it mean? Let me explain my identities, if I may, since I realize that was a lot to digest.

Female, Straight, Latina, Gen-X, Non-White, and a Witch. I am a whole package, if you asked me!

In so many words, out of the 9 social identities as developed by Mayes & Pinnock Fitts in 2019 for “The Fifth Domain”, I fall in the “historically marginalized” category as 6 out of 9 of my descriptors are not dominating categories. I did not understand the impact of this finding until I learned this information about me. Then later during the program, I learned that because I have 6 screws in my lower back and have back issues, I have an invisible disability. I don’t require a wheelchair, cane, crutches, etc. and most people assume I am perfectly okay. It was enlightening to see that admitting to this does not make me a lesser human being.

What am I doing with this information?

1. I am owning my sh-tuff.

I am cleaning up my act where I know I have contributed to the damage. I am also living consciously about the decisions I make and what impact(s) they may potentially have on others.

One exercise we did early on was to list our privileges during the pandemic. For me it was easy, I never ran out of toilet paper – that was a HUGE deal; I had access to COVID-19 health information directly from the best sources in the State because of my contacts; I had first access to vaccines for my Mom and for me (since I was her medical admin) when they became available; I had Instacart and others were doing the grocery shopping for me. I was mortified that others had to wait hours in line to get a COVID-19 test on State medical insurance while I was able to get a 15 minute appointment on demand. Horrible!

2. I am advocating more.

I am sharing information when and where there are resources available. I am not out with a megaphone attached to my face, but I am sending information out to my contacts locally to share with their contacts. Whether it’s a food drive, a clothes drive, a back-to-school event, a job fair – I am sharing as much as I can to lift others up.

3. I am intentionally working on creating meaningful relationships.

What good is it to have gained all this knowledge if I can’t pass it on to others who can benefit too? I am finding ways to connect, to collaborate, to educate, to debate, and to engage. This is exhausting work, but it is also exciting and motivating, and I envision a better future for others who I can take the information and pass it onto their friends.

I had an Uber driver in DC tell me I was wasting my time. He had been around for well over 60 years and had seen it all. Only because of his comment, I am not giving up. I may not be able to do much for him, but it may be in the stars for me to help make things better for his grandkids.

Where do you fit in this wheel?

As far as I am concerned, you fit where you feel comfortable. You are who you are and no one has the power to force you to be someone you are not.

In your authenticity, you must be seen as your whole self. It does not matter to me what you look like, what your gender identity and sexual preference may be, who or what you worship – if you do, how much money you have or don’t have. It is all irrelevant. I will honor you. All of you.

Can we meet half-way?

I believe we can meet half-way.

When and if I ever have the honor to interact with you, I will give you the same respect you give me beginning with acknowledging that you are a human being worth of being respected. I can speak from my lived experience about being intentionally excluded because of any of these six identities. It really can be detrimental to the spirit to feel left out if you’re not equipped to handle the situation and your own feelings. So, I offer you a safe space where you can be authentically you.

Until next time, stay well.

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