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The implications of one’s identity make it a defining factor that is not only very intuitive and reflective of one’s beliefs, values, and associations, but also has longstanding implications beyond that. The way one chooses to define themselves is sometimes subject to prejudice, judgment, or bias. These can prove harmful in a professional environment due to lost opportunities, but even more so in everyday life as a means of discrimination or other serious outcomes. However, there can also be positive aspects to one’s identity. In some instances, this might be in the form of preferential treatment from someone with a shared identity, or in the form of an achieved goal due to some prior knowledge or skill that is a part of one’s identity.
When I think of how I define myself and where I derive my social identity from, three things stand out most: my identity as an Arab-American, as a Christian, and as a First-Generation college student. Each aspect of this social identity provides both opportunities and barriers, but also have implications into my future and professional career. As I begin to truly analyze and think through the effect of my identity, I am intrigued by the diversity in not only my own social circle, but globally and all the rich outcomes that may result from said diversity. Naturally, race is the part of my social identity that is most often perceived by those around me, whether they assume the correct ethnicity or not.
As an Arab-American, I have experienced and been submerged in two different cultures, and it has allowed me to form a unique blend of values, community, and experiences. I simultaneously learned English and Arabic growing up, both of which have helped me form relationships as well as help people. In fact, after beginning school at UCSD, I was approached by a UCSD extension student looking for a specific building, and the fact that we both spoke Arabic created an easier, more fluid conversation and gave me more options to help her where there would otherwise be a language barrier. Also, it created a clear connection and basis on which we related, making me more likely to put more effort into helping her because of a natural inclination to favor one’s own group. While my identity has given me many relational opportunities, it also presents some possible barriers. According to Mahzarin Banaji and others in her work with implicit bias, it is explained that while people tend not to perceive themselves as biased against Arab-Americans, “they show substantial biases on implicit measures”. This is something that can be seen daily with the fact that many people still wrongly assume that the words Arab and terrorist are heavily related and in many cases synonymous. This ignorance can often lead to fear or otherwise hurtful discrimination against people of the Arab and Muslim community, and can have very serious and sometimes even fatal consequences. Sandra Sucher explains that harmful stereotypes such as these “may be transient and long-lasting, but they are nonetheless grounded in a particular historical and social context, ” and this reality gave me a platform in high school to write and present a speech aimed at educating and changing people’s perceptions. This identity has given me the opportunity to understand and be more sympathetic to people of different ethnicities, and having meaningful discussions about race and diversity with my peers. However, through these discussions I have often found myself in the same position as Kevin Knight, fearful that my actions will be misconstrued as I do not “want to be cast one-dimensionally as a defender of the [Arab] people”.
My identity as an Arab-American will last with me the rest of my life, and will impact me in the future by creating a way for me to reach a larger community and relate to people of both backgrounds. I must also address that while I hope it does not happen, it is possible that this identity will subject me to workplace discrimination or implicit bias from a future superior. Religion has played a very large part in my life, especially recently since I am older and can make my own decisions. I identify as a Christian, and strive to live my life in a way consistent with what I believe. In some cases, this explains why I strive for self-verification and want my peers to be aware of and see me as I am.
My local church has given me a platform not only to grow as an individual, but also to be a part of something bigger. It has given me the opportunity to volunteer during my entire high school career with children, at both an Arabic Christian Church and a local Baptist Church. Children face many struggles growing up, and I have been very blessed to have had opportunities to stand alongside them and help in any way possible. The church has also given me a group of peers whom I can relate to and who share my experiences and values, which has been amazing. However, this identification has limited me in many ways, simply because of time constraints and thus not being able to participate in certain things. I would attend church service on Sunday mornings, youth groups on Mondays and Wednesdays, and would assist the children’s ministry on Sunday nights. I was thus not able to participate in certain speech competitions, team banquets, or even apply for a job without ceasing participation in the church. In the future, it may impact me through creating a more difficult schedule to accommodate, and it may be difficult to socially network and such if I continue my volunteering and participation in my church.
Finally, my identity as a first-generation college student has been the most prevalent recently. Neither of my parents completed high school, and I only began to feel the actual impact of this when I started looking into and applying to colleges. As if the college process was not difficult enough to navigate on its own, the fact that I did not have anyone close to help me made the whole situation much more stressful and scary. This lasted even beyond the application process, when I received my acceptance letters. My family’s unfamiliarity with the different kinds of colleges, such as the difference between UCs and Cal States or public and private, made it much more difficult to choose a school that fit me best because there was so much more that went into the decision than simply location and price. While I did get in touch with college advising and counselors, it was still difficult as it was different than advice that could be offered by people that actually knew me and where I would thrive. I feel very at peace and happy with my decision to attend UCSD, but realize that I could have easily made a bad decision by not factoring in everything. Being a first-generation student has presented me with many challenges through the college process, but I believe it has also given me the opportunity to see the true value of an education, and to be motivated to continue with my education even when it gets hard.
As for my future, I hope it does not prove to be an impediment but rather a driving and motivating force to do something great and not give up. Identify defines us. However, when we truly take the time to analyze and think about the various groups we belong to and how they contribute to our identity, it is very interesting what happens. I have learned much more about myself and how I relate to the different groups with whom I share an identity. As I grow up and experience more of the world, I will have many opportunities to change certain aspects of my social identity, but I also hope to come more in touch with my identity and use it as a tool to succeed in the workplace and contribute to a diverse atmosphere.
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