Understanding the “I” in Identity

I am a writer.

I’m also a female, white, middle class, bisexual, cisgender, final-semester graduate student with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder. All of these aspects make up my identity on a daily basis, but only one of them – writer – is what other academics and my peers see based on my academic writing and emails at first glance. What these people don’t see is my personal writing – texting, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and even old fanfiction written in notebooks – so most of them generally don’t understand my process, the multiple facets of my identity, or even why I write the way I do and the things I write about.

Thus, I started my first blog in the hopes that I could better intermingle these identities and reach a broader audience beyond my peers and the academics in my field. I have similar intentions with this blog, as my main goal is to explore different teaching methods, styles, and theories so that I can best learn how to accommodate the various identities that my students will have (and also to blow up and then act like I don’t know nobody, hahahahaha).

A Photo of rapper Riff Raff
Photo taken from Know Your Meme

This week, I want to tackle the social aspects and implications of writing, as well as what it means to identify as a writer and how our other identities bleed into that “writer” identity. It took me a very long time to come to terms with my identity as a writer, as I had imposter syndrome (still do!) and thus never thought of my work as good enough to be considered “real” writing. That all changed in my Spring 2019 Introduction to the English Discipline course, as it helped me realize that writing goes beyond academic writing. Everyone writes every single day as they text, compose emails, post on social media, etc. Once I began thinking of writing as more than just essays and articles, I was finally able to take that “writer” identity in stride and begin doing greater things with it, like advocating for those who have no voice and reaching out to people who shared similar thoughts and experiences.

The transition I made helped me begin to connect with a broader audience, and in turn, I had to begin thinking and writing more carefully in terms of that audience. I ultimately came to realize that “writing is an activity that involves ethical choices that arise from the relationship of writer and reader… [that relationship] inevitably address[s], either explicitly and deliberately, or implicitly and unintentionally, the questions that moral philosophers regard as ethical: What kind of person do I want to be? How should I treat others? How should I live my life?” (Duffy 31). These moral/ethical questions are almost identical to the ones I asked myself as I wrote my first blog post that same spring and continued to write for not only that blog, but also for all the academic articles and papers I wrote thereafter. I worked hard to figure out how I wanted my writing, my identity, to present itself to my audience, and I’ve since opted for a casual, yet educational tone and writing process. I use key words in my discipline, explain them in plain terms, and then use popular examples to contextualize and drive home the information. I also write how I talk, and then go back and clean up my slang later; in doing so, my conversational tone remains, but the language I use isn’t unprofessional. I’m happy with what I put out, and my readers understand what I’m saying regardless of their educational background or academic discipline.

However, just because I’m happy with my content and writing style, doesn’t mean I can slack off or stop utilizing academic research to back my arguments. I now have an ethical obligation to my audience to continue mixing my academic “writer” identity with my other identities so that I can put out quality content that is as accurate and well-informed as possible. It is important to be as accurate as possible because “an informational or persuasive text that is unclear, inaccurate, or deliberately deceptive suggests a different attitude toward readers: one that is at best careless, at worst contemptuous” (Duffy 32). Despite how long I’ve been writing in the academic context, I’m still scared of being wrong or misleading because I didn’t research enough (both when I write on my other blog and as I write my thesis), even though I’m much more conscious of my writing and research process. This is because sometimes my word choice isn’t as sharp as it should be, and I use phrases that have negative connotations or implications that I don’t immediately recognize. But, I’m human, that’s normal, and it’s all part of the learning process to becoming a better writer and advocate. I just have to keep reminding myself that writing is a social process and I can’t learn from my mistakes if I don’t put my writing out there for my audiences to see.

Overall, the process of finding and defining my writer’s voice reminded me of an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants in which SpongeBob says, “At least I’m safe inside my mind,” and then Patrick thinks the same thing, but SpongeBob can hear it because Patrick’s thoughts are really inside his mind.

Spongebob and Patrick staring at each other while covering their mouths in disbelief.
Photo taken from GT Planet

This is because when you’re a writer, your thoughts are kind of never really your thoughts. Sure, they may have originated in your mind and out of your research, but how you present those thoughts will always be affected by/come back to your audience and how they’ll perceive them in writing. This is why we have to be conscious of what we write and how we write it; always say what you mean and mean what you say, but make sure you keep in mind that each one of your readers has had a different experience than you.

I’d now like to switch gears to talk about how different people have different experiences in terms of writer’s identity, and the best example that comes to mind my best friend Jahanny’s struggles with academic writing. Its important for both writers and teachers to acknowledge that “vocabularies, genres, and language conventions are a part of what creates and distinguishes social groups, and thus learning to write is always ongoing, situational, and involving cultural and ideological immersion” (Scott 48). I think a lot of professors with more traditional teaching styles neglect the cultural aspects of writing, and I was able to see this first-hand in Jahanny’s fights with her professors. In high school, she was one of the strongest writers I knew; but once she started college, her professors had problems with her use of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) in her papers. Eventually, she had to have me constantly read and decode her papers so that she didn’t fail her assignments since it was hard for her to recognize it in her own writing. It’s not that her professors couldn’t understand what she was saying when she used AAVE, it’s that they didn’t care for it and thought it to be improper (“not grammatically correct”) even though it’s a large part of her identity as both a writer and a woman of color. Jahanny’s experience just goes to show how students must enact situational identities based on the social coding of their environment, so how they write and who they write for will always affect what identity comes first (and also that academia needs a major overhaul, but that’s a TEDx Talk for another day). 

Situational identities also come into play when reading, as “external speech becomes internalized and then comes to frame how we think, self-identity, and act in the world” (Scott 49). This internalization of the different types of writing and speech we encounter explains why when I’m in class, I’m able to apply Jacques Lacan’s theories to everything – like the first week’s readings arguing that speech is natural, to which Lacan would argue that it’s most definitely not. It’s also why I’m able to decode the AAVE in my friends’ conversations (or in Jahanny’s case, papers) automatically, as I grew up hearing it constantly. Hence, I turn on a different part of my identity that I’ve accumulated from social and academic experience as I read and write based on the situational context (and I guarantee that my future students will, too). 

On the bright side, it seems as though many college professors and classrooms today are trying to acknowledge that identities have many different parts in order to combat identity politics, which “entail a conscious decision by the individual to enter into… a ‘strategic essentialism,’ a reduction of complex political and economic relations in order to present a political statement” (Villanueva 57). Identity politics generally imply that identities are not multi-faceted, even though we all know by now that it’s simply untrue. However, identity politics are very much relevant and tend to affect people who have little-to-no voice. In her essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak notes that these people are known as the “subaltern,” with all being of low socioeconomic status and those at the very bottom of the subaltern list being women of color, especially “Third World” women. 

Thus, in order to be heard by the oppressive majority (read: white men), these subaltern peoples essentialize their diverse identities into one and produce critical works in the language of the oppressors. This tactic is also known as rhetorics of assimilation, and it is an unfortunate but sometimes necessary method of survivance. The reason that I’m bringing this up to you today, dear readers, is because this is what my life’s work and my own identity have come to embody. In order to formulate a more inclusive literary canon, discipline, world, we must get rid of identity politics and begin acknowledging the feats of people of all ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and nationalities. If we can acknowledge that our own identities are multi-faceted, we must acknowledge the same of others. It’s a basic human right that the West has continually denied those it colonized, and so we must begin to de-colonize our minds in order to maximize our full potential as humanitarians.

For the above reason, I love Villanueva’s suggestion of having our students ask “what’s being said? And what’s left unsaid?” (58) in a text to uncover power dynamics. This is something that I’ve taught myself to do after having taken Po-Co with Dr. Colleen Clemens and Indigenous Rhet. with Dr. Amanda Morris. I fully intend to teach my students to do the same to ensure that they develop global fluency, consideration for non-Western writers, and an overall inclusive consciousness concerning writers and how their different identities shape their work. As my students develop this fluency, they’ll then be able to recognize it in their own writing patterns and begin dismantling oppressive language to make sure they’re engaging with any and all audiences they can imagine. I’ve only just begun learning how to do so myself, so I endeavor to be much better at it before I fully develop my identity as a teacher.

Until next time.

xx.

Published by taemove94

Soon-to-be master's degree holder. Lover of Japanese culture. Career Coach and student advocate.

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