Original Essay: Culture Influences Identity
Identity is influenced by many factors, with some more obvious then others. Gender and ethnicity are the most obvious traits to recognize, which leads other contributing factors to be overlooked, for example, culture. Culture plays a large role in each person’s identity but because it cannot be seen when just looking at an individual it goes unnoticed. There are two essays that demonstrate the influence and role culture has on identity; “Dude Looks like a Lady” by Kathy Wilson, and “F-Word” by Firoozh Dumas. The cultural influence a person is surrounded by plays a large role in the development of their identity.
Culture is the combination of values, beliefs, and practices of a particular group. The culture each person lives in shows them how to dress, talk, act, acceptable behavior, and gives a guideline of what is considered acceptable and normal. As a child grows up in a particular culture they absorb the beliefs, and practices, then begin to use them in everyday activities. This process is known as acculturation. Remix, by Catherine G. Latterell, touches on the idea of acculturation. According to Latterell acculturation is “the process by which we absorb the practices, attitudes, and beliefs of particular social groups” (10). The culture a person is surrounded by will then play a role in the development of their identity. Identity is essentially a set a characteristics and traits that are attributed to one specific person.
Identities are specific and unique for each person. Because identity is different from one person to the next, there is the chance that the society a person exists in will not be fully accepting. Latterell states “the social and cultural forces that help shape our sense of identity are not neutral. Instead, they operate like a powerful lens through which we make judgments about ourselves and others” (10). The culture may pass judgment, which in turn will cause the individual to question their identity, their sense of self. The individual will either use the judgment to shape their identity in another direction, or re enforces their established and strong sense of self. Either way, identity is influenced by the culture.
An essay that demonstrates how culture influences identity is “Dude Looks like a Lady” by Kathy Wilson. Wilson talks about her experience as a pretty woman with short hair. She states that her having short hair has nothing to do with identity confusion, she just finds it easier. Her story includes anecdotes about two men of different backgrounds imposing society’s views of how women should look on her. She states “people get so twisted over female presentation and what exactly is feminine that my bald head is cause for pause” (22). She goes on to say “Then I stopped myself when I realized I almost let some fool have power over me. I am a black woman whose bald head makes me invisible to some, boyish to others, and beautiful to me” (23). This quote shows the reader that Wilson has a strong sense of self, a strong identity. She was not about to let a cultural view impact her identity. It in fact, only strengthened her identity. It also shows that there is a standard set of ideas within a culture, and differences are not always accepted.
Another woman who had to endure the pressure of cultures ideas is Firoozeh Dumas. In the essay “The F Word” she explains her decision to change her ethnic Iranian name to a more American name. She wanted to do this because the culture around her showed her that in order to fit in she should have a one or two syllable name. She says, “I wanted to be a kid with a name that didn’t draw so much attention, a name that didn’t come with a built-in inquisition as to when and why I had moved to America and how was it that I spoke English without an accent and was I planning on going back and what did I think of America?”(61). She chose the name Julie because of its simplicity, but after a while she “felt...
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