Free Research Paper On Constructing Identity In The Entertainment Age
Adolescents have always been concerned with their identity. Wrestling with one’s identity is one of the fundamental experiences of adolescence; it is this drive to find out who one is that brings children from childhood into adulthood. It is not always an easy task to discover one’s purpose or identity, and it is common for adolescents to try on many different identities for size before determining who they want to be as an adult. Nell Bernstein suggests that adolescents today are claiming that they identify with the identity of certain ethnic minorities; most notably, these ethnic minorities include blacks and Mexicans. People have always tried to adhere to identities to ensure that they had a sense of belonging, but in today’s world, the Internet allows teens and adults to experience far more than they ever have before; this added exposure to new things along with a disassociation for the majority culture between ethnic identity and ethnicity has led to a new phenomenon of the absorption of identity.
Absorbing minority identities may seem strange to some, but the adolescents of today are the second round of the Sesame Street generation; a generation that was raised to respect and even laud diversity. Because children are taught so strictly at a young age that they cannot discriminate against individuals of other ethnicities, and that all people are beautiful and special, it seems as though the idea of eradicating racism has almost come full circle: in order to feel special and separate from those around them, young people of today are adopting the identity of minorities so that they can feel as though they have a “special,” inclusive place in a cultural group. This is not to say, of course, that it is important to revert back to a time before Sesame Street was singing the praises of unity and harmony between children of all different ethnicities and cultural identities. Perhaps it is time to look at the message that has been sent and discover whether the message can be reworked, however. Instead of treating white American children as the default race and ethnicity and all deviations from this norm as special, different, or unusual in a good or bad way, perhaps viewing all cultural identities as equally important and valuable would help alleviate some of the mysticism regarding other cultures and ethnic identities.
One of the ways that people develop their identities today is through the use of social media. This may mean sites like Facebook or blogging platforms like Tumblr; there are thousands of different platforms available for individuals who are part of minority culture to discuss their culture and interests (Hevern). It should be noted that Stoller suggests that the impact of the peer group is very powerful, regardless of the age of the individual; the perception of being included or excluded from the in crowd is something that is much more visible on social media than it ever has been before (Stoller). There are ways for individuals to link together into groups, regardless of how esoteric or strange their beliefs or interests are; in many ways, the Internet is the perfect echo chamber for adolescents, as it gives them a way to speak and be heard by their peers and people who unequivocally share their interests (Stoller).
Perhaps the strangest trend in adolescent culture today is the trend that encourages adolescents to identify with certain races based on what they enjoy. Nell Bernstein writes, “What matters is that she thinks the choice is hers. For April and her friends, identity is not a matter of what you were born into, what color your skin is. It’s what you wear, the music you listen to, the words you use—everything to which you pledge allegiance, however fleetingly” (Bernstein). It is almost as though these adolescents feel as though they cannot be part of a community that enjoys certain things without also identifying as a certain race—they cannot form a group that enjoys rap music without participating wholeheartedly in a culture to which they do not belong. Bernstein gives a number of examples of children who live in the suburbs participating in behaviors that are stereotypically associated with one racial group or another; these teens may or may not have any actual racial ties to the community which they claim to be a part of (Bernstein).
At first glance, it seems to be something that is not problematic. Indeed, what is the difference between a young teen that considers herself a “cholita” versus one that considers herself Goth? Both have chosen a subculture and immersed themselves within the subculture. However, the problem with identifying with a certain race or ethnicity comes from an individual’s place of privilege within society (Rothenberg). Privilege is a sociological term that indicates that a certain individual experiences rights or privileges that are granted by society on the basis of their skin color; individuals who are white or who present as white are seen as the default by society, and are therefore more commonly judged by their actions than their skin color (Rothenberg). When an individual who enjoys these privileges takes on aspects that are commonly associated with a minority culture, they are appropriating the culture in a very real way (Rothenberg).
Appropriating culture is another concept that is integral to the discussion of teenagers and their participation in certain cultural rituals. Going back again to the hypothetical cholita and Goth, one individual—the Goth—is participating in performative behavior that is not commonly associated with any minority group. Indeed, if anything, Goth fashion and identity is commonly associated with the white majority group (Rothenberg). Conversely, the cholita identity is associated closely with Mexican culture. Individuals who are Mexican and participate in this lifestyle have experienced a number of things that have formed their culture in a specific way; many micro-aggressions and small injustices force subcultures in the cholo subculture to develop in the United States (Price).
When someone who is not born into this lifestyle, or does not have significant ties to this lifestyle and community begin to mimic the behavior of people who have experienced these things, their behavior becomes destructive. Someone who is choosing to “act cholo” has every opportunity to stop acting in this manner; someone born into the situation and the lifestyle in which “cholo” is the norm does not have this same luxury (López). When a racial or ethnic identity becomes a hat for someone to take on and off at their leisure, the individual is, more than likely, appropriating a minority culture in an inappropriate and potentially destructive way (Weis and Fine).
It seems unlikely that adolescents have the presence of mind to consider all the social and historical baggage associated with “acting like” one racial group or ethnic group or another. Instead, it seems as though the willingness of adolescents to try to absorb into these groups is indicative of the adolescent desire to fit in. While some adolescents may be attracted to the Goth subculture, others may be more into other minority groups; some become punks, others become nerds, hipsters, and so on (Rothenberg). The desire, for most adolescents, is undoubtedly to find a place where they belong, rather than the desire to intentionally make another downtrodden group invisible.
The advent of the Internet has also, undoubtedly, changed the way that children identify with each other. No longer are adolescents restricted to the people that they have around them every day for attention and engagement; today, kids can engage with people from all over the world. The first group that indicates that they will be inclusive of an adolescent who is commonly left out of his or her peer group may be overwhelmingly attractive for someone who is feeling lonely. One place where this can be seen is on Tumblr; there are many websites for blogging, but Tumblr attracts a young group, many of whom identify as strange and unusual combinations of identities. In a bizarre twist, one of the most common things for adolescents to identify as on Tumblr is transgendered in some way; it is almost as though these individuals are looking for the most persecuted groups of people and molding their identities on these groups.
Human beings like to belong to groups. As a species, humanity is a pack animal; a sense of community gives humans meaning in their lives. It is understandable, then, that children and adolescents want to feel a sense of identity in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected. By becoming part of a small, insular community, adolescents can feel protected from the outside world and the individuals within that world that may potentially want to cause them harm or pain.
Identity does not function the way that many of these adolescents think that it does, but their insistence on identifying with racial or ethnic groups should not be surprising. As it becomes more acceptable to be part of a minority group—and as the strengths and culture of these groups become more mainstream—it seems inevitable that people will gravitate towards groups that produce media and espouse beliefs that are appealing. However, there should be a line drawn between the ability to enjoy media and content created by these groups, and the ability to put on their ethnic identity for size; appreciation of different cultures is important, but appropriation of different cultures is decidedly destructive and inappropriate. It may take a little bit of a change of message to truly change the minds of the next generation, however.
Bernstein, Nell. 'Goin’ GangstaChoosin’ Cholita'. Print.
Hevern, Vincent W. 'The Self On Facebook And Deceptive Identity.'. PsycCRITIQUES 56.45 (2011): n. pag. Web.
López, Jack. Cholos & Surfers. Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1998. Print.
Price, Angeline F. "Working Class Whites." Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers (1997): 591-596.
Rothenberg, Paula S. Race, Class, And Gender In The United States. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Print.
Stoller, Eric. 'Our Shared Future: Social Media, Leadership, Vulnerability, And Digital Identity'.Journal of College and Character 14.1 (2013): n. pag. Web.
Weis, Lois, and Michelle Fine. Beyond Silenced Voices. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993. Print.
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