Why should I care about my social identity?

As change makers, knowing our social identity is fundamental to understanding our relationship with power and how we can work consciously and effectively with power to create change.

We interact with power structures all the time - in our coalitions, organizations and collaborations. As we begin to explore our relationship with power, our social identity is a good place to start.

Becoming conscious of our social identity offers a clearer picture of what influences have contributed to where we are today and how those influences play out in everyday life.

Think of who you are, where you came from and those who influenced who you are today. In the midst of it all, there is also your more "hidden" history. Those social, familial and cultural factors that play a role in who you are and how you live – at home, in your community, and at work.

Being conscious about our social identity helps explain when, how and why we identify with and behave as part of, a particular social group. Sometimes we quite consciously and deliberately play out a part of our social identity when we participate in rituals or traditions that have been part of our family and community for generations.

However, some rituals and traditions are subtle, even unconscious. For instance, lifestyle traditions that guide when and how people get married, beliefs for or against cohabitation, parenting practices, etc. We inherit habits and traditions, behaviours and attitudes without much conscious thought about how they impact the way we now relate to institutions, money, work or relationships.

Whether we consciously or unconsciously adopt these shared beliefs, values, and traditions, they impact how we move through the world, as well as how others view and respond to us. And our social identity can be a source of both support and repression, which might not be visible or known to us.

A great way to get clear on your social identity and how it impacts your interactions with others is to try this exercise:

  1. Describe on a piece of paper a dynamic you struggle with when you are in a group of people. As you go through the list of questions below, make notes on connections you see between the struggles you have as a group member, your strength as a leader, and aspects of your social identity.
  • What do you know about where your parents, grandparents and other significant family members came from?
  • Where were you born, where did you grow up and where have you lived?
  • Is there any significance in your given or last name, its meaning or history within your  family?
  • Has your family name changed and if so, why?
  • What social class were you raised in? Even though it may have shifted, the class you were born into still impacts your identity.
  • What other social identities are important to you: gender, race/ethnicity, age, religion, sexual orientation, education, physical/mental abilities, etc.?
  • Think about factors that may not be immediately visible or apparent but have altered your worldview of yourself and others: ancestors, family connectedness, immigration, birth order, siblings’ stories and issues, mental illness, near-death experiences, illnesses.
  • Which social identities do you think about most often? Which least often?
  • What experiences led you to think more often about some social identities than others?

What did you learn? Want to take your learning deeper?

Join us for the Inner Activist Conscious Use of Power course, November 2-6, 2016 where we explore the impact of your social identity and how it influences your choices in life, how it affects your change work and your relationships both personally and professionally. 

Bursaries are available!