Our racial and ethnic heritage is an important part of who we are as human beings. Those of us whose families may have immigrated to this country in the relatively recent past may have an especially strong sense of our ethnic and racial backgrounds. Though most of the women in this group probably identify as “white” or “Caucasian”, the truth is that all of us have identities that are more complex than that label can describe. When we think of ourselves as a single checkmark in one box on an application form we lose the richness of our past and the cultures that have shaped us.
For those of us with a minority racial or ethnic identity relative to the white majority, these issues are even more complex. For example, although Hispanic people will someday be the numerical majority in the United States, without a doubt we will continue to consider ourselves a “white” country for many years to come. But changes are occurring. Today we have many different racial and ethnic people moving into positions of visibility—from our President to Supreme Court justices to news anchors and television characters, we are starting to see the diversity that has actually always existed in this country.
As older women, most of us grew up in an America where differences in racial and ethnic backgrounds were hushed and talk of being anything other than a white American was largely silenced. To fit in and be respected it was better just to think of ourselves as part of the undifferentiated majority. We also grew up with racial and ethnic prejudice, whether consciously or unconsciously transmitted by our families and cultures. Today, we are able and even encouraged to embrace our diversity and celebrate our heritage, although a few exceptions remain.
Let’s spend a little time talking about the complexities of our identities.
1) What is your racial or ethnic identification and what does it mean to you?
2) Did you grow up in a family that celebrated particular ethnic or cultural traditions? How did these differences make you feel?
3) If you identify as “white”, what does that mean to you? Has your self-definition changed over the years?
4) Share one or two experiences that have shaped your attitudes about majority and minority racial and ethnic groups and how you have grown in your understanding and perhaps changed some of your attitudes over time.