Monday, April 2, 2007

Beyond a Myopic View of Identity and Towards Social Inclusion

by Daniel Newhart, Graduate Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

This past weekend, I watched a very interesting documentary about the Columbus area titled “Flag Wars.” The main premise of this film was that the GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) community was moving into dilapidated neighborhoods and running out the African American community who was not able to afford bringing their houses up to “code.” One major conflict in the movie was between some GLBT residents and an African American man who wanted his own hand-painted sign placed above his door. The African American man’s claim was that his ability to express his identity was being infringed upon by the requests to remove his sign; and, he thought, it was quite contradictory that the GLBT residents were able to express their identity by hanging their rainbow flags.

While it is important not to ignore the fact that gentrification is a serious issue, one worthy of examining, there may be another issue here. The myopic approach taken towards identity in this situation (as well as others) may be leading to more conflict, and simultaneously be marginalizing a community that shares identity with both “sides” of the conflict. Specifically, I am referring to people of color who are also GLBT. These people may fall through the cracks of both sides, given the stigma they experience as a result of their identities. It could be posited that GLBT people of color are simultaneously “visible” due to their race, but their “invisible” identity, that is, their sexual orientation, is one that they must suppress out of fear of stigma from their community of color.

The potential of GLBT people of color to find a middle ground in the conflict of “Flag Wars” is one that should not be disregarded, but unfortunately it is ignored for the most part. GLBT people of color, since they share facets of identity with both “warring parties” in “Flag Wars”, could be a bridge between the two communities. I am not saying that they should be tokenized, but that an asset approach to these people should be taken by both the GLBT community and African American community. However, both sides of the conflict in “Flag Wars” are suffering from a very shortsighted view of identity that heralds one part of their identity as paramount. Identity is a multitude of interacting factors, of which race and sexual orientation are just two among many others such as class, gender, ability, and religion. In “Flag Wars,” it seems apparent that a myopic view of identity has led to an either/or situation, in which neither side can find a middle ground. If we break free of dualism, it seems that the middle ground could be mediated with people whose respective communities sometimes refuse to see them as assets.
With this in mind, the question is how do we get people to see that identity is a function of multiple facets, rather than one facet at one time, beyond simply the context of “Flag Wars”? Furthermore, is a more complex view of identity necessary for sustainable, transformative change?

1 comment:

  1. Angela Stanley, Research Associate for the Kirwan InstituteApril 12, 2007 at 3:15 PM

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