How does Identity Affect the Identified?

One of my English professors asked the class the other day, “What is the significance of identity and how does it change how someone behaves?”. When applied to Ariel Levy’s article, Either, Or, this question opens an interesting line of thought in regards to status quo, how that affects someone’s behavior, and what comes about when they challenge their assigned identity.

In the article, Semenya is criticized for competing in female track competitions, even though she has three times the regular testosterone a woman should have due to a medical condition. In her situation, Semenya is battling between two identities, that of a runner and that of a woman. From a conventional viewpoint, one would think that a person would identify themselves as their gender before their occupation. However, it can be seen that Semenya chooses to let her identity as a runner take priority, in order to focus, be more successful, and show that she doesn’t care what people say. Because she is sure she is a woman in her own mind, she is able to act and focus accordingly without being distracted by others’ assertions. By confirming her faith in her gender and rallying behind the support of her nation, Semenya is able to use the certainty of her identity as a woman to better her performance and further solidify her identity as a runner.

Although Semenya goes against what the people and media say and succeeds, certain people are not as fortunate and are “stuck” in their identities. A perfect example is of a close friend’s struggle with the label of being an Asian-American. He did not enjoy the racial stereotypes that came along with the identity and tried his best to identify with other ethnic groups, rapping along to hip hop, changing his style of dress, and even making up a new nickname for himself. However, to this day, the first label everyone identifies him with is Asian-American. My friend’s efforts to change people’s label of him demonstrate the extent to which people go in order to feel better accepted or have higher social value. By allowing his identity to affect his actions, my friend counteracted what he intended to do and even further cemented his label as an Asian-American. This is because people started to compare what he was trying to do to what he had been doing, illustrating the difference in his actions and his attempts to change. These differences illuminated the fact that he was not satisfied with being an Asian-American and wanted to be known as something different.

A comparison between Semenya and my friend conveys that identity can be a powerful factor in how one acts. The success of maintaining your identity or the lack thereof determines how satisfied you are with your label.


One thought on “How does Identity Affect the Identified?

  1. One’s sport or occupation may be the first thing that comes to mind when someone think of them, but I would assert that it is the responsibility of the athlete to make sure his or her sport does not define who they are. I believe that, in the case of any athlete, sport ‘X, Y, or Z’ is what they do; it is not who they are.


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