Identity is a significant defining characteristic that not only reflects one’s beliefs, associations and values but has long-lasting effects. It is possible to be prejudiced, judged, or biased in the way you define yourself. They can be harmful to a person’s career due to missed opportunities. But they are even more damaging in daily life, as they can lead them into discrimination and other negative outcomes. Identity can have positive and negative aspects. Some of these positive aspects can come in the forms of receiving preferential treatments from others who share the same identity or by reaching a certain goal based on prior knowledge and skills.
When I think about my social and personal identity, I am most aware of three things: my identity and background as an Arab American. I also identify as a Christian. And I’m a college student from the first generation. This social identity has both positive and negative aspects, and also impacts my professional and future career. When I really analyze and think about my identity’s impact, I find myself fascinated by diversity, both in my personal social circle as well as globally, with all of the positive outcomes that can result. Naturally, those who know me most are the ones that perceive my social identity based on race.
As an Arab American, I was immersed in two cultures and have formed a unique blend. While growing up, I studied both English as well Arabic. These languages have allowed me to form friendships and help people. The fact that I spoke Arabic with a UCSD Extension student, who was searching for a building, made the conversation easier and more fluid. It also gave me more options when it came to helping her. A clear connection was made and we were able to relate, so I felt more motivated to do more to help. My identity has opened up many opportunities for me to form relationships, but it can also be a barrier. Mahzarin Binaji and her colleagues explain, in their research on implicit bias, that even though people may not think of themselves as prejudiced against Arab Americans, they do “show substantial biased measures”. The fact that people often mistakenly believe that Arabs and terrorists are related or even synonymous is a daily reminder of this. This ignorance leads to discrimination, fear and other harmful feelings against members of the Arab or Muslim community. It can even have fatal results. Sandra Sucher points out that, while stereotypes are often harmful, they can also be long-lasting. They have their roots in certain historical and social contexts. I have been able to better understand people from different ethnicities and to have meaningful conversations about race and diversity. But I find myself in the exact same position as Kevin Knight. My actions are often misinterpreted and I fear that I will be portrayed as an Arab defender.
My identity as a Arab-American is something that will stay with me for the rest my life. This will allow me to connect to a larger group of people and to those of other backgrounds. This identity may also expose me to implicit bias in the workplace or discrimination by future superiors, although I hope not. My life has been dominated by religion, particularly in recent years as I have become older and can now make my own choices. I am a Christian who strives to live in accordance with my beliefs. In some instances, this is why I aim to prove myself and that I want people to accept me for the person I am.
It has allowed me to not only grow as a person, but to also be part of something larger. It has allowed me to be a volunteer for children throughout my entire high school experience, both at an Arabic Christian Church and local Baptist Church. It has been a blessing to be able to help children in whatever way I can. It’s been amazing to find a group who shares my values and experience and can relate. Due to my limited time, I was unable to fully participate in certain events. I attended church on Sunday mornings. Youth groups were held on Mondays and Tuesdays. And on Sunday evenings, I helped with the children’s program. I could not attend certain team banquets or speech competitions without stopping my church involvement. It could impact my future because it will make it harder to fit in volunteering or church activities. I may also find it hard to socially network.
In recent times, I’ve been most conscious of my identity. It was only when I started applying to college and looking at the options that I felt I could make a difference. Because I was alone in the college application and admissions process, it made things even more difficult. The stress continued even after I had submitted my application and received my acceptance letter. The fact that my family did not know the difference between UCs or Cal States or private and public colleges made it difficult for me and my parents to select the school that was right for me. It wasn’t just about location and price. The college counselors I spoke to were not able to give me the kind of advice I needed. They didn’t really know me, and I was unsure if I was going to thrive at a particular school. In the end, I made a good decision in choosing UCSD. I regret not taking into consideration all factors. It has been a challenge to be a student of the first generation. I also believe that it has helped me to realize the true worth of obtaining an education.
I hope my past will be a motivation to me to succeed and to not give up. Identify defines us. When we really take the effort to analyze and reflect on the groups we are a part of and the ways they influence our identity, we can discover some very interesting things. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and the groups I identify with. I hope that as I experience the world and grow older, I can change some aspects of my social identities. I also want to use my identity to help me succeed at work and create a diverse environment.