Reflection Paper # 1 Erica Wellman COMM 3271-Julia Khrebtan-Hoerhager September 14, 2010
Wellman 2 Sex, gender, class, race, religion, age: Categories that one may be able to identify in. I have found however, that identity and difference are not that simple or straightforward. I have realized that concepts such as identity, stereotypes, and power are not black and white. In this paper, I will critical analyze my perception and understanding of concepts like identity, stereotypes, and power that were discussed in Brenda J. Allen’s book, class discussions, and films. I will reflect and relate on what these concepts mean to me and how I have seen them play out in my life individually. Social identity, as Allen defines in her 2004 book, Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity, is “aspects of a person’s self-image derived from the social categories to which and individual perceives herself/himself as belonging” (p. 10). During class discussion I found that labeling one’s self is much more than being able to categorize yourself, and certainly not as easy as it seems. Woman, daughter, student, white, Christian, swimmer: all prominent identities in my life. But even within those roles I can further identify myself. I am the middle child, I am a senior, I was a varsity swimmer. I have discovered that identity is a combination of roles followed with expectations of those roles. People all over the world are composed with different identities, and I personally think that is beautiful. I completely agree with Allen when she states “when we value differences… we can enhance our lives” (p. 6). I lived in Boulder, Colorado for 3 years and really learned a lot about myself. I realized that when you are surrounded by people who are so much like you, and identify with many of the same roles you do, it is hard to grow as a person. I was contained in an area by people who were much like me… white, a student, 18-24 years old. I quickly grew tired of this. This aspect of living in what felt like a ‘bubble’ is the main reason why I moved to the Denver Metro area and transferred schools. Moving out of Boulder allowed me to come into contact with so many types of people. I have been able to grow and learn more about people which has also taught me a lot about myself. When I moved I got a job at a bar/restaurant in the Tech Center and that alone has allowed me to meet people on a daily basis that hold a social identity that is completely different than mine. It is almost overwhelming the diversity of
Wellman 3 people that I come in contact with, and find it so interesting how just moving 45 minutes away can open your eyes to new ways of life. As beautiful as I think diversity is I am not naïve to think that that is where diversity and differences end. Along with the different social identities come certain expectations and stereotypes. In our class discussion where we were given a list of occupations such as CEO, secretary, gardener, rap artist, or doctor, and asked to deliver common thoughts about each. When we did this exercise I was very surprised with how universal our expectations of what kind of people held these jobs were. It was so interesting to me that we are a class of 30 or so with different backgrounds, ethnicities, and even from different parts of the country yet we all generally agree on the stereotypes of these occupations. This makes me question why that was. I have realized that a lot has to do with where we were raised, how we were raised, and even the media that instills these assumptions and expectations in our life. After addressing concepts like stereotypes, I wonder why these preconceived notions persist. My personal explanation is that people are afraid to address the difference in other people. I know I am afraid to offend other people or sound ignorant. As a communication major I have been able to understand this better through the theory of the Spiral of Silence. The Spiral of Silence as I understand it, is when people have a fear of isolation and when a topic is brought up that sparks difference of opinion, they keep silent. I feel as if diversity and stereotypes are such complex concepts with an entire spectrum of opinions that people have a hard time addressing them. This in turn, allows the ‘general public’ to have a dominating view of things. After watching a film in class, it was brought to my attention a stereotype that I never well, consciously at least, realized. This was the concept of time. I knew that stereotypes were largely unconscious but the way people view and act towards time were expectations that I held without even knowing. It was really easy to relate to the scene of the girls talking about arriving to a party and hour
Wellman 4 later than the invitation said. As a college student, I have participated in my fair share of parties and never have arrived at the time the invite said. It has been instilled, at least in our American culture, that the more casual the event the more casual the arrival time is. For example, any interview I have ever had I would never show up late, I would even arrive a little early to demonstrate punctuality, responsibility, and determination. So, though, it is a common stereotype for parties to commence hours after the invitation time, there are also stereotypes that time holds for different occasions and or ethnicities. For example, I know that there are cultures that pray every time they are notified. This shows that time and the relationship time has with people is just as diverse as the people are. In cultures where they pray at certain moments of the day shows the respect and honor they have for that given time. These cultures can take this concept of time and carry it over to other instances or events in which they could view people like me who show up late to parties as disrespectful and selfish. Here, I have realized that this is just another example where social upbringing and cultures help to construct identities and stereotypes. Thus far in our Communication and Diversity class power is another concept that I have attempted to better understand. An effective way that I found to understand this concept is to reflect and relate to my idea of power. I consider power as having influence. There are many facets in my life where I see the demonstration of power. In my immediate family I know that power is apparent in different ways. Growing up, my parents held all the power because they were the ones with the authority. They granted me wishes, yet had the ability to take them away. As I entered my adulthood I found areas where I held the power and this was in areas of technology. Being someone who grew up in an era where there is a transition in to a digital world I knew more about computers, cell phones, electronics and even cars than my parents do. However, the Wellman family is not where power dynamics end. I personally see power demonstrated every day outside my family. At my work there is bureaucratic control, where I work under my bosses and they have the power to hire or fire me, give me
Wellman 5 raises or even decide when I get to go home. In association with ideology, my job, along with other organizations usually demonstrate the ideology of organizational hierarchy. As Allen explains organizations like my job at a restaurant have “power flowing from the top down”(p.32). Allen mentions that there are power structures even within employees that are considered ‘on the same level’. An example of this would be, at my job we have a rating system we call ‘merit’ and the higher your merit the better shifts you receive. Your merit is based on your communication skills with guests, your availability, your attitude, and your sales. So in a sense, even an employee who has the same job title as you could hold more power because they have better ‘merit’. I have discovered that power is not something that you can see, and point out, but rather a concept and because of this power to me, looks like a web with various interconnections and links where power is differently distributed. Even though I am on the bottom of the totem pole in my job I find that in society today I do hold more power than I am aware of. However, I think people make the common mistake of assuming having power means being privileged. I believe that privileged is completely personal, and contextual. I think people view privileged differently. I consider myself privileged because I have a family that is still intact who unconditionally loves me, I have the opportunity to get an education, I am have a job in one of the hardest job markets, I live in a country where I have my freedom, I have friends that support me, and I have my health. To others that can be considered powerful. Diversity and difference are concepts that the world today continues to attempt to understand. Through personal reflection and being able to relate to themes that we have covered thus far in our course I have gained a better understanding, on an individual level. I have realized that issues such as identity, stereotypes, and power cannot be understood one way or the other. Diversity is a continuum that is interpreted differently from person to person. I have learned that through personal experience, our backgrounds, and media we create social identities, stereotypes, expectations, and power systems.
Wellman 6 During discussions, films, and readings I have found myself unaware that I was guilty of some of these topics and continue to learn how to question and change my individual involvement in these societal views.
Wellman 7 Reference Allen, B. J. . (2004). Difference matters: communicating social identity . Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press Inc.