Just Fitting In?
Identity is not only about fitting in, but it in fact intersects with almost every other aspect of life and how we approach it. Growing up in the United States means learning the ins and outs of Western culture, where whiteness is not only praised but prioritized and privileged. Our society has taught children that they should not embrace their own unique identity, but should instead strive to assimilate to Western standards and ideals. In the United States, we have already predetermined the image that we want people of color to fill. We have decided that embracing your own culture is okay, but only in ways that don’t make white people uncomfortable. People of color are forced to crush and cramp their own identity and culture to fit in our little white cookie cutters.
Growing up in the majority, I never had to think about my identity or how my identity affects my everyday life. Everything my family and I did was just “normal” to me and everyone around me. The food I brought to school never got made fun of, the holidays we celebrated were always observed, and I never got the dreaded “so what are you” question. When you’re in the majority, your identity and everything that comes along with it isn’t even given a second thought, it is accepted as the norm. When we, as a society, teach kids that the majority is what’s normal, we encourage them to abandon their own identity in exchange for one that will be more accepted.
Embracing Your Own Culture
One’s own ethnicity, identity, and culture are crucial in how to navigate our society and the systems that live within it. When we, as a society, discourage people from fully accepting and embracing their own social location, we are also hindering their ability to understand how to overcome and adapt to the systemic racism that lives in our very foundation. When entered into the justice system, many Brown youth self-identify as white, because it is what’s encouraged, taught, and reinforced through our society. If we allowed and encouraged people to fully experience our society through the culture that they align with, it would be less of a challenge for them to navigate these oppressive institutions. By embracing your own culture and identity, you are able to approach the world in a way that utilizes your culture’s collective strength, while understanding the magnitude of what it takes to overcome systematic obstacles.
Without enough representation, we are unable to identify the proper tools needed to alleviate the problem. Counting people of color accurately in government entities, specifically the justice system, is crucial in taking steps towards equity and social justice. More precisely, the Alianza is focused on ensuring that Brown youth are identified and counted as such. If more Brown youth are identified as Brown, are accurately accounted for, and see the importance of identifying as such, we will be able to take steps to provide better treatment and opportunities for them in the juvenile justice system. Currently, Brown youth are severely underrepresented in the juvenile justice system, even though they account for most of the youth detention population in California. We must raise awareness about not only the personal importance of being accurately identified but also about the importance of being accurately represented in government spaces. I encourage you to read our report, Latinx Data Gap in Youth Justice System to get a better, more in-depth understanding of why identity plays such a significant role in our justice system and what we’re doing to mitigate this issue.
2021-2022 Alianza for Youth Justice Intern