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Finding the value of identity

In college, a drama teacher once told me that you can’t speak down to the classes below you. Contextually, she was speaking about standup comedy and how, in that case, it’s hard for straight, white middle-class males to carve out a career in stand-up because as society would have it, straight, white middle-class males are at the top of the totem pole. Next in line would be straight white middle class women, then black men, then black women, then Latino men, then Latino women, and so on and so forth down the line until you are left wondering why an albino penniless quadriplegic vegetable isn’t being booked to headline the comedy club in town. By all accounts, that person would have the most fodder to absolutely destroy a comedy club.

But it’s all about identity these days. Identity. What a word. Identity is defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

In poking around this recent commercial that was released by Tracy Myers of Frank Myers Auto Maxx where he took it upon himself to mock Caitlyn Jenner, a female-identified person, it occurred to me that identity means a whole lot more than what we think it means.

In that same regard, all the think pieces and essays on Rachel Dolezal, the white middle class female who managed to finagle her way into the NAACP chapter of Spokane, Washington (she was the president before resigning recently) because she “identified as black,” have been incredibly enlightening as to what people are thinking on the matter. To that end, Dolezal essentially slaughtered the word “identity” and decided to just change her race to fit an agenda she believed she could help.

Bruce Jenner was an Olympic athlete who competed in men’s events and won, married women, and fathered six children with three different females.

He earned a lot of fame portraying the doormathusband to Kris Jenner on the worst television show in the history of bad television. She then declared that he identified as a female, and began the process of becoming Caitlyn Jenner, the name and identity by which she is now known.

There is little to no comparison between Dolezal and Jenner other than the word identity, but that word means so much here.

Jenner is underwent cosmetic surgeries and counseling to handle her transformation into a new sexual identity. Dolezal lied about her past, created an entirely new persona, and claimed she was a black woman because she “identified” as one.

How can you just up and change your race and expect no one to pick up on it? Although it seems no one did for many years (she was the president of an NACCP chapter, mind you). But I guess that same idea could be applied to Jenner, who admitted that she suffered gender dysphoria for a long time before coming out in the national and international spotlight as a female.

I can’t sit here and honestly try to explain this because I’m a straight white male. The struggle of growing up black in America is not something that I can relate to. I just can’t. I can relate to struggle, but I can’t relate to that struggle. I also have no idea what it’s like to be a man on the outside while wanting so badly for the world to see me as female.

I struggle relating, comprehending, or even beginning to explain what that world is like, and it’s certainly not my place to tell someone how to live with it, how to explain it, or how to deal with it.

I can listen, though. I can listen to those that can relate and who are educated in speaking publicly about matters. I can listen to those that went through or are in the midst of respective struggles. I can listen.

I can attempt to empathize, and in that empathy be as understanding as possible while trying to learn as much about that person or those people without stepping onto my soapbox to declare that I, a straight, white male in America, now have black friends and gay friends and trans- friends and gender queer friends and Latino friends and friends who are in wheelchairs and friends who are good at sports and friends in prison and friends who do drugs and friends who overdosed on drugs, as well as friends who are just other straight, white males. I just have friends.

Sure, Internet commenters and trolls are the societal equivalent of that iridescent residue left behind from slugs, but sometimes they provide great pieces of commentary, even if they were typed anonymously. At the bottom of one post shared by a dear friend, someone I assume to be a minority, “The next time I deal with a cop, I’m going to make sure he’s aware I identify as white.”

I burst out laughing. It is true that racial profiling exists in this country. A simple look at the incarceration rates of black males verses nearly every other race of males in this country is exponentially greater. That simple comment, though, had me wondering if the word “identify” has lost its value.

If Rachel Dolezal can “identify” as black because she said so, can I walk into a restaurant and “identify” as the owner, therefor absolving myself of the responsibility of paying for my meal?

No, I can’t. I also can’t “identify” as a police officer if I feel like getting free coffee. I can’t “identify” as Drake and get booked for headlining sets at major music festivals. And I certainly can’t “identify” as the President of the United States if I feel as though I deserve a tax-paid motorcade for everywhere I go.

I can be myself and stand-up for what I believe is right and just, and if that means listening to people’s struggles so that I can understand and perhaps help, that identity is OK with me. !

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