The Privilege Wheel

For Wednesday’s class, we spent a good amount of time discussing the myth of the social identity, and the privilege wheel exercise raised some questions for me. For one, do certain aspects of one’s social identity have more power over the other? How much importance is placed on these aspects?

I personally believe that social identities are situational. To say that social identities are situational, I mean to say that when we are met with discrimination that threatens to diminish the standing of certain aspects of our identity, such as race, gender, sexuality, and religion more importance is placed on these identities. A change in environment, discrimination against those of our in group may heighten the importance of seemingly minor aspects of our social identity. For example, I do not define myself by my sexual orientation, particularly because the environment I live in is fairly liberal and accepting. I do not feel that I face discrimination everyday because of my sexual orientation. However, the homophobic backlash against the gay community brought on by the current Republican GOP election makes me place more importance on my sexual orientation. As the Republican candidates portray the gay community as immoral, sexually charged deviants and threaten to strip the community away of basic human rights, my identity as a gay male becomes more salient. Even though I don’t define myself by my sexuality, when faced with discrimination or threats against my basic civil rights and liberties, my sexual orientation becomes more important.

Experience also plays into which aspects of our social identities become more prominent. As someone who has faced the challenges of hearing impairment and deafness for the vast majority of my life, my experiences have shaped me to place more importance on the disability aspect of my social identity. Even though I don’t consider myself to be any less disabled than the ‘normal’ person, I place more importance on this aspect of experience based on the obstacles that have been thrown my way as a result of this impairment, and particularly how people perceive me. Due to my personal experiences, I place more importance on the disability aspect of my identity.

As stressed in class, it is the small things that impact a lifetime, and the weight that they impose on the individual is quite heavy. Why then, is this mythical identity norm perpetuated? It gives power to those who fit the ideal norm. Even though we are becoming aware that the mythical norm inflicts harm on others, we are unwilling to hand our privilege over.