The evolution of society and, more specifically, the change in the ethnic composition of the population leads to inevitable shifts in people’s perceptions. Generally, the fact of belonging to minorities was not historically appreciated by the affected individuals due to numerous struggles they faced (Staples). However, these days, the representatives of the majority start paying particular attention to the citizens with varying backgrounds. The seeming appeal of one or another culture expressed by the love for music, among its other elements, makes teenagers and even some adults susceptible to the desire to become part of it. This intention distorts one’s self-image while not allowing to fully join the selected group because of the failure to conform in the first place (Millner). Therefore, ethnic identity is not a characteristic to be claimed since this aspect is more complex than an outsider can imagine, and a meaningful change is impossible to make due to this reason.
The Concept of “Claiming Identity”
In order to grasp the meaning of the described tendency and prove its inappropriateness, one needs to understand the phenomenon of claiming identity and its nature. According to Bernstein, it stems from the acceptance of specific ideologies developed by people of different backgrounds, which makes youngsters willing to resemble those they admire (601). Moreover, the appreciation of cultural products, such as movies or songs, adds to their intention to change, while the motivation can vary depending on the population in the area of their residence (Bernstein 600). In other words, the more culturally diverse the environment is, the more likely individuals are to develop a desire to belong to a group different from that of their parents. The frequency of such occasions appears to be alarming from the perspectives of psychological health and conflicts between the groups based on their attitudes towards the shift.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that adolescents are easier influenced by the ideas of claiming another identity, adults are not exempt from similar motives, even though they are expressed in other ways. For instance, Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, who wanted to be black, put efforts on the change of self from cultural and racial perspectives and following the emotional perception of the targetted category of citizens (Millner). Her actions were triggered by the alleged feelings of belonging to the selected group from birth, and this provision served as a sufficient basis for rejecting her family (Millner). This drastic event showed that age does not matter when one wants to become someone else. Thus, the only difference between the young people and their older counterparts, in this situation, is the scope of the performed transformation and, consequently, its influence on individuals’ lives in the long run.
The Roots of Ethnic Identity
The described process of shifting ethnic identity allows examining its roots by considering the actions of individuals who make a decision to become members of other population groups. As follows from the article written by Denene Millner, the basis for one’s self-identification is history, incorporating all the occasions that shaped the mindsets of the persons belonging to a particular community. Her standpoint is also confirmed by Brent Staples, who speaks about the long-lasting struggles faced by black people in present-day society and their similarity with the past challenges. However, imitating this area is impossible because it is directly linked to the heritage the minorities share, which is not acquired simply by learning facts and examining events. This basis for one’s ethnicity becomes the principal obstacle for others on the way to changing their group and cannot be overcome by any means.
Another ground for ethnic identity is culture, and it complements the above factor in explaining why individuals cannot perform the specified shift. In this situation, the experience of teenagers shows that their desire to present themselves as people of a particular ethnicity while being born to a mixed family faces resistance from their peers (Bernstein 603). The latter insists on the necessity to accept both parts of their cultural heritage instead of making any claims of the nature (Bernstein 603). On the contrary, the absence of connection with the selected population group is not accepted by its representatives when one attempts to join them. For example, Rachel Dolezal’s decision to change her name for this purpose produced negative results as she did not manage to recognize the failure due to using the words from two different languages (Millner). Thus, it can be concluded that culture and history are the roots of ethnic identity, and both elements are impossible to copy for outsiders.
The Possibility of Making a Meaningful Change
The descriptions of the concepts given above contribute to the stance that making a meaningful change for joining another population group is impossible. The main reason for this opinion is the problem of substituting original perceptions and attitudes with those of the targetted category of citizens. In this situation, cultural and historical barriers cannot be overcome by any efforts, and any attempts to do so evoke the concerns of the individuals who belong to the minorities under consideration (Millner). For example, one can never fully understand the experience of Brent Staples, who has to act in a way to calm down others in order to avoid occasional aggression. The knowledge of these challenges is not the same as the real-life events happening to these people, and this circumstance keeps the distance between them and those willing to share their ethnicity.
Another justification of the presented standpoint is the temporary nature of shifts performed by both teenagers and adults. For the former, it is reflected in the process of their personality formation, during which various experiments can take place. To name one, the story of the boys admiring the Manor Park Locos shows that their interest in the gang is fleeting as it is only conveyed in their imagination (Bernstein 602). The popularity of these Mexican-Americans does not cause the desire to change ethnic identity but merely affects the attitudes. Meanwhile, for adults, the failure to maintain the long-term self-image of a person belonging to a minority is conditional upon the rejection from those born to the families of this background. As a result, neither youngsters nor their older counterparts can fully become the representatives of other categories of citizens because of the mentioned conditions.
In conclusion, the concept of claiming identity reflects on the phenomenon of one’s desire to be attributed to a group of people of a particular origin. Meanwhile, it contradicts specific considerations, such as the roots of ethnicity, which are directly linked to history and culture. This claim means that a person cannot imitate these characteristics of others, and similar attempts are bound to fail. In addition, any shifts in this respect are either attributed to teenagers for whom they are a part of the process of personality formation or adults who are incapable of grasping the meaning of minorities’ characteristics. Thus, the discussed areas prove that ethnic identity is inherent and cannot be acquired by any other means.
Bernstein, Nell. “Goin’ Gangsta, Choosin’ Cholita,” pp. 599-604 [PDF Document].
Millner, Denene. “Why Rachel Dolezal Can Never Be Black.” NPR, 2017, Web.
Staples, Brent. “Black Men and Public Space” [PDF Document].