When tasked with examining the various cultural spaces I inhabit and analyzing my supposedly-changing identities within them, I was initially stricken with a bit of writer’s block brought about by confusion. I outlined the background contributions to my core identity with ease, of course, specifying my existence as a young, straight male college student with Northern European ancestry and a Christian faith, all the while currently residing in the Midwestern United States. Unlike individuals forced to alter their identities in attempts to negotiate different cultural spaces (as described in chapter seven of Intercultural Communication in Contexts), I honestly felt like my one singular identity was prominent in all situations.
Bewildered, I wondered why my personal experiences were so far removed from the norm presented within the textbook. Only later, with a little help from Robert Jensen’s Baltimore Sun piece, did I discover the answer: white privilege. My identity is not more-or-less consistent because I have some divine control over expressing my one true self, so to speak. Rather, I am blessed to fall into the most-privileged group across all major identifying categories. Be it race or religion, gender or sexuality, and everything in between, my very essence has given me behind-the-scenes advantages since the day I was born. I never had to screen sections of myself in fear of prejudice or unfair treatment. This reality isn’t fair in any context, and I do not mean to brag about these unearned benefits. Still, I simply cannot argue with the unfortunate societal truth.
Digging deeper into the inner depths of my mind, I eventually did identify a few factors I strategically set aside in certain conversations to create a more ideal image for my audience. Though it’s almost a shame to admit, I actually downplay my passion in the presence of extended family members. With a promising GPA, success in high school math and science, and cousins excelling in graduate school and beyond, nobody wants to hear that Luke Frazier, Kevin’s boy, wants to write about video games for a living. The potential disappointment of “outing myself” is obviously less severe than the hate crimes that could be spawned from other culturally transparent situations, yet I consciously limit my communication with aunts, uncles, and grandparents nonetheless.
I may never know what it is like to create a character not at all representative of myself in separate cultural spaces, but actively avoiding prolonged small talk at rare reunions with the people I love for the sole purpose of hiding from the inevitable, “So, what do you want to do after you graduate?” is saddening to say the least. With this degree of anxiety spawned from nothing more than the professional pursuits of the most privileged type of person possible, it’s easy to see how so many conflicts arise over a lack of clear communication.