March 1, 2019
Our social identity isn’t shaped by ourselves, our social identity is created by the people around us, what our peers say and think will have an impact on our social identity. Our social identity very much effects our personal identity, it will reshape what we think but not necessarily how we feel, for example, you and a couple of friends may have never smoked before but one of them has, personally you may feel drugs are bad but since your friends want to try it you feel obliged to try it. Another way of thinking about social identity is how they shape our life paths, your personal identity may have you pointed in one direction, a life of wealth and prosperity, but since our social identity is so influential the social identity may point you in the opposite direction from wealth and prosperity to poverty and suffrage. The American dream can be accomplished in multiple different ways the other outlier that would keep you from becoming successful in the workspace is, drugs or a criminal record. From Coates to Rose they both were shaped by their neighborhoods but both in two different experiences with similar outcomes.
Coates was shaped by the violence surrounding him as well as his parents fear of seeing him consumed by the never-ending drugs and violence that’s present on the streets. Coates parents were especially scared for him and tried everything they could to keep him safe and on the right path to greatness. Coates parent’s used physical lessons to try and point him in the right direction, “I remember watching him in a kind of daze, awed at the distance between punishment and offense. Later, I would hear it in Dad’s voice—“Either I can beat him, or the police.”(pp.16) Coates parents did what they thought was right to ensure their son wouldn’t become a statistic. It was difficult to grow up black because in the decade Coates was a child blacks were still being suppressed, discriminated against and targeted simply because of their difference in skin color, Coates adds “Maybe that saved me. Maybe it didn’t. All I know is, the violence rose from the feet like smoke from a fire, and I cannot say weather that violence, even administered in fear and love, sounded the alarm or choked us at the exit.”(pp.17) Coates childhood wasn’t your regular childhood, in his tough neighborhood you had to grow up quickly or you were very likely to join or be killed by the streets. Coates experiences in his society when trying to create his personal identity, group violence, personal fear and physical abuse these all shaped Ta – Nehisi Coates into the man he is now.
Mike Rose had a similar but different experience growing up. Rose parents moved from Italy to American in hopes of starting a better life for themselves, when Rose parents first came to America they lived on the east side of America. His mother and father opened a spaghetti house in Pennsylvania that was successful up until the railroad had to stop production in the area then the shop had gone bankrupt. Rose says, “My parents managed to salvage seven hundred dollars and, on the advice of the family doctor, headed to California, where the winters would be mild and where I, their seven-year-old son, would have the possibility of a brighter future.”(pp.12) Rose had an easier childhood, it was a dreamy childhood but he had the chance to be a kid longer, he was lucky enough that his parents would buy him stuff to stimulate his creativity such as a chemistry set he received on Christmas one year, “One early Christmas they got me a small chemistry set. My father brought home an old card table from the secondhand store, and on that table, I spread out my test tubes, my beaker, my Erlenmeyer flask, and my test tubes, my gas-generating apparatus.”(pp.19) Rose had a childhood that wasn’t filled with fear of being jumped or being caught in gang violence because he didn’t fit the criteria so the gang members in his area left him alone. It was much easier to grow up light-skinned, being light skinned during this time meant you weren’t discriminated against, suppressed or targeted. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have dangers lurking around his neighborhood.
The types of danger in Rose neighborhood were similar to Coates but the surrounding gangs didn’t have any interest in Rose if anything happened to Rose it would have most likely been an accident. There was one story Rose was telling about what he experienced in his neighborhood, “One night I watched as a guy sprinted from Walt’s to toss something on our lawn. The police were right behind, and a cop tackled him, smashing his face into the sidewalk. I ducked out to find the packet: a dozen glassine bags of heroin.”(pp.17) Rose came in contact with drugs not only with this situation but with the people that were living with him at the time, one of the guy’s name was Lester, “… Lester, the toothless cabbie, who several times made overtures to me and who, when he moved, left behind a drawer full of syringes and burnt spoons.”(pp.16) Not only did he have drugs around him he also had an old man asking for sexual favors. Rose and Coates had similar dangers during the course of their childhood’s, but Rose was out to find danger while danger found Coates they both found their way up and out of these dangerous neighborhoods.
Rose neighborhood compared to Coates sound very similar, they both have a crazy neighborhood shop owner, they both have groups of “bad boys” also called gangs who roam the streets causing trouble. Coates dangers were more likely to consume him, he could have easily been abducted and could have easily been shot or become a drug dealer. But, that didn’t happen to him, he stayed safe he took school seriously but also had to take the street seriously at the same time. School might have been the best thing Coates could have done to pull himself away from the dangers of the streets and neighborhood, school kept him safe and allowed him to chart a new path to greatness. Coates had a harder time growing up because he was battling race and prejudice growing up, out of Coates and Rose, Coates was more likely to have become part of the streets than Rose. Coates uses this analogy to describe what racism is and how he thinks it was created. “But race is the child of racism, not the father.”(pp.7) The but in the sentence refers to a sentence in the paragraph above “In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature…”(pp.7)How these two quotes link together is such a complex and deep topic, the first sentence gives us the idea that Racism came before race and the daughter of mother nature is Racism. This is a very complex sentence to think with, it’s hard to understand, Coates says everything that we think we know backwards and says it in such a way to get you to think about it.
What I’ve learned about Social and Personal identities has changed some of my thinking on how our different and diverse societies shape our social and personal identities. I never put much thought into it but the atmosphere we are raised in has a huge impact on how we act and what we think and that ultimately shapes our personal identity. The neighborhood that Coates grew up in and his race had a huge impact on how he grew up as well as his perspective on life. Rose didn’t have much trouble because he didn’t struggle with race and his parents had enough money to be able to provide him with gifts to spur his creativity. What Rose had growing up was opportunity and fewer weights holding him down, from Coates perspective he didn’t have much opportunity if he wanted opportunity he had to work for it and I mean really work hard for it. These readings gave me a new perspective on how our social identity is created, it’s not only created by your friends and the people you hang out with it’s shaped by the society you are raised in, your social identity becomes your personal identity.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Lives on The Boundary, Penguin, 1989, pp. 11–37.