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Developing a sense of self is an important part of every person's path to adulthood. The definition of self-identity is unique to each individual and is based on what the person values. People self-identify in various categories, which may be as diverse as gender and sexuality or as narrow as being a family member. In most cases, identities are communal and apply to cultural groups, but people are affected when persons who share their identities are wounded. Various characteristics and experiences form identities, such as skin color, which defines race, and others, such as faith, which is set at birth. Character issues are significant in social lives in different societies. This paper addresses race and religion issues in various communities by incorporating individual experiences and conceptualized research on religion and race.
Historically, no one society has been able to drive their identities as a whole since there is always a minority group or individual that considers itself different from what the mainstream society considers the norm. In "The color of water" James McBride the author describes both his and his mothers’ experience as individuals of other collective identities different from the norm in the society. James McBride grew up as an African American but later realized he was half Jew since his mother was a white Jew that had denied her past ties for decades. The book provides insight on how both religion and race can shape an individual’s character throughout his lifespan. Having been born a Jew who later migrated to the USA, got married to a black man and converted to Christianity Ruth, James mother provides the epitome example of how religion may shape an individual’s life.
Limited studies explore the field of religion as a channel for identity recognition or formation. There is no single definition of religion taking into account the nature of the discipline and the diversity of religious practices and experiences (Oppong 11). As such it is imperative to analyze how religion may shape the life of an individual, especially during youth. It is accepted that there exists a correlation between religion and ethnicity and between ethnicity and identity issues. In most societies, people that share the same ethnicity are likely to share the same religious aspirations. For instance, when Andrew McBride, James’ father, began his church together with his wife he established an all-black church.
Experiences and actions of others in the community and family influence self-identification. Ruth was born to Polish Orthodox Jewish parents in 1921 she was initially named Ruchel which was later changed to Rachel when they migrated to America, but Ruth later changed her name to Ruth to overcome her past when she was 19. It is of particular importance to notice that Ruth began to form her concepts of self-identity in her youth. Her father worked as an itinerant rabbi and had an unyielding character. Ruth describes how the strict Orthodox Judaism rules affected her life and detected how to present oneself and relate with others. Ruth further distasted her religion when her father began to abuse her sexually yet he was a rabbi. Ruth embraced Christianity when she converted and was dedicated to loving God. James describes the family church services and how they celebrated Christian holidays like Easter showcasing her mother’s devotion to Christianity.
James is terrified for her mothers’ safety in a black community. When James discovered his mother was white, he was initially indifferent to her feelings and considered her different. However, with the growth of the black power movement and other groups that advocated for blacks right, he became concerned for the safety of his white mother in a black community. Ruth, on the other hand, remained unconcern with her racial differences and concentrated on raising her children. The mere fact that she began an all-black church with her husband showcases her dedication to the blacks. Racial identity crisis has always been associated with injustices blacks face as a collective identity (Guess 650).However, Ruth presents a case of white’s choice to be identified as black. Similarly, Ruth recalls her childhood as a Jew attending school with the whites. Ruth attests that the whites hated Jews during her childhood and she preferred to keep to herself to avoid the ridicule that came with her ethnicity. Her father association with black customers in their grocery made people consider the family as low class. However, she admits to preferring blacks since they did not judge her but rather identified with her.
Self –identity is about choosing what one wishes to associate with rather than what the society confirms as the norm. While Ruth was born as a Jew, she was ashamed of both a religion and ethnicity and preferred to be identified with another ethnicity and a different religion. Ruth’s experiences as a young Jewish in a black community enabled her to see life from a different perceptive hence ultimately shaping her identity. Identity perceptions do not disregard previous skills rather they build on these experiences to enable an individual to grow into a holistic self (Oppong 15). While Ruth may be considered as a black Christian mother, she did not forget her Jewish background. She speaks Yiddish in Jewish stores and sends her children to Jewish schools. Before converting, Ruth had difficulties attending her high school graduation in a Protestant Church. Difficulties in engaging in another culture are proof that self-identity is a gradual process shaped by experiences and societies that provide individual experience (Guess 652). Her Christianity dedication provided a grounding for Ruth which is the essential part of choosing a particular group to associate with in identity formation. When she moved the family to Delaware she founds life in this community is racially charged but she turns to prayer to address her concerns.
Identity crisis is challenging but significant aspects of growth. It is through this crisis that an individual makes a decision on what to pursue. James had difficulties with his mixed race and was concern whether to live either as black or white. Eventually, he realized it is possible to live comfortably as both. He recognizes his connections to Judaism and how it had shaped his childhood life as Ruth’s son. Experiences that lead to identity decisions are the fundamental aspects of self-growth and identity formation.
Since there exists a connection between identity formation and both race and religion, it is essential to understand how an individual decides what and how to be identified. In many societies there exists a minority group that decides to be different either by visible aspects such as skin color or by differed perceptions on life choices. In the case of Ruth, while she was initially in a minority group as a Jew in the USA she preferred to be identified as a black since she had positive experiences with blacks at a younger age. Similarly, James recognized his mixed ancestry and decided to embrace his diverse identities. Self-identity is a self-driven process that enables individuals to make decisions on who they are based on what they deem fit in the society.
Guess, Teresa J. "The Social Construction of Whiteness: Racism by Intent, Racism by Consequence." Critical Sociology (2006): 649-674.
McBride, James. The color of water. Penguin Books, 2006.
Oppong, Steward Harrison. "Religion and Identity." American International Journal of Contemporary Research (2013): 10-17.
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