Diversity - Life Coaching


“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not.  Make it your strength.  Then it can never become your weakness.  Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” – George R. R. Martin,  A Game of Thrones



One of my most trusted friends happens to live very near me and I am very fortunate that our kids get along as well. In fact, our sons are the best of friends and really rely on one another as a safe place to refuel through play.


The other day I found out that her son, who is mixed race, has begun to identify as black. It was actually quite a startling realization for me because to me he’d always just been Gavin*. I mean, if I’d been asked to give a physical description of him of course I would’ve described his caramel colored skin and dark hair but other than needing the context to consider his physicality it had never occurred to me what “color” he was.


He’d been at a park and doing some free style rapping and overheard one of the kids describe him as “that black kid.” It wasn’t derogatory or anything, just a physical description to answer the question, “who’s rapping?” But since then Gavin has identified as “black.” Which begs the question, how do we choose to identify ourselves and how much of a choice do we have? Most americans are a mix of nationalities, race, cultures and even religions, so how do we choose? More importantly, what do we make our choice mean?


In Gavin’s case he identified, not as Latin like his mom who’s raising him or as Caucasian like her mother who helps them out…but as black. My grandfather is from Mexico and yet unless you knew to recognize Latina traits in me you wouldn’t ever guess I had anything other than European blood in my veins. Interestingly, my elementary years were spent in a city where my peers were primarily African-American and Hispanic and I was viewed as the minority – despite my protestations that I was Mexican just like many of my classmates (parading my Mother around as proof didn’t seem to help). While I was trying to identify myself one way my peers were identifying me another.


Every time I fill out a form that asks for my voluntary race/ethnicity identification I pause. What does it mean to fill out one over the other? Admittedly, I often feel an obligation to identify as Mexican in case the data is being compiled to make some kind of point about American demographics. I have a college degree and make a decent living and if that single statistic can change someone’s mind about what it means to be Mexican than I want to put that out there. The truth is, I know it’s not like I’m a kind of ambassador for my ethnicity – no one’s really looking and it probably says more about my own precepts and prejudices than anything else which gives me something to think about in terms of my own personal growth.


It does, however, make me realize how important it is to choose our circles carefully because we do come to identify ourselves through the eyes and ideas of others without even realizing it. Gavin identified himself as black. My daughter ran the risk of being identified as shy (she’s not – she’s just introverted) since that’s what most people said about her social caution. At one point I was made fun of for good grades – a change in my circle of friends made all the difference in how I felt about my innate curiosity and love of learning.


The point is, whether we’re talking about physical, emotional or personality traits we get to choose how we identify ourselves. Whether our partner is telling us we’re stunning or stupid we have choice to believe it or not. When our parents are describing us as an annoying chatterbox or engaging conversationalist we have the choice to identify whether or not it’s even true and WE get to decide what it means. Of course, that change in perspective comes after a lot of practice breaking through the old patterns of thought.


Recently, Gavin was at a summer event with his extended family and his great Uncle began a fairly typical racist rant when Gavin spoke up – without accusation or judgement – and said, “well, I’m a black man….” and waited. His was statement was as if to say, “so exactly what are you saying about me?” It was met with silence and it ended the rant.  We’ll never know if the seed he planted with his pride of identity will ever grow in his family enough that they’ll come to define “black” differently or not but he certainly cemented to himself and to his mother that he is a person of which to be proud and that he makes the conscious choice to identify however he wants AND that identity can mean anything he wants it to mean.  It’s such a beautiful reminder that no matter how we identify we get that same, powerful choice.


What identities have you made by choice? Did you do it straight out of the gate or did it take some work? How did you make that choice?


*names have been changed to protect the identity of a minor.