Upper-Middle Class/Person of Color. Algerian/American. First-Generation American/Elite University Student. Queer/Muslim. Indigenous Ancestry/Settler-Colonizer.

These words are not a list of oxymorons or incompatible identities. A slash does not represent “or” — a slash symbolizes “and.” And the periods? They symbolize “and” as well. I am a living proof that these slashed lines and periods of separation can be blurred to form bridges of connection and create intersections.

I started my college experience by falling headfirst into the identity politics-governed culture of “social justice” spaces at Georgetown. People — and leaders — of these spaces saw me, the newcomer, and immediately assessed the worth of my opinions based solely on my position in the broader social structure. They immediately expected me to list off my identities each time I spoke, as if my lived experiences could only be validated by attaching them to the structural experiences of identity groups.

Listing my identities seems easy enough. Yet, when I entered college, I did not know who I was at all. I had not yet crafted my list of identities. Without this list, I felt like I had not met the requirement for entry into this unique version of an “exclusive Georgetown club.” At a time when I was still searching for a community at Georgetown, I felt isolated.

In crafting my list, I was challenged to think deeply and critically about who I was in ways that I had not previously allowed myself. Through deconstructing internalized homophobia and Islamophobia, I publicly acknowledged the existence of deeper parts of myself for the first time. In these elusive spaces, I found the vocabulary that I would use to articulate my life experiences and understand the way they fit in with other narratives affected by oppressive societal structures.

By the time spring break rolled around and I left campus for the Worker Justice D.C. Alternative Breaks Program, I had grown into myself and my list had started to develop. However, growth does not come without growing pains. After spending the better part of six months breaking myself down into isolated identity pieces, I was struggling to pick them up and assemble myself together as a whole being. I could only hope that the edges of each piece would line up correctly.

On my Alternative Breaks Program trip, the word “intersectionality” was thrown around a lot. It was used to describe how social justice spaces, movements or organizations could be more inclusive of people from different backgrounds, as an all-inclusive vision is the key to liberation. But what we did not talk about was these intersections existing within a singular person — the human was not a suitable subject for this description.

In many ways, society — as cultivated by the broad array of cultural and political institutions — tells us that some intersections do not exist within one person. If they do happen to exist, these people are exceptions, flukes and paradoxes.

Society tells me that I cannot be rich and a person of color because to be rich is synonymous with the privilege of whiteness. Society — and the U.S. government — tells me I cannot be both Algerian and American because I need to choose where my true loyalty lies. Society tells me that I cannot be a first-generation American and a student at an elite university because children of immigrants do not go to class with Mayflower descendants. Society — and the Muslim and Queer communities — tell me I cannot be queer and Muslim because some Muslims are homophobic and some queer people are Islamophobic. Society tells me that with my indigenous Kabyle Berber blood I cannot participate in settler-colonization culture, yet here I am, having lived my whole life on stolen land.

Society tells me that I can never exist as “and,” only “or,” and that everything is a choice between one identity and the other, and I cannot choose them both.

Society tells me that I do not and should not exist.

Since returning to Georgetown from spring break, my experience here has been a discovery of what it means to exist at the intersection of all of these identities. It has been about finding out how to enter spaces as the whole puzzle that is my being, to be not one of the identities on the list but to be the entire list.

Allowing myself to fully be myself has required a lot of compassion and empathy, and the recognition that I am still growing. Some days, the pieces do not fit perfectly together, and I know that I have not found all of them yet.

Still, I will continue to make sure that the slashes in my list are not barriers of separation between parts of a paradox and that the periods are not endings, but are points of intersection.

Sonia Adjroud is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. Navigating Intersections appears online every other Monday.

3 Comments

  1. Great article, Sonia. I think one thing we an all agree on though is that we hate White people.

  2. Alexander Capogna says:

    This piece doesn’t hold up. “People — and leaders — of these spaces saw me, the newcomer, and…immediately expected me to list off my identities each time I spoke, as if my lived experiences could only be validated by attaching them to the structural experiences of identity groups.” Yes, that does sound awfully dumb, doesn’t it. “Identity politics,” as you’ve called it, sucks. It fixes you to a group and suppresses any notion of individualism, merit, and self-worth. Worse, it means to separate the groups— fixing and joining group identities is a bootless task if it isn’t fueled by some sense of meaningful differentiation.

    I agree, you shouldn’t be judged by your “position in the broader social structure,” whatever that means to you. You shouldn’t be judged by who are, but what you do, and how well you do it. What you say, and when you say it. Where you go, and how you get there.

    However, the way to that world, governed at base by meritocratic principles, is NOT to further craft and refine your peculiar list of “identities.” It’s not to find “uniqueness” in the list, but to reject this tired habit of “list-making” altogether.

    On to the more critical bit.

    “Society tells me that I cannot be rich and a person of color because to be rich is synonymous with the privilege of whiteness.”

    “Society” does not tell you this. What utter hogwash! How many countless athletes, musicians, politicians, and celebrities refute this claim… “society” —one, to be sure, that enjoys the dearest liberty of a free market, and of equality under the law; a “society” that has gone further than any in the history of the world to seek and strip down barriers to economic flourishing— neither will nor can promote the reservation of wealth by “whiteness”…

    “Society — and the U.S. government — tells me I cannot be both Algerian and American.”

    Utter hogwash. Are you Algerian? Are you American? If yes to both, “society” hasn’t a thing more to say but that yes, you are as you say. What [and whose] interest might it possibly serve to challenge this pairing? And, in what capacity has the United States government denied your heritage? Do you mean, if I may venture to guess, that there are restrictions on your ability to maintain dual citizenship? If so, in what way does this affect your personhood, your merit, and self-identity? Are you perhaps bothered by immigration policy? Surely you don’t mean to conflate our immigration policy with the repudiation of your ancestry…

    “Society tells me that I cannot be a first-generation American and a student at an elite university because children of immigrants do not go to class with Mayflower descendants.”

    Utter hogwash! Are minorities or first-generation students barred from University? Are they under-represented? Are they dissuaded from attending? I believe you will find there is no ban, there is no, anomalous, representational deficiency, and there is no dissuasion; but rather quite the opposite force at work. I may not be a “minority” as you’d have it, but I am the son of a foreign citizen; the “elite university student” in a family of immigrants. And I know damn well how much this University did to look after my interests, and for those of similarly situated students. There are scholarships and organizations specifically intended to cater to us. Minorities are specially targeted by affirmative action policies and the like. You’ve made a claim that you yourself must know to be untrue…

    “Society — and the Muslim and Queer communities — tell me I cannot be queer and Muslim because some Muslims are homophobic and some queer people are Islamophobic.”

    First I would encourage you to drop the “society” motif, it very clearly isn’t doing any lifting here. Homosexuality is condemned by Islam, and is punishable by death in most of the Arab world. To say that “some Muslims are homophobic” is so absurdly reductionist as to miss the mark entirely. Well, I imagine queer people don’t like to be so regarded. Heck, maybe I’ve left the shore of objectivity on this one, but I’d say they’re right to feel that way. So again I say, how failingly reserved it is to note and skim the “Islamophobia” of an expressly demeaned, assaulted, “queerness.” In any case “society” has never told you queer Muslims cannot, or do not exist, or that you are made any less by “identifying” as one. If there exists a tension between the two, perhaps there is reason for it. It may be a natural consequence of one, or another system of beliefs— Islam, mind you, is just that: a system of beliefs; its community a derivative thereof: a community of believers; the like does not exist, by way of strict analogy, on the other side. Anyway if you’ve sorted it, I congratulate you. But “society” remains indifferent, and you’re worth in this world remains [happily] unmoved by either outcome.

    “Society tells me that with my indigenous Kabyle Berber blood I cannot participate in settler-colonization culture, yet here I am, having lived my whole life on stolen land.”

    I can’t do more than encourage you to travel the world. Find me the land where you might like to have us live, that was not once, near or long ago, fought over with sticks, stones, and swords, bullets, bombs, and machines; taken and delivered unjustly; ruled over with the whip and the rod; mislaid on hardship, and oppression, and slaughter. Find me the race, the tribe, the town without its sins and sorrows. Find me the patch of land that is so clean—the “culture” born so just and pure—and I might better address your notion of the “settler-colonization culture,” which you will have found to be some minute less than always; some parcel less than everywhere. “Society” hasn’t told you squat-diddly.

    TLDR: Don’t fight labels by printing out more.

  3. Very interesting article Adjroud. I am sorry to see the troll-like replies your article received.

    The societal ignorance/failure to recognise plurality of identity you discuss made me think about ‘White Privilege’ and the hypocrisy that lurks behind that phrase. I am ‘defined’ as Anglo-Celtic and would raise no eyebrows by expressing my heritage using ‘and’. I have Scottish, Irish, Cornish, Welsh and English heritage. My use of ‘and’ in this context is never questioned. I could also say that I am ‘part’ all of the above; however, my choice to use ‘and’ is socially acceptable. For those not born of ‘White Privilege’, the freedom to use ‘and’ must be taken, as it is not so freely given by society.

    Someone born from parents of different ‘races’ would be seen as stepping outside of social norms by expressing their identity using the words ‘both’ and ‘and’. For example, ‘both’ Black ‘and’ White. To rub salt into this wound, the phrase ‘half-cast’ has been inflicted upon people and has even been appropriated by languages other than English. Unfortunately, this seems to be a wider problem within humanity. We seem to find it difficult to acknowledge that someone is both one ‘race’ and another. ‘Afakasi’ in Samoan and ‘Arbakarja’ in some Aboriginal Australian languages are corruptions of the phrase ‘half-cast’. Why can’t someone say they are both Samoan and Paalangi (White) or African American and Irish. Well, we can! Societal norms must be shaken until they fall. Stay proud of the plurality that exists within who you are Adjroud.

    As for the comments your article received:

    I hope Capogna can realise that in academic discussions we refer to the majority (which is often the vast majority). Of course, there are exception or anomalies. Of course, many wealthy people are not White. However, by the outcome of colonisation and by the historical marginalisation of non-Whites, through education systems and oppressive laws and/or societal impositions, the scales have been heavily tipped in favour of White people. Tipped to the point that the ratio of White to non-White middle and upper class people does not reflect the ratio of White to non-White people across all classes. Therefore, I feel that Adjroud’s point about being rich and of colour not sitting well societally, is more than valid. Yes, countless athletes, musicians and celebrities are non-White. However, unfortunately the same cannot be said for politicians. The reservation of wealth by Whiteness has been maintained by the legacy left by past eras. There may now be ‘level playing-fields’ (University???) granted by societal expectations and maintained by laws. However, the various roads to those ‘level playing-fields’ are still far from equal in terms of length or ease of traversing. So, I believe yes. It is harder to get to University if you are first generation American or from one of the many marginalised peoples of the U.S.

    As for dual citizenship, it may seem that the U.S. government does not interfere with (as Capogna states) personhood, merit or self-identity. Though I feel Capogna has put forward a very superficial discussion on the compatibility of dual citizenship with living a fulfilling life in the U.S. Dual citizens are bureaucratically, by default, doubted in their loyalty to the nation. In many countries, dual citizens must relinquish their ‘other’ citizenship in order to hold office and even if the U.S. allows (natural-born only) dual citizens to become president, having a dual citizenship would be quite poisonous to any presidential campaign.

    In relation to Capogna’s comment regarding Islam and homosexuality, I fear that that he has reduced the Muslim world to an entity that is simply the nations of the Arab world (Indonesia?). More importantly, I fear that he has confused the political Islamism of a handful of nations with the religion of Islam and has used this as a reference point for his comment. On a side note, the list of nations that base their legal system on Christian doctrines and therefore (still) give heavy prison sentences for homosexuality is quite long: Barbados, Guyana, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica and Samoa to name just some. However, we do not say that Christians are by default homophobic. By stating that “some Muslims are homophobic”, I read (in sub-text) that Adjroud articulates the point that there are Muslim people who may acknowledge that their religion does not permit homosexuality; however, that Muslim people, in general, are not by default, homophobic. I fear Capogna has missed this point also.

    Thank you for sharing your views on identity Adjroud. Your article is very interesting and, unfortunately, difficult for many that read from a position of ‘White Privilege’ to accept/recognise and even begin to understand.

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