Communication has been used to construct
social identities from a very young age. We are consciously and unconsciously
instilled with beliefs and expectations on what our appropriate role in society
should be. This influences interactions with people as well as how they
interact with us. Brenda J. Allen
introduces the socially constructionist school of thought that “our identity
arises out of interactions with other people and is based on language”(2011).
This confirms that while we have personal opinions that make up our identity,
other people’s opinions of us contribute to this identity forming process. The social component is what encourages labels
and lessens the importance of individuality. Communicating these labels has
been used to form stereotypes about groups and their members. Based on social
identities, how we communicate is different depending on the receiver. Our use
of language might change or we might be hesitant to speak. Either way, communication
skills create the difference between people and their social identities. Instead
of noticing similarities, we only notice the differences in order to
distinguish ourselves from others. How we communicate these differences has
been used to construct social identities of race, class, and gender.
forms of communication have been used to construct social identities of race. Skin
color is one of the first physical appearances that people notice. The media,
as a form of communication, promote the stereotypes of race by showing more
crimes being committed by people of color. We also watch movies and shows that
have characters acting as they are stereotyped. Additionally, schools teach and
show images of differences between races. However, one of the biggest forms of
communication in constructing race is portrayed by verbal interactions. How
dominant and non-dominant people interact can showcase the power that one has
over the other. For example, a white person talking to a minority in a
demeaning way or the minority trying to copy the language of the white person
in fear of judgement can show how communication further promotes the
differences in race. How we communicate race is important because it can
instill or maintain beliefs. The ideology of white supremacy( Allen,2011) has
been used to relate power and race. While times have changed, white people
continue to hold superiority over persons of color.
While race has been constructed by
communication, class has also been influenced.
class is based on an unequal distribution of power. This power allows some
classes to be more superior than others. Communication has been used to verify
these distinctions and encourage classism. Through communication, people gain
their knowledge and assumptions about class. For example, interactions play a
big role because we are able to assume someone’s class based on language,
clothes and other materialistic things. Brenda J. Allen uses educational
settings as an influential place where class dynamics are seen and maintained
(2011). Different social class locations produce different types of teaching.
While a higher social class could be learning material corresponding to white
collar occupations, a school in a lower-class setting could be teaching more
hard labor and brown collar related jobs. Brenda J. Allen explains that the
culture of poverty and the American dream are both examples of dominant ideologies
(2011). The culture of poverty puts the blame on poor people for not working
hard enough. This ideology justifies wealth and poverty. The American dream
ideology also justifies wealth and poverty because it states that this country
has equal opportunities which makes it seem like people earn their status
without any other factors involved.
In addition to class, communication
has been used to construct gender. In most societal views, our gender is
determined by sex. Our biological traits are believed to be the dictator of our
expected behaviors. These expectations are communicated to us throughout life.
We are told our gender roles and expected to fulfill them. Communication is the
way these roles are taught to us and therefore creates the distinctions between
genders. Masculine and feminine traits are attributed by communicating
stereotype’s. Brenda J. Allen further explains how genders are communicated in
organizational settings. She says, “Organizations tend to value masculine ways
of communicating more than feminine ways” (2011). This bias will place men in
higher positions than women and will maintain men’s superiority within
occupations. I remember a unit in elementary school about jobs. There was a
certain activity in which we had to match the occupations with the pictures.
The pictures of the workers were both male and female. The male occupations
were lawyers and doctors while the female’s jobs were nurses and teachers. Not
only was this a way of communicating about roles but it also portrayed the men
as performing the demanding and superior jobs while the women performed the
more nurturing jobs. The male being most dominant has been constructed through
the ideology of patriarchy. This ideology confirms that males have the most
power and are the dominant gender. This ideology is presented today by women
still earning less than man. Additionally, our communication has constructed
and maintained gender social identities by our use of discourse with
masculinities and femininities.
As I think about my own situations, and
how I communicate, I notice similarities between how I construct my social
identity and how society constructs them. Sometimes I fail to realize that I am
communicating my social identity because it all feels too natural. It makes me
question a lot of interests and hobbies. Do I like doing my nails and makeup
because I actually enjoy it or is it because its expected and I’ve learned that
I should like it. How I communicate my social identities is both verbal and non-verbal.
and can articulate my thoughts. I accessorize myself with high end brands and
speak very proper, which communicates my class. My posture is also perfect
which can symbolize power. I communicate my gender by the clothes I wear. My
clothes are well fitted and can contain “feminine” colors. Our discussion of
“privilege” has made me realize some of the things I take for granted. Social Privilege
is an advantage one group or class has over another. White privilege has
presented more opportunities for me and fewer obstacles. My social privilege
has also given me more opportunities and choices.
In conclusion, it is clear that
communication has been used to construct social identities of race, class and
gender. Communication has intertwined power and dominance with these social
identities. Labels and stereotypes are used within communication which limits
change and individuality. Difference seems to be the most important aspect that
society views. It promotes separation and a hierarchy between people. We communicate difference which empowers it and
makes it more prevalent.