Gate keepers and identity challenges

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By the time one arrives at college supposedly identity issues are settled. Typically, identity explorations occur on adolescent platforms. Adolescence is the season when one negotiates one’s way into an identity with which one is comfortable.  Identity can be tied to feelings of belonging to a given group’s social space. It follows therefore that if one belongs to a dominant group one becomes secure in the imputed group identity. However, an event may occur when someone outside of the group challenges, or questions that accepted identity valuation with a view to devaluing it. In the face of this kind of identity threat whether one is an adolescent or an adult the task then is to renegotiate oneself into identity security. Options are that one can choose to concede to the devaluation or negotiate one’s way out of the mis-identification. A viable option is to redefine or re-assert one’s sense of identity by comparing oneself to the threat in such a manner that the misaligned evaluation is transformed into a positive.

This excursion into identity provides context for the greater appreciation of the poem that follows entitled “What”, found in my book Splendor from Ashes. The poem illustrates how in-group challenges aimed at negatively compromising default accepted social valuing can be confusing. It is confusing as it amounts to gatekeeper betrayal.

What? (2004)

Why do you tell me I’m black?

I know I’m black,

and I wear this color, like the air I breathe.;

without affectations, or pretensions

I never really thought of it before,

but why do you say it to me

all the time,


every time you compliment me?

Is there something you wish to tell

of which I’m unschooled

of which I’m oblivious, or clueless?

You’re a smooth, black beauty.

You’re an attractive black woman.

Is this unusual in one of darker hue?

Are you questioning my rights

to beauty, sisterhood, acclaim?

This shade of black is rare, you say—

rare to whom?

And this from one who mouths black pride?

Now as God, I see in your eyes.

I see the truth you wish to hide.

I see the hollowness inside.

I see the camouflage of fear—

your fear of being black.


Splendor from Ashes  by Ingrid Rizzolo


22 thoughts on “Gate keepers and identity challenges

  1. Beauty among people of dark skin color is far from rare. It’s just that when the combination of beauty and blackness is staring you in the face it invokes such a powerful feeling of awe that one can’t help saying, Oh My God, you’re a beautiful black woman! And you are.


  2. It’s amazing how many identity transformations we go through in life. I feel like it never ends. My most recent is transitioning to the role of mother a few years ago.


  3. I love the poem. This is how it is nowadays. I want to ask the same thing. My skin is brown. That distinct skin color of islanders, and I go through the same experience. There is an added question though and it goes, “What country do you come from?” Ugh.


  4. Very insightful. I really had to think back to my transition and how I fought for an identity. I shared with my 15 year daughter and we had a meaningful conversation. I love when blogs create conversations.


  5. beautiful words. Your poetry is powerful. I think we all figure out parts of ourselves in our teens but are challenged in our teens.


  6. That poem is beautiful, thank you so much for sharing it along with your thoughts and perspective on this topic. Powerful stuff!!


  7. You have an amazing style of writing. Even though we live in the year 2017, I believe there are far too many identity challenges that are faced on a daily basis. To me it doesn’t matter what colour your skin in. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is; where you came from; what religion you follow. We are one human race.


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