Cultural Identity and Communication Assignment
Indeed, Ginger Johnson and her colleagues (2013) conclude from their findings that Twitter was an important platform and tool that protesters used when organizing and executing th e Egyptian revolution in 2011.
Individual representatives of a dominant culture can also use social media to shape its iden tity; the White House and members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives hav e their own Twitter and Facebook accounts to engage with their followers directly. Indeed, freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez hosted a popular Twitter training session for fellow House Democrats early in Janua ry 2019, and offered advice such as (Dwyer, 2019):
- “Don’t try to be anybody who you’re not.” • “It’s not the kitchen that’s popular, or the cooking that’s popular, it’s that I’m engaging peop
le doing something I’m already doing.” • “. . . We don’t want to separate ourselves [from constituents on social media].” • “The way we grow our presence is being there.”
Whether we use social media or other platforms, mediated communication channels provid e access to information and tools that we can use to learn about and participate in our cultu re and others’ cultures. (See the IPC in the Digital Age feature to read about the impact of us ing social media while studying abroad.)
3.2 Cultural Identity and Communication
As we have seen thus far in the chapter, cultures and co- cultures serve important functions in maintaining a society and establishing norms and pra ctices for its members. These practices may represent important events in the society’s hist ory and can provide a sense of communal pride, bringing people together with shared value s, symbols, holidays, and traditions. Culture also helps create a perspective, or worldview, t hat influences how its members think about the world, themselves, and other people. As we discussed in Chapter 2, culture, and how it is communicated, helps form and reinforce your self-concept and self- image. Your dominant culture is so pervasive in your life that it influences your communica tion in significant ways. Culture gives you a sense of identity (Novinger, 2001).
Identity is a consistent set of attitudes that defines who you are and shapes how you view a nd describe yourself. Your identity is what is “true of you” now, in the past, and in the futur e, and can include who you want to be, who you expect to be, who you feel obligated to try t o be, and/or who you are scared that you will become (Oyserman, Elmore, & Smith, 2012). Your traits, group memberships, roles, and social relationships combine to comprise your i dentity. Communication and interaction with others is what creates and maintains identity (Hecht, Jackson, & Ribeau, 2003). Additionally, depending on which aspect of our identity is most salient in a communication context, we hold differing expectations of communication, and communicate differently (Hecht et al., 2003).
Nick White/Digital Vision/Thinkstock
Identity can influence how we communicate with others, but our interactions with others c an also influence our identities.
Primary and Secondary Identities
Your identity can include both a primary and secondary identity. Primary identity encompa sses consistent aspects of your identity, including your biological sex, race or ethnicity, nati onality, religion, and age. In other words, an individual’s primary identity rarely changes be cause it is difficult to permanently alter it. As we saw in the beginning of the chapter, the dif ferent aspects of one’s primary identity can significantly influence how he or she communic ates— the first officers described by Malcolm Gladwell were so influenced by their primary ethnic identities that they chose indirect messages even in emergency situations. We can, however , choose to ignore or downplay certain parts of our primary identities. For example, you ma y be a member of a particular religion, but you choose not to attend its services or follow its customs. People can also ignore their age limitations; Fauja Singh, for example, ran marath ons until the age of 101 (BBC News, 2013)! In this way, we do not need to be defined by all aspects of our primary identities.
A secondary identity includes the more malleable roles and characteristics of your identity, such as your socioeconomic status, occupation, or relationship status. Your secondary ident ity can be just as important or central as any aspect of your primary identity but is more lik ely to change over time. It is also likely that the first officers were partially influenced by th eir occupations as second-in- command when not speaking out directly in the emergency flight situations described at th e beginning of the chapter. For example, as you move up the ladder in your career, your job title and responsibilities will change, and this will alter part of your secondary identity. Shif ting from full-time student to full- time employee, or vice versa, will also alter part of your secondary identity. For example, if you were a student and then got hired by your university department into a full- time position after graduation, it might be difficult to reorient your viewpoint of your new c oworkers from “professors” to “colleagues.” Calling them by their first names instead of “pr ofessor” or “doctor” might seem take some getting used to. Your identities also affect how you communicate interpersonally, even with those with who m you are close. Bilingual individuals living in the U.S. who speak both Chinese and English tend to choose one language over the other to express different sentiments: English is used more often for sexual communication or to communicate negative feelings (Xie & Galliher, 2018). Although you may not speak multiple languages, you might find that you play up one aspect of your identity in a specific situation.
Though primary and secondary identities differ, everybody has both a primary and second ary identity, and no two sets of identities are alike. The identities of individuals in an intera ction can sometimes clash. In one study that explored the communication between grandch ildren and their grandparents, it was found that young adulthood and old age are times wh en one’s primary identity is particularly salient (Kam & Hecht, 2009). Specifically, young ad ults are negotiating their identities, and older adults who are grandparents view that relati onal identity as being particularly central to them. Jennifer Kam and Michael Hecht (2009) f ound that the presence of identity gaps, or discrepancies between the authentic self and the self that you believe another person finds more appealing, between young adult grandchild ren and their grandparents was related to decreased satisfaction with the relationship and the interaction. Our interactions with others can thus shape and shift both our primary and secondary identities because communication can alter how we see ourselves and those role s or groups with which we most closely identify.