What Makes Up Your Identity?

Race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality: in the past couple of decades, a great deal of attention has been paid to such collective identities. They clamor for recognition and respect, sometimes at the expense of other things we value. But to what extent do "identities" constrain our freedom, our ability to make an individual life, and to what extent do they enable our individuality?

That’s from the side jacket text of Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book The Ethics of Identity, a tough, academic book on the intersection of cosmopolitanism and identity that I’m about to start on. It will be a bit of a project, so I wanted to start the conversation now.

For me, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality don’t play meaningful parts of my identity. I have Jewish friends who take a lot of pride in their Jewishness, or black friends who cultivate their African-American heritage, or women friends who see themselves as women. Not me. I’m just a tall, white, straight, male who’s not religious.

Where does that leave me? It leaves me with two primary categories:

1. Nationality — I’m American. This is a big part of who I am — mainly because I’ve lived here my whole life and I admire the ideals of the country, especially the "new frontier" of the West.

2. Ideas — My ideas animate my life. I spend most of my days thinking about ideas, coming up with new ideas, analyzing the ideas of others, and so forth.

What are the pieces of your pie and which slices are the biggest?

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