Every Experience Creates the Identity You Seek


Identity is relative to a person's upbringing, the education they receive, familial relationships, socioeconomic status, and a variety of other prominent factors that all contribute to one’s experience in life. Many people seek to “find themselves”, all the while they are missing the point of identity. Every experience and situation a person has ever been a part of contributes to their identity. Julian Baggini’s Ted Talk, “Is There A Real You?”, perfectly describes this concept, claiming every experience makes up a person’s identity. In Saidat Giwa-Osagie’s article, “Finding My Identity via The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, she opens up a conversation about the Black experience, and how the Fresh Prince taught her that there is no one definition of “Black”, but a multitude of meanings depending on where a person was raised. Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use”, describes the main character, Dee, visiting her mother after experiencing higher education, and how now their worlds are drastically different. In Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird experiences her coming-of-age senior year fighting with her mother which is rooted in their unstable monetary status. Every experience a person has had is interconnected which contributes to their identity; and these experiences stem from but are not limited to, upbringing, education, and socioeconomic status.

In Julian Baggini’s Ted Talk, “Is There A Real You?”, he describes that there is no core or truth in one’s self to be discovered. Many people spend years yearning to discover their “core self”; they believe that there is something within them to be discovered. However, Baggini explains that experience, memories, desires, beliefs, etc. are all connected to make up a “you.” A person is a collection of all of their experiences, not a being that has possession of these experiences. To explain this he uses an analogy of a watch saying, “You are the sum of your parts.” The parts of a watch create the object that is a watch. There is not an object called “the watch” to add parts to; a watch is a collection of parts just as humans are a complex collection of their experiences. This analogy provides the audience with a better understanding that they do not simply have experiences, beliefs, desires, etc., but they are those experiences. Another aspect that Baggini discussed is that a person can control their experiences to a certain extent. A person can make and pave their path, but this path is also dependent on past experiences, for example, where and how a person was raised.

Saidat Giwa-Osagie is a Black woman who was raised in Scotland and her article, “Finding My Identity via The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, informs how the TV show proved the abundance of definitions of the word “black.” Giwa-Osagie informs the reader that as a young girl, encountering another Black person in Scotland was a rare sight. When the hit TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air took to the television screen in the early 90s, Giwa-Osagie felt represented in a way she had never before seen in media. The main character Will is from Philadelphia, raised in the city among other Black kids his age. So, expectedly, when he moves across the country and experiences Bel Air, there is an extreme cultural change as the audience and Will understand how the experience of location and upbringing shapes a person’s identity. His cousins in Bel Air live in opposite style compared to life in Philadelphia. Giwa-Osagie explains that pre-Fresh Prince, there was only one idea about what Black culture should look like, however, “the Fresh Prince showed U.K. and global audiences that black people were multidimensional individuals, rather than a uniform entity.” For example, Giwa-Osagie characterizes Will’s cousin Carlton as a goofy, preppy, and conservative guy who is also Will’s foil character, having no knowledge about slang or rap and spends his time thinking about a Princeton acceptance letter. In Will’s eyes, Carlton “lacked the requisite cultural signifiers Will associated with being an authentic black person.” Carlton, however, proved to the audience that Blackness did not have a singular definition, but a multitude of denotations depending on how and where a person was raised. Experiencing upbringing is relative to different parts of the world, contributing to a person’s identity. Referencing back to “Is There A Real You?”, the experience of upbringing contributes greatly to a person's identity to make up their “parts.” The next major experience to shape a person’s identity would be a person’s experience with education, as illustrated in Alice Walker’s, “Everyday Use”.

Dee has come back from her higher education to visit her Mama and sister, Maggie, in Alice Walker’s, “Everyday Use”, and has a drastically different mindset from how she was raised. Experiencing higher education has allowed her to explore her heritage and understand the oppression Black people have been receiving for years on end. She has delved deep into her heritage so far that she changed her name to a traditional African name because she, “couldn't bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me.” Dee wishes to take the quilts that were sewn by her grandmother to put in a museum because “they’re priceless”, however, Mama promised them to Maggie. Dee rejects Mama’s statement and replies, “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.” Dee’s experience with education has provided new insight and appreciation for her African culture, but has created a divide between her and Mama. Dee tells Mama and Maggie that they do not understand their heritage, but ironically, it is Dee who does not understand that the quilts were made for “everyday use” for her family. Experiencing education can be beneficial to inform a person of the reality of the real world and its injustices, but can also overshadow their childhood upbringing. Thinking back to Baggini’s “Is There A Real You?”, a person’s experiences, memories, thoughts, desires, etc. are interconnected to form a complex identity. According to “Everyday Use”, old experiences can be overshadowed by new experiences, as we saw with Dee. Experiencing a new education can also, contrasting to Dee’s experience, can be beneficial to familial relations and improve one’s sense of identity, like in Greta Gerwig’s film Lady Bird.

Christine, or Lady Bird, is a high school senior determined to attend university on the east coast, so she can escape from the confines of Sacramento. She longs to find purpose and excitement in her life, but her economic status and location impede her dreams. Lady Bird’s experience with economic status contributes largely to the plot and her identity, as she tells people she lives "on the wrong side of the tracks." Marion, her mother, tells her that “Money is not life's report card. Being successful doesn't mean anything in and of itself. It just means that you're successful. But that doesn't mean that you're happy.” Her mother tries to explain that accumulating wealth does not bring long-lasting happiness, contrasting Lady Bird's idea of monetary status. According to “Is There A Real You?”, Lady Bird’s experience with her struggling economic status shapes her identity to make her who she is today. Lady Bird's parents stress over money even further as the topic of leaving California for college creates many rifts between her and her mom. For the majority of the film, they argue about college and also insignificant, petty issues. It seems that with every moment of happiness the two share, they have an underlying passive-aggressive tone. Lady Bird desires to have an independence she has never felt before, but her mother feels defeated every time she mentions leaving Sacramento, which creates an unspoken, yet obvious tension between the two characters. When Lady Bird, who now goes by her birth name Christine again, is experiencing university on the opposite side of the country, she calls to thank her mom for everything she has done. Christine realizes that the experiences she had with her mom shaped her identity. For the majority of the movie, she believed that she would find some new insight about her identity on the east coast, however, her identity was being built with every experience she had in Sacramento.

Based on Baggini’s Ted Talk, “Is There A Real You?”, identity is a compiled collection of complex experiences that all interconnect with each other. These experiences can stem from childhood upbringing and location, education, family, and socioeconomic status as exemplified in “How I Found My Identity via Fresh Prince”, “Everday Use”, and LdayBird. To seek to “find oneself” is a never-ending road because your identity is already rooted in your experiences. These experiences are intertwined to create who “you” are.

Works Cited

Baggini, Julian. “Is There a Real You?” TED. Dec. 2014. Lecture.

Giwa-Osagie, Saidat. “Finding my Identity via The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” The Atlantic. 24 May 2016.

Ladybird written and directed by Greta Gerwig, IAC Films. 2017.

Walker, Alice. Everyday use. Rutgers University Press, 1994.

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