I was born this way. 

No, you were not. 

According to Hazel Rose Markus, social psychologist, pioneer in the field of cultural psychology, and the author of “Clash!: 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are”, that is. In an article published in the American Psychologist, titled: Pride, Prejudice and Ambivalence: Toward a Unified Theory of Race and Ethnicity (November 2008), she elaborates on what exactly is ‘race’ and what qualifies for ‘ethnicity’

Markus also says all behaviour is dependent on and requires others. That there is no such thing as a neutral, ahistorical, asocial person. Meaning, everything you are (or think you are) is because you were influenced (taught) by someone, or something. Which kind of makes sense. Right?

But exactly how far does this influence go? We must have some sort of free will and control in that matter. Right? RIGHT?

Looking at the definitions of race and ethnicity, Markus defines them rather specific and too extensive to quote here. So read the article for an in-depth perspective on the subject. 

Basically it comes down to that both are historically derived and institutionalized ideas and practices. The former groups people by physical and behavioral characteristics, the latter by (presumed) commonalities. 

When you define race and ethnicity, 2 features are highlighted: other people create them, and they are not biologically based things that people have. Creating and enabling difference is a social process that involves both in-group and intergroup relations.

Surely you were influenced by your upbringing and education. By your friends, your classmates, your first girlfriend/boyfriend, your first break-up. By the first time you kissed someone. By the first time you had sex. It makes sense that those things shape you into who you are today. 

But what if you have been influenced on a deeper level? Like a blueprint or instruction on how everything should be. Or behave. Act. Or something like that. 

Okay, fair enough. That does sound like a load of crap. Let me explain:

“Being a person requires others and their context-specific ideas and practices.” This kind of sums up everything you have read up until now, but it might change perspective. Back to the title, I was born this way. Think about it. Everything you are is because of WHERE you were born. It is funny actually. How 1 “tiny” thing can be that much of an influence in who you will become.

How you think is because of where you were born.

But seriously, think about it. We love labeling things, put things in boxes. To frame them. So we “understand” them better, or so they say. Your race, ethnicity, nationality. Your sex, or gender, or sexual preferences. We all like to label them. Form groups around them. Communities. Hell, nations even.  

Markus: “A stereotype about one’s group that is active in the sociocultural context, is enough to impair performance in domain relevant to the stereotype.”

So basically, if you identify with a certain group, the active stereotype will make you act that way. 

What does that mean?

OK. So I am a man. Since there is an active stereotype about what it is to be a man, does that mean that I tend to behave like that? Since I identify as a heterosexual, I simply don’t find the same sex attractive? What if didn’t identify as a man, but felt more like a woman? If I identified more like the general description of being a women? Will that make me act like one? 

Apparently it will. Markus states that the ideas and practices associated with race and ethnicity are not separate from behavior or overlaid on a set of basic or fixed psychological processes. Instead, these social constructions are active in the very formation and operation of psychological processes. Whether people are aware of their race or ethnicity, or whether they claim them as self-defining, both can influence thoughts, feelings and actions.

We should be able to express our feelings. To act on how we feel. But what if these feelings are only there because we look at general descriptions and tend to adapt the corresponding behavior? Maybe we should be more careful while creating and administering stereotypes. Or at least be more aware of the possible implications stereotyping can create. 

Also, we need to be more understanding about people. About their background, believes, preferences, and group association. We are not born this way. Experience made us. And even though we might differ in opinion and/or believes, we are all human beings. Beautiful. Trying to find meaning. To belong.

Don’t forget that we are extraordinary beings that are capable of even more spectacular things. We do not need to change our physical (or mental) appearance to be accepted. At least, we should not need to do that.

Stay real. We are amazing, and do not let anybody tell you otherwise!