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Clippings: ‘Markers’ don’t tell the whole story

Outside being an intern at the Addison Independent, I’m a student at Middlebury College. When I tell people I’m a history major, one of the questions I get asked most, after either a look of disbelief or a string of dismissive chuckles, is: “What are you going to do with that?”
As a college student, my major is a fundamental part of my perceived and lived identity. After all, I’m spending hours on end in history classes, doing readings for those classes and writing about interpretations of the people, places and events of bygone times. It determines much of what I do while I’m at college and informs my perceptions of the world around me. Being a history major is as big a part of my identity as my being a woman or my being straight.
In a political era where identity politics dominate the stage, how often it is that you get an identity that you choose for yourself, that you don’t have to defend against other identities and that don’t immediately tinge you with some sort of politically charged stigma?
When you tell people you’re a history major, they don’t get a sudden glint in their eyes and hold you captive with passionate spiels that never lead to any productive conclusions and only serve to irk you.
When you tell people you’re a history major, they don’t start telling you that issuing parameters to prevent microaggressions is a violation of free speech.
They don’t launch themselves into an impassioned speech about guns and how mass shootings would fade into extinction if every single person in the country had a gun for self-defense.
They don’t start explaining to you why the wage gap isn’t real and that the feminist movement in the United States is ridiculous because women in this county already have it so much better than women in countries such as, say, Saudi Arabia or Sudan.
The most you get when you tell people you’re a history major is a question about your future. They check in to see if you understand that you’re majoring in something that won’t land you a job after graduation.
Granted, their concern is a little condescending, but at least the judgments they make based on this component of my identity only spans the length of the conversation about my major. As soon as I steer the conversation away from these waters, the topic and its influence on their perception of and interactions with me are over, and I can go back to enjoying this component of my identity and living it undisturbed.
My identity as a history major doesn’t bombard them with constant reminders. This identity is not physically marked, such as my gender, the color of my skin or my hair, my choices of clothing or even my age.
When markers are obvious, I am seen as a woman, as an Asian-American or as a millennial before I am seen as who I am.
When markers are not obvious or when they are untainted with political stigma, people just don’t care enough to keep these differences in mind.
Which raises the question: Why do people care so much then, if these identities are not important enough to remember when they’re not staring them in the face? And if they care so much, especially in the cases of identity markers drowned in political stigma, why don’t they care enough to dig deeper and come to an actual understanding of the topic?
There’s much more to an identity beyond what is immediately seen as contentious, and the identity politics today do not give people much reason to look beyond this surface, and so, most do not.
Isn’t it funny that the one part of my identity that is not subject to the scrutiny of others — the one part that feels wholly mine — is seen by many as such a trivial one?

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