Yale University

Sound Off !

On Finding a Positive Self-Identity for a Person like Me

William McGaughey

October 9, 2013

Category: Society > Rights

I think people like me have an identity problem. It is a problem that has grown worse since we graduated from Yale in 1964.

You see, I am a white person, I am a male, I grew up in a somewhat prominent family in Detroit, and my lackluster career in accounting ended 17 years ago when my job was eliminated in a merger of two government agencies.

Let's forget about the last situation. I chose what I made of my life and do not regret the choice. There have been some bright spots, and some not so bright. We each have our own path. It's too late now to second-guess what we might have become.

I would focus instead on (1) being white and (2) coming from a relatively privileged background. (Being male has its own disadvantages but let's not get into this now.)

Our particular culture at this particular time celebrates the type of person who is not white and who came from a difficult or lowly background. Even if I had been a great success in the world's eyes, it would not have mattered much because the spirit of the times is against this type of person. Look what happened to Mitt Romney.

I think, whoever we are, it is possible to have a positive self-identity. The path is clear for those who started with nothing and ended with something. They can rightly be proud of themselves for what they accomplished — which, in turn, reflects upon their virtue or character. But for some of us — the type of person who might have gone to Yale — the task of finding a positive self-identity is a bit more challenging.

It is precisely that challenge which makes it more interesting. So what if I did not end up in a high political office or a top corporate position? The world is bigger than this. Maybe I strove for something else or maybe I did not strive so much. It makes little difference now. And maybe this sort of thing will not make much difference in the future. Society is changing. Who knows what will be important for Americans or for others on earth in the years to come?

For the time being, I would like to collect ideas of what might be a positive self-identity for the type of person who might have graduated from Yale in the 1960s. Can you be white and still be proud? Can you go beyond a high station in life if the deck is reshuffled every generation? Any suggestions?