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Running Head: REFLECTION

CSP 565: Self Reflection Paper

Katie Mey

Western Illinois University

REFLECTION Though the idea of self-reflection in general has become a lot less scary over the last year, that comfort level is negated for this particular reflective paper instructs us to reflect on familial origins. Currently, I will not contact my family without an immediate and emergent

concern for a variety of reasons, the primary being maintaining my own mental health. So, I am going to let you know from the start that all of the information that I am sharing is based on my own recollection from previous conversation, as currently I am unable to use them as sources of information. This is unfortunate, as I am uncertain of even my grandmothers actual first namesthey both passed before I was born and we did not speak about them when I was young. This, along with one of my grandfathers apparently only existing between the ages of 6-16 and the other having no records other than his military enlistment and death certificate made the public records avenue and rather fruitless. Family Origins & Ethnicity So, I will have to start of by telling you what I know, which is likely almost true, which is likely true enough. My fathers side of the family is primarily of German origin but also a bit Dutch. I know that my father is at least the third generation of U.S. citizens, however, I am not positive of anything beyond that. My grandpa used to say that he thinks our last name used to be different, and changed when his relatives came from Germany. I think my grandmothers last name was Klonk, but I do not know and there was no marriage certificate online. My father used to tell me that his great aunt and grandfather, Alfred and Johanna I think, used Americanized first names only (Al and Jennie) in public to avoid discrimination. My grandfather used to also tell stories of how, during the depression, he and his brothers would chase trains down the tracks to gather any coal or useful things that might be lost or thrown out of them. I know that when he was a senior in high school, my grandfather had to drop out and support the family, as his father

REFLECTION died that year. He never finished school. I also know that there is some connection to oening large areas of farmlands in the Cleveland, OH area. Also, my grandmother was a devout Catholic but my grandfather I believe was raised in the Protestant tradition. My grandparents were, I believe, born and lived in the Cleveland area only. They raised five children in a suburb

of the city, four of whom are still alive and also living in Cleveland. My grandmother died there in the 80s. I have over 20 cousins on this side of the family. That is about all I know. My mothers side of the family is of Slavic origins. I think its primarily Slovak, Slovenian, and Hungarian, but I also think its more varied than this. I remember that my mother has a box of traditional garments for infants in the back of a closet in her room that look similar to some things from this region I found online. I know that some of the traditional foods we still made at home are halupki (Slovak), Pasca Bread (Slovak, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Polish) and mushroom soup and Sireca (Slovak) and that my mothers aunts and great aunts made Slovenian Easter eggs. I know that my grandparents on this side of the family were very Catholic and that my mother was one of ten siblings who survived birth, nine of who are still living. I think that my grandfather was born, or had grandparents in, Pennsylvania, but I am not even sure of this. I have about 15 cousins on this side of the family. Again, this is all I know of my ethnic or place based family origins. I think that it is interesting how little I know given the size of my family, however, though I have a lot of family, some of whom I used to see quite often, we were never very close to most of them, and I particularly have never been very close to family. I believe this has to do with strained family relations on both sides related to my grandfathers, mothers, and sisters mental health statuses, as they can (could) all be quite difficult to spend time with for large

REFLECTION periods in their lives. I would like to know more, honestly, especially from my one living grandparent. Race

My family is White. Most of them have no idea how this plays out in their lives, I think. A few of them are quite openly racist and I have gotten in to a number of interesting exchanges with them about this topic. A few of them are, I think, coming to a new understanding of race and its meaning in our lives because my cousin is engaged to a Black woman and has begun to bring her to family gatherings. Some of them admitted that they had never had a long conversation with someone who was not White prior to this. I remember that when my cousins came to my neighborhood in the city, which was lower income and more racially diverse than most of theirs in the suburbs, they said things like Are those kids going to beat me up? in reference to groups of individuals with brown bodies when we went to parks. I laughed at them then, but truth be told though I lived in a more diverse area, I had a select few non-White friends who went to private school with me for most of my life. My first two years of high school was the first and only time that this was altered for an extended period of time in my life. My parents kept me out of public schools in the area because they were underperforming and dangerous, according to them. They wanted to move to the suburbs before I started high school in response to my request to go to public school. The compromise that they offered when I was that we could stay as long as I gave in and went to private school. I did, but I set myself up to go to the least bougie private school in the area, at least until it closed for lack of funding. I hated having what I knew and know was this huge privilege. When I was young I saw a lot of what I know are instances of institutionalized racism and racial micro aggressions happening, (and I know that I participated in these and continue to do so). At that time, when I noticed them, I

REFLECTION remember wondering why everyone thought it was so normal for some people to be treated poorly. My dad used to just say that is the way things are to any such questions.

My racial identity is an area that I think I need to explore more fully. I feel like I did not really come to a level of consciousness that allowed me to critically engage with my own thoughts and feelings on this topic until early in my undergraduate experience and at the time I was more focused on studying and considering it as another element of the intersectional dynamics related to power and oppression, or target and agent relationships, in addition to my primary interest in gender and sexuality. I very much enjoyed bringing it into the conversation and realm of consideration but rarely made it the topic of conversation. I think I am becoming more able to do this. More importantly I think I am much more willing to consider race as a primary feature of my identity rather than consider the raced other and leave myself out. This element of my identity, though, is not one that has been very salient for very long. I have sometimes been uncomfortable because of my race, but never, to my recollection, been targeted because of it (I am honestly not sure that this would be possible in the U.S.). Religion I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools for 13 years, K-12. In my grade school there were only a few non-Catholic students in my grade at most in a given year. Typically, these students were from recently immigrated families from the region we call the Middle East. A friend of mine was Palestinian and never told us his religious beliefs or practices. Another was Indian and also non-Christian as determined by her lack of participation in any of the sacraments or masses, but also never spoke of her religious background. This kind of lead to a connection between nationality, race, and religion in my head, as it seemed that all the U.S. citizens I knew and all those who were White or Black or Hispanic that I knew were


Christian if not Catholic. More interestingly, despite having several sections in our religion class dedicated to covering different religions throughout the years, these students were never asked to speak about their traditions. I knew and know a decent amount about the history and practice of various sects of Christianity, however it was not until college that I became knowledgeable about or interacted with many people who practiced other religions. I did develop a sense of my own agnosticism early, however, and often felt outside of the Catholic circle. I also often thought it was weird to hear Christians talk about how they believed they were persecuted for their beliefs when, from my perspective, it this was not the case. I was ostensibly a part of the agent group here, but I often felt more like an outsider within. It was interesting to see how this group twisted the narrative arc of oppression, from my perspective. Not only were they not the agents of aggression towards others according to their story, but also they were the targets of other radical agents such as atheists, Muslims, and groups of others generally categorized as liberals. For some time in my teenage years I struggled with my religious and spiritual identity, wondering whether or not being the outsider made me wrong and searching for a way to belong despite this difference. Now, however, this aspect of my identity is not very important to me. It can become important, though, to my social identity and the perception that others have of me when the default assumption that I am Christian becomes problematized. When this happens, I can easily become a target, which I guess means that I am part of the target group here rather than the agent. As a result of the fear of being exposed as a target, in many situations I monitor and try to control the time place and manner in which I disclose my religious and spiritual identity to others. So in terms of my social identity I suppose that this is a salient identity, but it does not have a lot of meaning for me personally and my understanding of myself.

REFLECTION Gender My background related to gender is interesting to me. In my immediate family, my mother was always ill. She worked outside the home when she could despite this because she needed to, but she was never seen as a breadwinner or provider for the family. Despite her illness, she was still expected to carry out traditional wife and mother roles when she was not at

work. This was a cause of great tension in our house, as she was pretty much being set up to fail but my dad felt justified in blaming and criticizing her anyway. I think my mom was used to this kind of relationship, though, as from her stories it sounds as if her parents followed a similar routine. The interesting part comes with how my sister and I were treated growing up. We were both allowed to do pretty much anything that did not get us in trouble with others. Our appearance and actions were policed only to the extent that it was believed we would cause friction with others outside the family. I was even tentatively supported by both my parents in my athletic endeavors and in my pursuit of a spot on the football team, so long as others stepped up to do so first. My dad trained my sister and I to do heavy manual labor and to know basic mechanics. We were, and are, expected to be able to do everything from fixing a meal from scratch to changing your oil. My father has expressed many times to me that he thinks the very idea of a degree in Womens and Gender Studies (which I have) is ridiculous, but he has left it at verbal disagreement. My extended family adheres very much to traditional gender roles. Many of my aunts stopped pursuing education and careers when they had children. Several of them prefer to stay at home part or full time with their children. Most of the time they do not question my lack of desire to do the same, but I think that this has to do with their perception of my sexual identity as


well as my gender non-conformity, as I have seen that they put more pressure related to children and families on my cousins who are straight. The men in my family act very much as the strong, rational, protectors of women, but here again I think that I am outside the typical dynamic. Even my father has never been particularly protective of me, though again I think this has something to do with both my gender non-conformity as well as my sexual identity. My experience of gender identity has been a rather mixed bag. As someone who does not easily and comfortably fit into the parameters of femininity, I struggled for many years as the outsider who was often made fun of for falling short of these standards. As a biological female, I experienced sexism often and was aware of it in media and culture. I was very much experiencing being the target related to this identity. However, I also realize that particularly during my early teenage years, I was the aggressor related to other gender identities that fell outside the binary. Once I came into contact with these other potential targets, I think it is pretty obvious that I tried to elevate my own status at first by aligning with the aggressor role to target them. It was not until later, when I gained an understanding of what was happening and how my participation in this system of power and normalcy was playing right into the hand of the hegemony personified, that I was able to take a step back and instead consider an empathetic and understanding response to those who experience and express gender differently. It was only after taking that step that I was able to realize that perhaps I am one of those people after all. Now I think I am aware of my status as a target in this dynamic power relation, but also aware that by passing I have a certain amount of cis privilege despite my internal identity as gender queer. I am also aware that in many instances I am making the conscious choice to pass, and in doing so placing myself as the target as a woman, rather as a gender queer individual, because I know how to navigate that better and feel that there is more social support for that part of my


identity. Though this aspect of my identity shapes a lot of the way I think and used to be a major element of myself, in the last few years it has taken more of a secondary position. Sexual Orientation When I was very young, the topic of sexual orientation never really came up often outside the church. Even as I got older, my parents never mentioned that Mark, who was sick and living with my neighbor until he got back on his feet, was a gay man struggling to live with HIV. They also did not really comment on my neighbors other friends who were in long-term lesbian relationships. When queerness was brought up directly, it was in the derogatory sense. My dad or uncles were typically noting a mans failure to comply with typical hetero masculinity in a negative way. As I got older, the boys I hung out with at school would do the same. I was always the butt of jokes about being too masculine, but the typical leap to connect gender nonconformity to sexual orientation was not made often until after I came out. I always had the protection of tom boy status when I was younger. I will spare you the details of my coming out story. Suffice to say that though at first it did not go well and a lot of hurtful assumptions were made about the cause of this thing that is wrong with me. Shortly thereafter, however, everything went back to normal, besides the new underlying suspicion that I was sleeping with all my female friends, and we all acted like nothing had happened. Though in my family most of the time this part of my identity is ignored, it is one of the most important to me. I have experienced directly some of the most significant and blatant instances of discrimination in the world related to that identity. I feel that I walk through the world aware that I am a target related to this identity. I evaluate situations for danger or welcome related to this identity and consider it heavily when determining what spaces to enter into.



My class identity has been something that I have struggled to understand for most of my life. Growing up, I was aware that there were class differences within my family. I was also aware that I was living in a mixed income neighborhood. I knew that some others had more money and things than I did, but was also very aware that others had less and that I could easily also have less. I knew that money was tight; as my dad used me to help control my moms spending when I was young. For the first part of my life we lived precariously pay check to pay check. Even then, my dad would often bring up how things were worse when my sister was young, as then they struggled to provide heat and running water- things that were pretty consistent in my life. When I went to my second high school I had my first exposure real likfe to those who had a LOT more than I did, though. This continued when I went to college and heard conversations about yachts and tiffanys jewelry- things that I had pretty much thought only existed in movies and the Hamptons until that point. As I became more interested in global politics and economics as a teenager and young adult, I became much more aware of my place in the global scheme of socioeconomics. I learned about the living conditions in the global south and the politics of the first/third world relationship. I was exposed to the history and current dynamics of the labor rights movement late in my high school years and I pursued this knowledge through my college studies. Though I am aware of the issue of class and the importance of socioeconomic status to social and personal identity, I think this is one that I need to spend more time reflecting on as a personal issue. I tend to want to consider it in the abstract and think about the system rather than how this relates to my personal identity. I also struggle as to whether or not I identify as the target or agent in terms of this dynamic. I feel like this is probably not a-typical given American conceptions of class, but I

REFLECTION also think I really need to work to locate myself within these dynamics more surely given my


desire to work with students who fall at various places on this scale. I have begun to take steps to learn more about myself in this way, such as participating in workshops on the topic that require me to involve myself in the conversation. I hope to consider challenging myself in this way in the near future. Conclusion I tried to consider most of the question prompts in each section, above, and so in the interest of brevity, as I am already over the pagination, I will only provide a short summary here. I do not find my ethnic and family origins to be particularly concerning to me, though I probably should and would like to explore them more in my life. I have found that my class identity is something I have considered throughout my life and has played a part in my life, but I am still unsure of what it means for my personal identity. My racial identity is something that I did not often consider for most of my life, but have come to more consciousness about through my college years. It is still something that I need to consider more, and it is becoming a more salient aspect of my identity. My gender and sexual orientation are probably the aspects of my identity that I have been most aware of and that have been most central to my identity over the course of my life. They are also the aspect of my identity for which I am in the target role. My class identity is also salient to me, but I need to spend more time considering what this means and whether or not it is a central part of who I am or not.