By Carla Kaplan

About Carla Kaplan

Carla Kaplan is the Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. Her most recent book is Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance.


One of our most common terms, “identity” is rarely defined. In everyday language, its most common usages—“personal identity” and “social identity”—designate meanings not only distinct from one another but also hierarchically related. Personal identity is often assumed to mediate between social identities and make sense of them. Whereas our social identities shift throughout the day, what allows us to move coherently from one to another is often imagined to be our personal identity, or “who we are”—our constant.

Personal identity conventionally arbitrates taste and lifestyle. “It’s just not me,” a potential home buyer says to her realtor. “That’s so you,” a helpful friend appraises as the shopper steps out of the dressing room. An “identity crisis” is a crisis rather than an “identity opportunity” because personal identity demands proper and unimpeded expression. It is a value, something we prize. This sense of identity as ours implies an immutable essence unchanged …

Embodiments, Feelings, Nature
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