jReshea and the Bermuda Triangle: Success, Culture and Identity


The “Bermuda Triangle” is a segment where I talk about a 1) super confusing 2) complicated &/or 3) rarely talked about subject and dissect it!

This week, thanks to Huff Post’s pick up of a Toronto Life Magazine piece, I’m going to talk about navigating the relationship between success and how it relates to identity – personally and culturally.

After reading a WaPo piece on the achievement factor behind Asian-Americans, it stuck out to me that success is so highly tied to race. Black people tend to rate very low on the success factor, white people rank above them and Asians rank the highest. It’s not only a public perception and stereotype but it’s also a personal identification. WaPa even went as far as to point out that when students feel like they don’t identify with the stereotype, they feel like they no longer identify with their culture either.

Asian people who do not excel are the “whitest Asians you know” because being white is associated with freedom. Black people who strive and thrive in academic settings and anything other than pop culture are “oreos” because being white is associated with money (and the bougie attitude to go with it). Somehow, white culture hit that sweet spot between too much and too little.

When the level of success that we haven’t achieved isn’t picking away at our sense of cultural identity, it’s also affecting our personal identity in basically the same way. We start to see ourselves as those things and we are no longer black or asian, we’re just “American”. Any time someone doesn’t want to be perceived as something negative, they’re just “American”. People aren’t sell-outs or failures anymore, they’re just “American”.

Of course this is a double edged sword because you don’t have to be American in order to justify your being overly success or the screeching halt of it. It seems second nature to renounce your culture though when you don’t take on it’s characteristics. I mean, a culture IS only what it believes in and if it believes in success than without it what would it be? And I suppose it’s a very American ideal to think that success can only be determined by it’s pursuant; that your definition of success is all that matters.

So is “American” just the default identification for anyone who feels like an outlier? A type of arms-wide-open tribe of misfits with their own culture, regardless of race, genetics or family? Or is it just another way of regressing? A fog of the mind allowing us to forget that race is simply a set of physical characteristics that do not pre-determine our strengths, talents or desires? How American is it to believe that you can exist outside of other’s tiny perceptions of what you should be?

There are many people who came and died before you and I who did not fit their culture’s identity until long after they had passed. Culture, as with most things decided on by a large boy of people, changes. Success and identity – you take those to the grave.


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