PhD, Docent Sklar Howard

94100 €

Denial of Self: The Hidden Costs of Discrimination

Tieteellinen tutkimus / siihen pohjautuva työ | Kolmivuotinen

One of the most complex and arguably tragic consequences of racial, ethnic or gender discrimination is the concealment or even the denial of one’s own identity. From the “closeted” existence of those who identify as LGTBQ+, to the attempts by light-skinned African Americans to hide their identities in order to “pass” within mainstream white society, the impulse to conceal one’s identity has been a persistent experience for those who, for a variety of reasons, have been subjected to discrimination and the threat of violence. Despite the considerable scholarship available on the hiding of one’s identity in other communities, however, very little attention has been given to the widespread, and in certain significant respects comparable, practice of passing among the Jewish people, particularly in Europe and the United States. This project will provide a comprehensive examination of the various motivations for the practice of hiding in the Jewish experience as represented primarily in 20th- and 21st-century American literature, in response to religious persecution, ethnic repression, assimilation, self-hatred, marginal population, or vicarious identification with other marginalized groups. The emphasis on narratives stems from the aim to grapple with the experience of invisibility: the motivations, life experiences, and social consequences of concealing one’s identity. Narratives can capture experience more vividly than philosophical or reportorial texts, and thus can communicate aspects of experience that are inaccessible in other forms of discourse. Also, as I have shown in prior research, the access to this experience through literature heightens the ethical stakes involved in engaging with “lives” that are different from our own. The similarities between these experiences and those of other groups, moreover, reinforce the significance of this research in illuminating the pressures on those who are identifed as “others” to conceal or deny their identities.