A conservative friend suggests banning all adjectives; completely remove identifiers. “Conservative,” for example. Adjectives indicate our opinion of a person, and sometimes that’s all. Relying on it exaggerates the differences, reduces the complexity, and instead hits the labels.
Maybe that’s why, during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings, I found myself outraged at how the media identified her almost exclusively as the first black woman, true, but also, in a way, generic. First Black Woman: These are all important milestones, identities that really matter, of course. It’s just that sometimes they seemed to drown a lot more than her. Some people never passed First Black Woman (probably the same people who turned the page when they saw HERS).
As a “senior,” my identity is established at a glance. The employees of the cooperative cannot differentiate me from other white-haired women who are waiting to receive their orders. Up to the age of twenty, they all look alike at the age of seventy. (The twenty-three may seem very similar to us, unfortunately.)
Teaching required me to struggle with identity. Students ask: How should we address you? A friend gave her students two options: name or majesty. I liked that. But today I find that most of my students prefer to use “teacher,” because that’s my identity for them. I don’t really identify as a “teacher,” but that’s okay.
This is what happens with identity. It changes with space and time. “His” doesn’t mean what he did 30 years ago. At the same time, I find it hard to identify with the reckless quarantine that I skated in Manhattan. (The Trump Tower lobby was the best place in town.) A friend posted a picture of me a few years ago, giving a talk at an event. “That was when I used to be someone,” I replied. “That was when you were someone else before,” he replied.
Sometimes, mine the main identity has been “mother”. My cat, not incorrectly, probably identifies me as a “can opener.”
However, my identity does not mean that I am identical to other “can openers”, such as cat keepers, or that I identify with a “can opener”. Even identical twins may not identify as identical. He could be identified as an “Olympic athlete”; the other, “criminal.”
In math, an identity is something very specific. Euler’s identity is arguably the best known: I once saw it engraved on the license plate of a van in Anchorage. It has appeared in The Simpsons more than once. A scientific friend suggested it to me as a suitable tattoo.
Part of the catch is that Euler’s identity has a star-studded cast, all great numbers!
0: the destroyer; it makes everything nothing or infinite.
1: unity, an identity in itself!
pine: relationship between circumference and diameter, irrational and endless. (The first three digits are Einstein’s birthday.)
e: transcendental, appears everywhere, a limit, unattainable, own derivative.
i: imaginary, the square root of minus one: √ (-1).
Put them together and you will get: e jo pi + 1 = 0. In English, multiply i times pine then climb e to this power. Magically, it equals zero. This is amazing!