Inclusive Language Series: Identity Saliency

Identity Saliency: A social identity that one may be more conscious of holding or that plays a larger role in that person’s daily life.

As humans, we all have a wide variety of social identities that we may or may not be conscious of, like our socioeconomic status, race, age, sexual orientation, religion/spirituality, gender, nationality, educational attainment, and more. These identities play a large role in how we perceive ourselves, others, and our environments. Intentionally reflecting on our identities and how they impact the ways in which we make meaning of the world increases our level of self-awareness.

Often, certain identities are more important to us than others. How prominent these identities are can change over time as a result of environmental changes, changes in our identities themselves, or changes in how we understand our identities. For example, an international student from Colombia who is Latine and speaks Spanish as their first language may not think much about these identities in their home country, where the majority of other folks also have these identities. However, this student may become much more aware of these identities when they arrive at UW–Madison, a predominately white institution where most peoples’ first language is English.

Another example that could be considered is a Student of Color questioning if a comment that was made by a professor was a microaggression. Let’s say the comment was something along the lines of “wow, your presentation was really great, I didn’t expect you to do so well.” If race is a salient identity for this student, their initial reaction will likely be negative. They may associate this comment with the professor assuming they can’t give good presentations because of their marginalized racial identity. Whereas, if the same comment was given to a white student, they may not think anything of it. Or they may perceive it negatively based on a different, unknown marginalized identity they hold.

If you have ever thought to yourself, “why does so and so always have to make everything about _____ identity?” Chances are it’s because that identity is salient to them and plays a big role in how they perceive their surroundings. Becoming aware of this allows you to better understand, communicate, and support others, especially if their identities differ from your own.

Reflection Questions

  • What identities are salient to you? Why?
  • What identities are not salient to you? Why?

Upcoming Holidays & Observances

  • February 1–29, Black History Month — Celebrates Black History and African American culture in the United States
  • February 21, Lunar New Year (Confucian, Daoist, and Buddhist) — Also known as the Spring Festival, this holiday is an important festival celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar.