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To yell or not to yell? Here's how to respond to social identity threats

The current socio-political climate in the US has created an “anything goes” mentality that has unveiled some devastating consequences. It seems as though “social identity threats”-or attacks on a person’s social identity, whether it be race, gender, sexuality, class, etc.- are more and more common… almost expected nowadays. While many people fear these attacks and wish to ignore such exchanges, these moments of extreme tension can become learning opportunities depending on how they are handled.

In an article for Psych Today,  Dr. Oscar Holmes IV speaks about social identity threats and  ways in which people cope with them. Whether an identity threat happens at home, work, school, or out in public, it is important to understand productive ways to react. Here are a few typical ways people respond and how they can be helpful of hurtful depending on the situation:


This can feel like the easiest way to deal with ignorance and disrespect. While ignoring a social identity threat might be preferred in situations where the threat was not necessarily intended, it is important for these attacks to be adressed. Nothing will change is it is not addressed. While there are some things not worth getting mad over, there are other instances in which ignoring a social identity threat- whether to your  identity or someone else’s- makes the problem worse rather than making it disappear. Pick and chose your battles, but don’t forget to fight.


Derogation is when a person verbally attacks the attacker. While this may feel like the sweetest form of justice, and you believe the person really deserved the sass, this response burns more bridges than it creates. If we truly wish to change the climate in which social identity threats run rampant, we cannot contribute to the list of threats just because we have been threatened.


Deemed the “most proactive of the identity-protection responses”, positive distinctiveness is when a person engages their attacker in conversation, highlighting what is good about the identity that has been threatened. While this may seem intimidating, this response has the most potential for growth and change. Especially when an identity attack comes from a place of ignorance. Sometimes a person just needs to be informed of their bias.


When your social identity is being threatened by someone you know, it can be helpful to seek assistance from other people who are involved or who know the identity attacker. This can lessen the feeling of anxiety that surround the idea of confrontation- especially for something as personal as your identity. Having outside parties involved will also force the person who threatened your identity to see that intolerance and ignorance are serious issues that will not overlooked.

If you observe identity threatening behavior in public, be the assistance a person seeks. Whether it be diffusing the attacker or supporting the targeted person, do not be silent and passive to bigotry. Often times, it takes a simple act of courage and bravery to spark a chain effect by which we all support and protect each others identities.

These are just some of the ways in which people respond to social identity threats- you can find the rest of the article here. Social identity threats don’t look like they’re going away any time soon, so be prepared to respond and defend yourself and others. 

Have advice for people caught in a situation where their social identity is being threatened? Share with us in the comments! 

(Image via pintrest)





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