Marlene Blandon

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                   Identity Politics: Who I am and how Society Views Me

         One major conflict within the structure of the women’s movement is the ability to

accommodate the different races, and social and economic classes possessed by the

women in whom it moves to protect and defend. Race, class and gender are always

contributing factors in all aspects of society extending for beyond the feminist theory.

These factors combine to define the identity politics as they are in the society which we

live, the word politics is derived from the Greek word polis, which means city-state. The

city-state brings forth the idea of politics and civic space, a space in which issues that

involve more than one person, that of a woman, however, there are different types of

women. Helga Crane struggles in all facets of identity politics. Her race, gender and

class are issues that she must come to term with. Helga travels to Chicago, Harlem and

later Denmark to find her identity which is restricted by the identity politics in which she


         The fact that the ideas of race, class and gender are inherently connected in such a

way that set the dynamics of identity politics as they exists in our society is echoed by

Judith Squires in Gender in Political Theory. Squires reports that, “the definition of

politics as relations of power makes it immediately evident that the social constitution

and cultural manifestation of gender are inherently political issues” (39). Crane learns

this very early on in the development of the story. As a teacher in Naxos Crane has no

identity. Over and over Crane contemplates her future and the impending choices she

must face. “The South. Naxos. Negro education.”(7). Everything for Crane comes back

to location, race and connection. After time she hates all these things. Although Crane’s

mother is Danish and her father is black, she is not considered Danish or mixed for that
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matter. Crane is black, if nothing else Crane inherits her black skin from her absent

father and with it, "the cultures racial restrictions” (xxiv).

        These racial restrictions that Crane faces are related to her race, one of the politics

of identity. If you are black you will work for less and feel no sense of security. Ivy

Kennelly in “That Single-Mother Element: How White Employers Typify Black

Women” states that, “many white employers assert that black lack certain necessary

elements, such as education and morality” (193). In a society in which white employers

are the majority this creates a potentially fatal ideology. As if being black was not

enough, Crane now has to be a black woman working in the south where she is not

valued at all. In Naxos the fight to be appreciated and valued is even more difficult

because blacks were not respected and the officials did nothing to try and fix or at the

very least hide the problem. This is evidenced very early on in the story. Watching

“white holy men” speak of his love for Naxos. He reports, “if all Negroes would only

take a leaf out of the book of Naxos and conduct themselves in the manner of the Naxos

products, there would be no race problem, because Naxos Negroes knew what was

expected of them”(7). This comment is made in the south where race relations are

already bad enough. The fact that the politics of identity are so one sided is a direct result

of the society in which we live. The things in all areas society emphasize maleness. A

society with tall erect building embeds male dominance and importance in the minds of

the society. Fast cars are commercialized with hot girls in bikinis. This vocabulary is

associated with a male gendered world and ideology. Male is power. In an effort to

escape this world Crane quits her job and heads to Chicago with all the money that she

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       In an effort to deny and rebel against the politics of identity Crane loaded herself

and things with a limited amount of money and left of Chicago, ten hours away. Once

she reaches her hometown of Chicago she decided to seek residence at the Young

Women’s Christian Association. This choice she makes with consideration that she has

no family or friends. Well until the point of her return to Chicago she had Uncle Peter

her mother’s brother. Born to a Danish mother whose skin is that of a white persons and

a black father whose skin is colored thus yielding a child with mixed skin which is also

considered colored creates a child whose family is either white or colored. However,

when deserted by her colored father she loses her connection with her father’s family, in

addition to her mother’s family, except for her Uncle Peter. Upon her arrival in Chicago

Crane experiences again how her race affects her negatively in the politics of identity.

Her gender, some may argue has affected her far more than it appears on the surface. If

Crane were a man maybe she would have receive more respect in Naxos.

       Difference does not, however, equate to inequality, or at least if should not. That

is the problem with how thing are set up in this society. From the beginnings of

civilization difference has brought about the need for inequality. Squirres says that, “the

fact that men and women are different is insufficient reason to treat them differently”

(117). For this reason “others” must search for their identity and then try to conform to

the default category. Crane, however, decides to go to Chicago in an effort to be around

individuals that relate to her more as opposed to staying in Naxos and conforming to the

system. Upon her arrival in Chicago Crane soon learns that her white family will not

accept her colored skin regardless of the person she is, as if she made a consciousness

choice to have colored skin. Again, the politics of identity are playing out. Karen
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Nilssen, Uncle Peter’s wife refuses to accept Crane; furthermore, she refuses to allow her

husband to accept her. Why, because her colored skin will reflect poorly on Nilssen’s

statue in the community. Politics, a space which within exists issues that concern more

that one person, therefore, it is not enough for the Nilssen’s to love Crane as a niece, but

to send her a check and wish her luck.

       After a job sends Crane to New York, she decides to remain. Here she loved the

streets, the people. In New York Crane meets people, colored people like herself. One

night at a party Crane declares, “some day [I intend] to marry one of [these] alluring

brown or yellow men” (49). It is because of her connection with blacks where her

identity does not matter that she declares to marry a brown or yellow man. Here in these

surrounding her identity is protected, unthreatened.

       Helga Crane acts, yet, without awareness or acceptance of how the identity

politics in the society in which she lives. Her friend Anne, on the other hand, appears to

be obsessed by the race problem. Anne is in attendance at all the meetings of protest.

The difference between the two is that Anne acknowledges her role and participation in

the system. Crane, however, does not realize that she too in fact is participating in the

system. Her unawareness often times puts her in a position of perpetuating the ideas of

identity politics and how they separate the races.

       Later during the progression of the story Crane goes to Copenhagen. Here Crane

is hosted by her Aunt. Uncle Peter has given her five thousand dollars, but that is in no

way worth Crane’s loss of her only connection to her home in Chicago. The money did,

nonetheless, free her financially so that she may voyage to Denmark. Crane feels that

Copenhagen would grant her a “happy future, where there were no Negroes, no problems,
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[and] no prejudice” (58). Crane has the politics of identity confused within her own

understanding. Crane feels that in Naxos the “white holy men” were corrupt. She was

not happy with the conditions in which she lived and worked. The black children

received substandard education and educational facilities. Therefore, she returns to

Chicago where she thought she had a home. Her Uncle Peter turns his back on her but

her Aunt Katrina and Uncle Poul welcomes her with open arms. In Copenhagen, Crane

is actually babied a bit by her aunt and uncle. Here in Copenhagen she has no voice. The

community of Copenhagen is more accepting than in the western world. Crane, however,

is still trapped by her own understanding of the identity politics that surround her.

         Aunt Katrina makes the decisions on behalf of Crane without input from Crane

herself. Crane soon grew tired of life in Denmark. She was outside of the system 25,

unmarried and colored. Again, she refuses another proposal, this time from Axel Olsen.

In the beginning she had only hoped he would ask for her hand in marriage. The

circumstances disallowed her to fully indulge in life in Denmark. Crane’s aunt and uncle

were disappointed with her for her refusal to accept life as it is given to her and ignore the

politics of identity. Aunt Katrina and Uncle Poul do, however, live in a much different

world, a world that is not that of Helga Crane. Her decision to return to Harlem of

Anne’s wedding to Dr. Anderson, Crane knew in her heart would be far longer than a


         Upon her return to Harlem Crane meets and later marries the Reverend Mr.

Pleasant Green. With all the questions and concerns that come with having a sexual

encounter and possibly committing to marriage race through Crane’s mind, “was the risk

worth it? Could she take if? Was she able? (117). Once more, for Crane is all comes
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back to happiness. With Reverend Green she will have stability without the social

stigmas attached. According to Marxist theory nobody can escape participation in the

system of racial and gender hierarchy. Crane is not omitted. She plays right into the

system and conforms with the politics of identity and all that they do in threat to her

social freedom. Reverend Green’s skin is colored. Even though her life may have been

better in Denmark she returns to marry and have children, because this is her happiness.

Crane sought ways to deal with the frustration of raising children and taking care of her


        Over and over for Helga Crane everything comes back to happiness, her personal

happiness. Marrying Dahl may have made her happy but the conditions of the marriage

made her unhappy. Throughout her life Crane has been affected by the politics of

identity. At first she rebels against the system by moving away from Naxos back to her

“home” in Chicago. Eventually, she through a course of events ends up residing in

Denmark. In Denmark she finds contentment but because of social stigmas she decides

to turn her back on happiness. She looks to all angles as an excuse for why she should

return to America. Crane, though, is very confused in the way she processes the politics

of identity. In Naxos she feels that the Negroes are stuck up and the white folks are

judgmental. In Chicago, her own family does not accept her and in New York the streets

are crowded with no room for success. In Copenhagen the men are white, successful but

white. The people are white and white is not what Crane is.
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                                     Works Cited

Kennelly, Ivy. “That Single-Mother Element: How White Employers Typify Black

       Women.” Women and the Economy Reader. Armonk, NY: Shape 2003.

Squires, Judith. Gender in Political Theory. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

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