Reconnecting with Identity: Locating commonality in intersections

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by Michael Wellmann

Recorded by author

For a bit of context, the following essay is a short selection from my dissertation that situates my identity within the divisive identity politics of today’s radical activist spaces. It is my prayer that this essay offers another view on identity, one helps us activists begin to forge commonality in a time of fractionalism and hyper-individuality.


During the introductory circle at Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects intensive, the facilitator asked our group to share our names and pronouns, a common practice in activist spaces. As we went around the circle identifying ourselves, an older man from Japan interjected that he did not understand the prompt. Because of the language and cultural barriers, a rupture occurred, and repair was needed. It was a teaching moment about “USA privilege,” the privilege to identify ourselves beyond what the dominant culture assigns us.

…privilege allows me to situate the intersections of my identity within the systems from which I benefit.

As a scholar-activist immersed in activist spaces, this early experience instilled in me the inherent level of privilege present in identity politics. This privilege allows me to situate the intersections of my identity within the systems from which I benefit. I am white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered, athletic, physically attractive, highly educated, financially secure, an imperial citizen, a human being, and an earthling. In many ways, I am the “mythical norm” (Lorde, 2020), and therefore am responsible for using my privilege to dismantle these systems.

And, also, my identity is far more complex than some simplistic labels. I am a father, husband, scholar-activist, guide, teacher, and student. I, too, have suffered immensely from the same systems of oppression that benefit me most. I am only a few generations removed from Ireland, where my ancestral homelands are still under settler-colonial occupation. I survived childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence at the hands of the Patriarchy. Chronic pain, student loan debt, and eco-terrorist labels weigh heavy, as does being in an interracial relationship with a white-passing child in rural Murica during a time of rising white nationalism.

It behooves us activists to expand the intersections of our identities to find more common ground while also continuing to embrace our individual diversity.

I share all this not to compete in the “Oppression Olympics” (Davis, 1993) but because identity politics are inflaming the horizontal hostility of activist spaces and being used to divide and conquer today’s movements for socioecological justice and liberation. Therefore, it behooves us activists to expand the intersections of our identities to find more common ground while also continuing to embrace our individual diversity. For example, in addition to stating our names and pronouns, we can build unity (and decolonize) by also identifying with the lands and watersheds we occupy as well as with our ancestral homelands.

For me, “Hi, my name is Michael. I prefer he/him pronouns.” becomes “… I live on occupied Anishinaabek lands on the shores of Gichigami in the Lake Superior Basin and am of Celtic and Irish ancestry.” If I expand this further, “I am named Michael Lynn Wellman after my father. Michael, after the healer-warrior archangel. Lynn, from the Old Celtic Lenna, meaning sacred water source. Wellman, the people of that sacred water. My mother’s maiden name is Root, the people of the earth. Therefore, I am a healer-warrior for earth and waters.”

It is my prayer that this added complexity of intersections helps those participating in the Work That Reconnects find more depth in our relationship to ourselves, our fellow activists, and the rest of the more-than-human community as we turn towards a life-sustaining society.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” In Sister Outsider, 104–114. New York: Penguin Books, 2020.

Armstrong, Jeannette. “Community: Sharing One’s Skin.” In Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance to Globalization, edited by Jerry Mander and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, 34–39. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2006.

Davis, Angela, and Elizabeth Martínez, “Coalition Building Among People of Color,” Lecture, University of California – San Diego, San Diego, May 12, 1993.

Hope Studios. “Sakej Ward—Decolonizing the Colonizer.” Vimeo video, 56:36. Uploaded 2015.

Recorded by Molly Brown

Michael Lynn Wellman is a recent doctoral graduate from the Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Michael’s dissertation, “Rewilding Activism: Weaving Resistance, Reskilling, and Re-Membering,” is inspired by his time working with Joanna Macy and the Work That Reconnects. Michael is a father, husband, activist, and guide who lives on the shores of Gichigami (Lake Superior) on occupied Anishinaabek lands.

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