It was brought to my attention that in my previous post “Stigma and Social Identity” may have been a tad inaccessible in its language. I even found myself reading a sentence a few times before I knew I understood it. I would like to provide a “translation” if you will because the content of Erving Goffman’s book “Stigma” is amazing and still relevant today.
When we first meet someone we give them a “social identity” based off of certain qualities we initially believe about them. These assumptions turn into what we expect from this person (rightly or wrongly). Goffman calls this a “virtual social identity”, it is created by us, the outsider. The qualities the individual actually has are called the person’s “actual social identity”.
For example: If you met an individual who was homeless you may expect them to be lazy, addicted to drugs and unintelligent (virtual social identity) but their “actual social identity” is that they are unemployed and have had difficulty finding a job because of a disability they acquired while in war.
It is important to note that not all virtual social identities are bad. I know for myself, many assume I am well off financially because I dress well, have a cellphone and a place to live. My actual social identity is that I am unemployed, have next to no money and rely on family to support me (I am grateful for the support!).
When a person gets upset about the stigma they are experiencing and lash out that is then blamed on the thing they are being stigmatized for. This response is then used to justify the stigma.
People are likely to support stigmatizing someone when the judgement does not directly apply to them.
In some cases people can directly change the thing they are being stigmatized for (for example: getting plastic surgery to fix a physical deformity). But this doesn’t mean that this person loses the stigma. They then become someone who had to fix something that was wrong with them.
This reminded me of the whole “once mentally ill, always mentally ill”. Even if you take the medication, do the therapy and have recovered, people will still see you as someone who used to have a mental health issue. It won’t leave you.
Hope this was helpful!