The Looking Glass Self: How we Think Others Perceive us

In the Keywords essay by Karen Coats, a person’s identity is argued to encompass a wide array of influences. Personal identity can be linked to all aspects of a person’s life: including but not limited to their religion, gender, socioeconomic standing, and race. The essay also gives light to the idea of the “looking glass self,” the notion that our sense of self is highly structured from how we think others perceive and react to us. The idea of the looking glass self, or seeing versus being seen is a prominent theme for Pecola’s character in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Pecola is a Black girl with brown skin and eyes, but the reader soon learns that she desires to have blue eyes. Pecola believes that the negative ways in which people treat her are a direct reflection of how she is seen. In attaining the blue eyes that she believes are beautiful, she thinks people would perceive and treat her better. Pecola’s wish for blue eyes is symbolic of the fact that she wants to see the world differently just as much as she herself wants to be seen differently. However, this only ends up making her blind to the reality she lives in and further deteriorates her self-esteem.

In the TV show Black-ish’s episode called “Hope,” there is a scene in which the entire family is sitting in the living room watching a news report on TV about police brutality. The two parents, Andre and Bow get into an argument over telling their children what should be the appropriate course of action to take if they are ever stopped by police in order to avoid a situation like this. The two start to fight because Bow tells the kids that if any altercation with a police officer were to happen, they should cooperate and do whatever the cop says. Andre disagrees because he does not confide in the police and argues that “the system is built against them” because they’re Black. The three young children can be seen looking very shocked and frightened by the news report, especially when their grandfather mentions that they themselves could have easily been the victims of a situation like this too. This scene is representative of the looking glass self because the children are visibly disturbed by the news of police brutality against a young, unarmed Black teen. They all are seen with puzzled and distraught expressions because they are wondering why their skin color is the reason a police officer might assume they’ve done something bad. The parents must have a talk with the children about how they as Black people must behave around police to avoid being harmed or killed. This discussion about how Blackness alone is enough to warrant a death sentence from the police is highly disturbing to the children and it makes them consider how police view them with regard to their skin color, as well as how they should behave based on this idea.

1 thought on “The Looking Glass Self: How we Think Others Perceive us”

  1. Hi Liliana, I really like your idea about “looking glass self”. I noticed that there are so many girls feel unconfident about their appearances, personalities or behaviors. Some of them were taught by others or education that they are not good as other racial groups. Some of them influenced by the public aesthetics about their bodies and appearances. They should look glass and find their own special advantages and beauties. The racial discrimination and others’ perspectives should not effect their own actions and minds. People live their own life, it’s waste time to care too much about others’ opinions.

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