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"THE LOOKING-GLASS SELF" CHARLES HORTON COOLEY Human Nature and the Social Order (New York: Scribner's, 1902), 180-185.

That the “I” of common speech has a meaning which includes some sort of reference to other persons is involved in the very fact that the word and the ideas it stands for are phenomena of language and the communicative life. It is doubtful whether it is possible to use language at all without thinking more or less distinctly of some one else, and certainly the things to which we give names and which have a large place in reflective thought are almost always those which are impressed upon us by our contact with other people. Where there is no communication there can be no nomenclature and no developed thought. What we call “me,” “mine,” or “myself” is, then, not something separate from the general life, but the most interesting part of it, a part whose interest arises from the very fact that it is both general and individual. That is, we care for it just because it is that phase of the mind that is living and striving in the common life, trying to impress itself upon the minds of others. “I” is a militant social tendency, working to hold and enlarge its place in the general current of tendencies. So far as it can it waxes, as all life does. To think of it as apart from society is a palpable absurdity of which no one could be guilty who really saw it as a fact of life.

“Der Mensch erkennt sich nur im Menschen, nur
Das Leben lehret jedem was er sei.”

People only recognize themselves in other people

Only life teaches each of us who we are.

If a thing has no relation to others of which one is conscious he is unlikely to think of it at all, and if he does think of it he cannot, it seems to me, regard it as emphatically his. The appropriative sense is always the shadow, as it were, of the common life, and when we have it we have a sense of the latter in connection with it. Thus, if we think of a secluded part of the woods as “ours,” it is because we think, also, that others do not go there. As regards the body I doubt if we have a vivid my-feeling about any part of it which is not thought of, however vaguely, as having some actual or possible reference to some one else. Intense self-consciousness regarding it arises along with instincts or experiences which connect it with the thought of others. Internal organs, like the liver, are not thought of as peculiarly ours unless we are trying to communicate something regarding them, as, for instance, when they are giving us trouble and we are trying to get sympathy.

“I,” then, is not all of the mind, but a peculiarly central, vigorous, and well-knit portion of it, not separate from the rest but gradually merging into it, and yet having a certain practical distinctness, so that a man generally shows clearly enough by his language and behavior what his “I” is as distinguished from thoughts he does not appropriate. It may be thought of, as already suggested, under the analogy of a central colored area on a lighted wall. It might also, and perhaps more justly, be compared to the nucleus of a living cell, not altogether separate from the surrounding matter, out of which indeed it is formed, but more active and definitely organized.

The reference to other persons involved in the sense of self may be distinct and particular, as when a boy is ashamed to have his mother catch him at something she has forbidden, or it may be vague and general, as when one is ashamed to do something which only his conscience, expressing his sense of social responsibility, detects and disapproves; but it is always there. There is no sense of “I,” as in pride or shame, without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they. Even the miser gloating over his hidden gold can feel the “mine” only as he is aware of the world of men over whom he has secret power; and the case is very similar with all kinds of hid treasure. Many painters, sculptors, and writers have loved to withhold their work from the world, fondling it in seclusion until they were quite done with it; but the delight in this, as in all secrets, depends upon a sense of the value of what is concealed.

I remarked above that we think of the body as “I” when it comes to have social function or significance, as when we say “I am looking well to-day,” or “I am taller than you are.” We bring it into the social world, for the time being, and for that reason put our self-consciousness into it. Now it is curious, though natural, that in precisely the same way we may call any inanimate object “I” with which we are identifying our will and purpose. This is notable in games, like golf or croquet, where the ball is the embodiment of the player's fortunes. You will hear a man say, “I am in the long grass down by the third tee,” or “I am in position for the middle arch.” So a boy flying a kite will say “I am higher than you,” or one shooting at a mark will declare that he is just below the bullseye.

In a very large and interesting class of cases the social reference takes the form of a somewhat definite imagination of how one's self--that is any idea he appropriates--appears in a particular mind, and the kind of self-feeling one has is determined by the attitude toward this attributed to that other mind. A social self of this sort might be called the reflected or looking glass self:

“Each to each a looking-glass
Reflects the other that doth pass.”

As we see our face, figure, and dress in the glass, and are interested in them because they are ours, and pleased or otherwise with them according as they do or do not answer to what we should like them to be; so in imagination we perceive in another's mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends, and so on, and are variously affected by it.

A self-idea of this sort seems to have three principal element: the imagination of our appearance to the other person; the imagination of his judgment of that appearance, and some sort of self-feeling, such as pride or mortification. The comparison with a looking-glass hardly suggests the second element, the imagined judgment, which is quite essential. The thing that moves us to pride or shame is not the mere mechanical reflection of ourselves, but an imputed sentiment, the imagined effect of this reflection upon another's mind. This is evident from the fact that the character and freight of that other, in whose mind we see ourselves, makes all the difference with our feeling. We are ashamed to seem evasive in the presence of a straightforward man, cowardly in the presence of a brave one, gross in the eyes of a refined one, and so on. We always imagine, and in imagining share, the judgments of the other mind. A man will boast to one person of an action--say some sharp transaction in trade--which he would be ashamed to own to another.

It should be evident that the ideas that are associated with self-feeling and form the intellectual content of the self cannot be covered by any simple description, as by saying that the body has such a part in it, friends such a part, plans so much, etc., but will vary indefinitely with particular temperaments and environments. The tendency of the self, like every aspect of personality, is expressive of far-reaching hereditary and social factors, and is not to be understood or predicted except in connection with the general life. Although special, it is in no way separate--speciality and separateness are not only different but contradictory, since the former implies connection with a whole. The object of self-feeling is affected by the general course of history, by the particular development of nations, classes, and professions, and other conditions of this sort.


There are three main components of the looking-glass self:

  • First, we imagine how we must appear to others.
  • Second, we imagine the judgment of that appearance.
  • Finally, we develop our self through the judgments of others.


Growing up I experienced a lot of colorism, especially within my family. Colorism is a practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. Light skinned vs. dark skin was a especially huge issue and directly effected my view on beauty.
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My cousin and I are literally born a day apart but due to our skin tones my Grandma brought us very different gifts.


In the African-American culture the stigma of good and bad hair are taught at an early age. Growing up, I faced this and thought that I was inferior to those who had long straight hair. The young lady in the clip below faces expulsion because her natural hair is said to be a "distraction". The school wants her to straighten it to prevent being expelled.
African-American Girl Faces Expulsion Over Natural Hair


These movies are very different but both address the "Good and Bad Hair" epidemic in African- America culture and how many view who they are due to the texture of their hair.
"Good & Bad Hair" From School Daze (HD)
Good Hair ft. Chris Rock- HD Official Trailer


It wasn't until three years again that I began to embrace my hair in its natural state. Wearing my hair natural causes people of all backgrounds (especially non blacks) to question, stare, and form opinions about who they think I am and what I stand for. I have often had people ask to touch my hair or my daughters hair, sometimes people have even done so without permission. The clip below deals with these issues in the form of a "exhibit" giving people the opportunity to touch and question their hair.
you can touch my hair, a short film (part 1)
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India.Arie - I Am Not My Hair ft. Akon


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Example of racial discrimination
Everybody Hates Chris S1EP21 - Racial Discrimination


Although perceived to be a certain to their race, stereotypes can take on may forms. People make assumptions also based on gender, class, age, etc. The image below highlights a few of those.
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Although, Tupac Shakur liked to portray himself as a "thug", those that knew described him to be more like rose he describes in the poem "The Rose That Grew From Concrete".
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Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack

In the concrete

Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned 2 walk

Without having feet

Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams

It learned 2 breathe fresh air

Long live the rose that grew from concrete

When no one else even cared!

2Pac´s The Rose That Grew From Concrete Trailer (2PacLegacy.Net)


In the lyrics, "Sincerely Jane", artist Janelle Monae describes why she left Kansas City, Kansas and how the environment effected her. I, as well as past students can relate to what she describes and long for something better.
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Janelle Monáe - Sincerely, Jane.


1. Left the city, my momma she said don't come back home

These kids round' killin each other, they lost they minds, they gone
They quittin' school, making babies and can barely read
Some gone off to their fall, lord have mercy on them
One, two, three, four, your cousins is round' here sellin' dope
While they're daddies, your uncle is walking round' strung out
Babies with babies, and their tears keep burning, while their dreams go down the drain now

Chorus: Are we really living or just walking dead now?
Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels
The way we live
The way we die
What a tragedy, I'm so terrified
Day dreamers please wake up, we can't sleep no more

2. Love don't make no sense, ask your neighbor
The winds have changed; it seems they have abandoned us
The truth hurts, and so does yesterday
What good is love if it burns bright, and explodes in flames
(I thought every little thing had love but uhh)

Chorus: Are we really living or just walking dead now?
Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels
The way we live
The way we die
What a tragedy, I'm so terrified
Day dreamers please wake up, we can't sleep no more

3. I've seen them shootin' up funerals in they Sunday clothes
Spending money on spinners but won't pay college loans
And all you gangers and bangers rollin' dice and taking lives, in a smokey dark
Lord have mercy on you
Teacher, teacher please reach those girls in them videos
The little girls just broken Queen, confusing bling for soul
Danger, there's danger when you take off your clothes, all your dreams go down the drain girl

Chorus: Are we really living or just walking dead now?
Or dreaming of a hope riding the wings of angels
The way we live
The way we die
What a tragedy, I'm so terrified
Day dreamers please wake up, we can't sleep no more

We live and then we die, and we never know the why
So now, now we go, down underground
We think that we can fly, but we never touch the sky
So down, now we go, down underground

Five, seven, eight, two, one
It is now time, for you to come home my dear
You've been gone long enough
You must come, you must go


Dear Jane,

I had my 9th grade students analyze the theme in your song; “Sincerely Jane.” I was blown away with their responses, especially with a lot of my male students, ones that are considered “street,” and don’t typically get excited about school, especially English class. My students responded impeccably and were taken a back with the lyrics, I couldn’t believe how captivated they were because a lot of them are stuck in a box and afraid to step out of it, especially when it comes to music. “This song goes hard”, or “she talking about real stuff” were some of the responses, your lyrics have set the tone for my classroom, and I am so thrilled. They too see these issues in our community but they feel stuck, yet seek change.

"I am you.” That is what I tell my students. I observe them and remember that I too walked the halls of the very same building. I too was a teenager, insecure, eager to impress, easy to please. I had no role models, no one that pushed me or spoke to me personally. I had no one outside of my parents that truly saw my potential the way I see my students, as a diamond in the rough. I tell my students where I grew up and immediately get “street cred.” Due to this, I relate to their surroundings. I am the role model that I longed for. I inspire excellence when no one else dares. I take it personally when teachers say, “These kids can’t…” What do you mean? I am “these kids,” and I did. My children are “these kids,” and they will.

My students bring so much of themselves into my classroom: their race, age, gender, beliefs, prejudices, baggage and more. Teaching literature allows one to open students up to other perspectives, but for many of them, their lack of exposure to things outside of their community, causes them to quickly reject the outside views of text. I ask myself is it okay to be a product of your environment or even the bigger personal question: “Am I”? Furthermore, if I am a product of my environment, the same environment my students are from, does that make me inferior to my co-workers? Why do I have to change the way I speak? Why do I have to wear this mask? If I struggle with my identity as an African- American adult, imagine my minority students, specifically my African-American, Hispanic and Asian students and how they must feel when their way of life is being challenged by my counterparts and me. How do I strategically use the cultural experiences of my students to connect not only to literature and writing, but also as a means of defining a better sense of self, family, community, and the world? How do I use literacy to encourage my students to strive for excellence?

I try to embrace my students’ thoughts. I love to hear their stories. I like it when they feel comfortable enough to disagree with me. I often deliberately play the devil’s advocate and they don’t back down; it shows me that they are thinking critically. This also makes me a better teacher. It makes me research and admit that I don’t have all the answers. I often try to change their perspective, when so often I find that I need to change mine instead because sometimes my view is the one that is limited. From time to time, I am the one with the lessons to learn. My students have taught me that when they appear to be rough on the outside, it’s only because they are protecting what is soft in the inside. My students have taught me that teachers have to sometimes be punching bags, something that can handle the pain without hitting back. They taught me that it is okay to laugh, more than anything, at my own mistakes. Other students taught me that sometimes the streets are more appealing than the classroom. While others have taught me that sometimes you fight to be seen; especially when the classroom is the only place you are noticed.


Zora Neale Hurston wrote the novel that changed me "Their Eyes Were Watching God" and the essay "How it Feels to be Colored Me". In this essay she describes when she realized what it meant to be a woman of color and how she doesn't allow her race to limit or define who she is.


How It Feels to Be Colored Me

Zora Neale Hurston

I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.

I remember the very day that I became colored. Up to my thirteenth year I lived in the little Negro town of Eatonville, Florida. It is exclusively a colored town. The only white people I knew passed through the town going to or coming from Orlando. The native whites rode dusty horses, the Northern tourists chugged down the sandy village road in automobiles. The town knew the Southerners and never stopped cane chewing when they passed. But the Northerners were something else again. They were peered at cautiously from behind curtains by the timid. The more venturesome would come out on the porch to watch them go past and got just as much pleasure out of the tourists as the tourists got out of the village.

The front porch might seem a daring place for the rest of the town, but it was a gallery seat to me. My favorite place was atop the gate-post. Proscenium box for a born first- nighter. Not only did I enjoy the show, but I didn't mind the actors knowing that I liked it. I usually spoke to them in passing. I'd wave at them and when they returned my salute, I would say something like this: "Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin'?" Usually the automobile or the horse paused at this, and after a queer exchange of compliments, I would probably "go a piece of the way" with them, as we say in farthest Florida. If one of my family happened to come to the front in time to see me, of course negotiations would be rudely broken off. But even so, it is clear that I was the first "welcome-to-our-state" Floridian, and I hope the Miami Chamber of Commerce will please take notice.

During this period, white people differed from colored to me only in that they rode through town and never lived there. They liked to hear me "speak pieces" and sing and wanted to see me dance the parse-me-la, and gave me generously of their small silver for doing these things, which seemed strange to me for I wanted to do them so much that I needed bribing to stop. Only they didn't know it. The colored people gave no dimes. They deplored any joyful tendencies in me, but I was their Zora nevertheless. I belonged to them, to the nearby hotels, to the county-- everybody's Zora.

But changes came in the family when I was thirteen, and I was sent to school in Jacksonville. I left Eatonville, the town of the oleanders, as Zora. When I disembarked from the river-boat at Jacksonville, she was no more. It seemed that I had suffered a sea change. I was not Zora of Orange County any more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways. In my heart as well as in the mirror, I became a fast brown-- warranted not to rub nor run.

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of


Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world--I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said "On the line!" The Reconstruction said "Get set!"; and the generation before said "Go!" I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep. Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think--to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.

The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.

I do not always feel colored. Even now I often achieve the unconscious Zora of Eatonville before the Hegira 1. I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

For instance at Barnard.2 "Beside the waters of the Hudson" I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, overswept by a creamy sea. I am surged upon and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.

Sometimes it is the other way around. A white person is set down in our midst, but the contrast is just as sharp for me. For instance, when I sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes. We enter chatting about any little nothing that we have in common and are seated by the jazz waiters. In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one plunges into a number. It loses no time in circumlocutions, but gets right down to business. It constricts the thorax and splits the heart with its tempo and narcotic harmonies. This orchestra grows rambunctious, rears on its hind legs and attacks the tonal veil with primitive fury, rending it, clawing it until it breaks through the jungle beyond. I follow those heathen--follow them exultingly. I

1 Exodus or pilgrimage: Hurston refers here to the migration of millions of African Americans from the South to the North in the early 20th century. (All notes from Norton Field Guide to Writing with Readings unless otherwise cited)
2 Barnard: Barnard College in New York City, where Hurston received her BA in 1927.


dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai3 above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. I want to slaughter something--give pain, give death to what, I do not know. But the piece ends. The men of the orchestra wipe their lips and rest their fingers. I creep back slowly to the veneer we call civilization with the last tone and find the white friend sitting motionless in his seat, smoking calmly.

"Good music they have here," he remarks, drumming the table with his fingertips.

Music! The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt. He is far away and I see him but dimly across the ocean and the continent that have fallen between us. He is so pale with his whiteness then and I am so colored.

At certain times I have no race, I am me. When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue, Harlem City, feeling as snooty as the lions in front of the Forty- Second Street Library, for instance. So far as my feelings are concerned, Peggy Hopkins Joyce4 on the Boule Mich with her gorgeous raiment, stately carriage, knees knocking together in a most aristocratic manner, has nothing on me. The cosmic Zora emerges. I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.

I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It's beyond me.

But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond5, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knifeblade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two, still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place--who knows?

3 Assegai: a weapon for throwing or hurling, usually a light spear or javelin made of wood and pointed with iron. (Wikipedia)
4 American actress and celebrity (1893-1957). Boule Mich: Boulevard St. Michel, a street on the left bank of Paris.

5 A diamond of the highest quality (


I remember growing up happy

I always had a smile on my face





Cared for

Sought after


Hugs and Kisses

Words that have healed the wounds of the stares and glares of people

People who didn’t know me

Outsiders that have their mind made up

These people

And their dysfunctional counterpoints

Judgmental tears at my mind

Ripping at my soul

Blocked by Faith

Chopped and Dissected

Locked not Infested

Rocked, no I will not be moved

“When I think of a place where loves overflowing”

No I am not Dorothy but I a from KC

And there is no place like home

The road I choose to travel down

Thou I would like to ease on down

It has been bumpy

The road that has been less traveled

This Place

That Space

This Place

That space that so many come and have the audacity to say to my face

“That’s where you’re from” like I am a disgrace

“That’s where you lived” with such a distaste

But look at me now

I’m getting that paper

Not the kind that you bend and spend

But the kind of paper that you work hard to uphold

The type of paper that colleges behold

Yeah, I am proud

I’m from the dot and can tell that your not

I’m from the dot and can tell that your not

My head is not bowed

Because I’m farther then they thought

I am my neighborhood

My Block

My Hood

34th Street

This is where I’m from

Many appeared to be stunned

Many appeared to be stunned

I am Tupac’s rose busting from the concrete

Breaking through the cement

Don’t pluck me

For my roots are strong

Buried so deep

The hood in me

I can not retreat

It’s buried so deep

Its in my step

The way I walk

My head isn’t bowed

This sista

Your sista is proud

I can’t retreat

It’s buried so deep

I remember

I haven’t forgot

We didn’t have much

But I was happy

Never bored

A little ghetto girl

Playing in the sun

Sometimes I heard the sound of the gun

For some reason I was unafraid and did not run

Didn’t allow it to ruin my fun

I am the diamond in the rough

Oh how I shine

My story had just begun

Changing the perceptions of others is what I done

Remembering that it only takes one

Changing the perceptions of others is what I done

Remembering that it only takes one