How do you define your identity? Is it determined by your family, neighborhood, or name? Is it influenced by your status, choices, or society? Depending on the person, it could be a combination of any of these. I think the bigger question is whether your identity is something you create or something you accept.
I came across a video by Franchesca about the challenges multi-racial people face. People responded to the question “I am a bi-racial person who…” with reflections on self-hatred, inner racism, and confusion. Some noted the feeling of not fitting in and being disappointed for not being exotic. Later, BuzzFeed produced a similar video where people noted the frustration of being misidentified and encouraged all multi-racial people to understand they do not need to fit in a mold that others think they should.
This discussion on identity comes up from time to time with the same issues and conclusions. I want to take this topic further to share with you, regardless if you are multi-racial or not, how much deeper this special identity is.
I am multi-racial. My family is from Liberia, Switzerland, and Ghana. I am a first-generation American. I grew up in a home where both of my parents are not the same color. Looking at my photo, could you guess any part of that? The “mixed” population includes a variety of shades and textures, but the stereotypical freckles, light eyes, and wavy hair seems to be the focus of everyone’s mixed fetish. I agree with those in the video how frustrating and sometimes exhausting it is to explain my heritage. Being questioned about your existence is never pleasant when people assume your lying. I have gone through phases where I kept my heritage a secret and felt lost in the process. Next, I would decide to be open and share with everyone and felt more isolated.
A word of advice to those who are not multi-racial and are trying to be-friend such a person, your knowledge of or exposure to the world does not define our identity. Intrigue and curiosity is welcomed, but do not isolate us for being unique. There is so much we can learn from each other.
Regarding the challenge to identify with all or one side of your heritage, there are a variety of ways this can be solved. A word of encouragement to my fellow multi-racial stars, you have the gift and opportunity to create your identity. This process is not easy. Believe me, it took years of confusion and disappointment for me to get to this point. Since my features do not announce my white heritage and most people approach and interact with me as a black woman, I never questioned whether or not I was black or white.
I do not fit in with my Swiss side…I mean my siblings and I are literally the black sheep of the family. In fact, my Swiss grandmother made a big sacrifice to follow her heart since part of her family disagreed with her choice to marry a black man. I do not fit in with my Liberian or Ghanaian side of the family for different reasons. Just how the shadow of slavery affects black Americans today, the shadow of colonization affects Ghanaians today. I tried to find my place there, but it was nowhere to be found. The Liberia (which was never colonized) my grandmother and mother loved no longer exists. Finding my place there has yet to be determined. I also do not fit in with the black American category. As I mentioned in a previous post about blacks vs Africans, we should be able to relate, but that is not always the reality. When I respond to the question, “where are you from?” with “I am from nowhere and everywhere,” I am not completely joking.
Thus, my identity continues to evolve. I appreciate all sides of my heritage and upbringing because it gives me more freedom. I am too complex for a check box or elevator pitch. I have a better sense of multiple cultures, which makes it easier to learn about other cultures and people. I have a global perspective on life, which enhances my strength and vision to see beyond the boundaries or limits society places on black women. I have a deeper empathy for suffering. I used to aspire to change the world, now I strive to just make a positive impact on everyone I interact with.
How do you define your identity? Let me know in the comments.
Wearing: The Limited blouse; H&M skirt; Aldo sandals