Identity. This word resonates deeply with me. Identity is defined as ” the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” Simple right? Being what you are. Unfortunately, living this truth is much more complicated than it appears to be and not all of us have the privilege of living our true identity free from the pressure to conform. We live in a world of ego. This ego lets us allow others to label who we are, and hinders us from manifesting our identities, therefore keeping us from achieving our real purpose. Every ethnic group has labels, more commonly known as stereotypes. What matters though, is not that fact that others have chosen to label someone or a group based on ignorance, but the acceptance and reinforcement of these labels from these within ethnic communities. This brings me to the second installment of this series on how we can change the common Black girl narrative.
Identity lies on a broad spectrum made up of traits, values, likes/dislikes, and experiences. Identity is your soul’s fingerprint, belonging to you and only you. But unlike fingerprints, identity has not been accepted as fact. Far too often, we see identities that are not accepted, especially ones that don’t fit the social “norm.” I remember as a little girl, being told by my classmates and even family that I “acted white.” To this day, I don’t understand what was meant by that. I was sure that I was a little black girl, but I never defined my Blackness by the way I spoke or the music I listened to. As an adolescent, these taunts confused me down to my core. The very bedrock that was my identity was in question. I knew I was a black girl, my 4C hair and beautiful brown skin was enough confirmation for me. But now I had to convince others of my blackness. I adopted popular slang and begged my mom for the clothes that were trending among my peers. However, after I “changed” all of this, I still felt like an outcast.
As I began my career in the corporate world, I found that not only did I have to shed that adopted persona, but certain characteristics that contributed to my real identity were considered undesirable in this new environment. My hair, which I usually kept in long box braids, quickly changed to a standard sew-in, and I found myself consciously making sure that the top I bought or the nail color I chose, wasn’t too “ghetto.” It was here, in this paradoxical environment, that I realized that my identity, my truth, hung in a delicate balance of what everyone else wanted me to be.
So here it is, here is MY truth. My identity. I am a Black Woman, who enjoys wearing natural looking protective styles. I’m a nerd. I enjoy both pop-music and hip hop. I’m educated and professional, but I love being able to let my hair down around my friends. I’m a writer. I’m a terrible dancer (unless there’s tequila). This is MY truth, and at the age of 23, I’m able to accept my identity as ME, and I hope that as I age and grow, my identity continues to be multifaceted, not conforming to any one box that society wants to place me in.
My story, thankfully, is a milder version of what many Black women have to face today. There are so many of us that have to face discrimination out in the world, but what’s even more disheartening, is that we meet a lot of prejudice from our loved ones and others within our community. I’m pretty sure all of us have a story of a reaction from a loved one when we showed them an aspect of ourselves that didn’t conform to what they thought was acceptable.
Why It’s Important to Embrace Your Identity
It is my belief, that this type of behavior is damaging, especially when it occurs at a young age. When you are forced to suppress your true identity, it can keep you from achieving your purpose and true happiness can be hard to attain as an adult. Not living your true identity can show up in adulthood as a lack of direction, a feeling of unfulfillment, and subsequently finding ways to fill a void. We can change this narrative by encouraging our young girls to be themselves to the fullest extent. We should teach into their hearts that you shouldn’t be anyone except for your genuine self. By doing so, we can give a whole generation of women, the confidence they need to assume positions of leadership and to reach their highest potential.
As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to hear your stories, on how you manifested your identity and how it has impacted you.