Who are we?
Identity crises inevitably enter into various developmental and transitional phases of a young person’s life. Throughout most of our lives, we’ve spent time trying to figure out “Who” we are and to understand what defines us. Seemingly, this would occur when a young person goes through a significant adjustment to their routine in life. More than likely, a young person seems to find their sense of “self” starting in the teen years and continues to grow and mold into their own unique adult self.
But, what happens when a young person confuses their very existence for no other reason than because of what others around them project unto them? What if historic systemic & oppressive classifications that their world created long before their birth have trickled down into their time of self-discovery?
Who am I?
Throughout my younger years, I never questioned who I was. I was a daughter and a sister. I was a friend and a cousin and a student. I was Katrina.
I began to question who I was when I was around 7-years-old. Walking into a grocery store, as I would every weekend with my mother, I heard a white man yell across the parking lot over to us. My ears took a hot minute to decipher his commentary after I heard his angry tone in our direction.
“What are you doing with that N***r!?”
This was the sentiment he’d screamed to a quiet Chinese immigrant mother and her 7-year-old daughter minding their own business as they walked into a Kash n’ Karry to grab groceries for the week.
My mother put her hands over my ears and rushed me into the store. We talked silently together through a few aisles before I asked my mom what the word he said meant, as he’d said it with so much angst and rage. She told me that what the man said didn’t matter and to not listen to stupid people. To me, it mattered.
Always wanting to fit in
My elementary and pre-teen years grew only more confusing after that situation. I slowly began to notice how I was the only brown girl in many situations and circles. I would go to sit at one table in the lunchroom only to feel ostracized, and then sit at another only to feel as if I wasn’t being true to my own self.
The constant slew of microaggressions (what I would much rather call subtle acts of exclusion, thanks to Tiffany Jana) was insurmountable:
“Where are your parents really from?”
“What are you anyway?”
“But you’re not really black”
When I was younger, I felt a need to respond to these sorts of jabs. As I grow older, I realize I owe no one anything and that those saying these sorts of things are the ones who need to take a good look in the mirror to understand why they feel the need to even care.
Realizing I had it backward
I’d spent years trying to “fit in” when that shouldn’t have been my focus. My focus should always be to remain 100% authentic to myself without code-switching and trying to blend into various circles around me. My focus should have been on loving my whole self, as a Black Chinese woman who enjoyed creativity and anything that challenged me intellectually. My focus should have been on dreaming gigantic dreams that included anything that didn’t fit me into a pretty box to conform to the world around me. I had it backward the whole time. I became full of misguided energy …
The responsibility remains in all of us to embrace others for their beautiful differences instead of loving them in spite of them. The responsibility existed in those around me to create mutual understanding with me as a human instead of being consumed with digging deeper to find out more about the “What” instead of the “Who.” Well-meaning people, good people, can do this just the same. Just because someone is a “Good Person” doesn’t mean that they don’t harbor misunderstanding or ignorance from the influences and people around them. Well-meaning, good people still need to take moments of self-reflection to debunk and heal biases within them that can lead to the exclusion of other humans.
I was born BELONGING. We are all BORN BELONGING.
The world around us can skew our sense of belonging and keep our eyes off of the ball. Exclusionary acts happen on a daily basis to make beautiful young humans feel as if they aren’t as truly special as they are.