Finding Normal: Sarah's story
I come from a racially mixed background and have always had lots of different interests. I never had one best friend growing up, but rather a best friend for each of the different parts of my life: sports, school and social life.
I felt left out and alone a lot, and there never seemed to be any place or group of friends that I really fit in with. I was the jock that secretly loved to dress up, and the hip-hop and urban culture-loving girl that was involved in nearly every school extracurricular. I made no sense to anyone, least of all myself.
Throughout high school and the first part of college, I would change identities like a person would change hats. Sometimes I would dress really preppy and reveal myself for the avid bookworm that I was, and other times I would be in a jersey, fitted hat and some Jordans (all matching, of course). It was the best of worlds and the worst of worlds, because although I had an "in" with nearly every group and venue, there was never one group of people or one place that I could be completely me, not just a part of me.
I struggled especially with my racial identity. I am part African-American and identify very strongly with that part of my heritage, but in high school I wasn't accepted by the other black kids at school. I was made fun of for being too light-skinned, for "talking white," for apparently thinking I was better because I was in honors classes, etc.
I became very insecure in my identity as an African-American, and tried really hard to fit in with other black kids. I wore my hair braided, I dressed mostly in urban outfits, and I inserted as much "Ebonics" into my speech as possible. I even limited my music preferences to only "black" music: hip-hop, rap, and R&B. All of this just to be accepted for who I was by right.
When I got to Columbia University for my freshman year of college, I made sure I looked as "black" as possible so that the other black students would know I was black too, and would include me in their friend circles.
As I got to know the other black students though, I saw that I didn't need to limit my dress styles, speech, or music preferences to what had become popularized as black tastes. I was surrounded by black people who came from all over the world and from all different backgrounds. I was accepted in my new home just as Sarah, and slowly learned that I didn't need to "prove" my heritage to find acceptance.
In being welcomed without question, I found the courage to be confident in and happy with all parts of who I was. It was this security in my identity and self-worth that enabled me to simply be me, and not feel as though I needed to hide parts of myself or be different things to different people in order to be liked and included.
My heritage was an important part of who I was, but it wasn't all of who I was, nor was it something that others had to validate to be true. In that discovery, I finally found my own "normal"; that is, a single, integrated identity that was fully me. Normal, as I learned, can never be boxed into a single label
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I note the obvious differences between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
- Maya Angelou