A Story About Racial Identity
Change happens to everyone. Whether it is good or bad, we have to adjust, and what matters most is how we adjust to that change.
Fighting the change or pretending it did not happen usually creates more drama and conflict, but sometimes we just cannot help ourselves. Adjusting to change and finding a "new normal" is more productive and just feels better.
Sarah's Story About Racial Identity
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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Sarah Adams, college student writer
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013
"I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike."For More Information:
– Maya Angelou
See our teen story, A Positive Image.
See our teen story on race.