For the majority of my life I have been surrounded with people from all over the world. In fact my friendship circle consists of British, Hungarian, Nigerian, Indian, Polish, Pakistani, Dutch & Bengali people and many many more. The clash of cultures has taught me to not merely tolerate and accept race, but to completely submerge into the cultures of others, embracing every difference. My problem, however, was never ‘getting used to’ or ‘blending in’ with people from other cultures as I was born into a multicultural society. My insecurities lay not within how I responded to others but rather how I perceived the way that other people would respond to me. This led to a tainted view on how I viewed my race and thus a large part of my existence. Of course now, as I’ve grown older I’ve learnt to embrace my own race just as I have everyone else’s. My puffy hair and hot chocolate coloured skin is nothing for me to be ashamed of, I am BEAUTIFUL and so are you.
Truthfully and thankfully I have never experienced hardcore racism of any sort. Throughout secondary school, particularly during the earlier years, I was labelled as an “Oreo” by some of my white peers (which I embraced) and “white” by my some of my black peers (which I didn’t embrace). In hindsight, it’s hard to pinpoint why exactly the different names had opposite effects on me. Perhaps being called an “Oreo” by white friends seemed playful, perhaps affectionate and accepting into their race (but I still couldn’t understand why I had to be an Oreo and not a chocolate digestive). On the other hand being labelled as “white” by my black friends came across as an insulting, cold hearted and rejecting from people of my own race. (I did have Asian, Mixed race and Hispanic friends, but they never labelled me anything in regards to race.) After a while I internalised these labels and saw myself as being black on the outside and white on the inside. Daft right?! I jumped on the bandwagon by starting to see race as a personality type, defining my racial identity by the interests I had and the labels set upon me. I often felt “too white” for my black friends and “too black” for my white friends. These feelings were and always will be a mistake. It is toxic to believe that hobbies, passions and interests are stamped with a racial barrier. I assure you that you can do and love ANYTHING that you want to do that empowers you regardless of your race and how others may perceive it. I begun to distance myself from many of my black peers (bar a few who I’m still friends with to this day, shout out to you gals!) because I didn’t feel as if I could relate to them. I often felt different from my extended family (we are Caribbean) as I felt that the perception my classmates had on me shone through at family gatherings. This caused me a lot of anxiety and led to me feeling very lonely within the most loving family for a period of time. I could not fathom why enjoying different types of music, speaking in a sophisticated manner, enjoying ballet and contemporary dance, hanging out with different people and speaking openly about mental health was classed as ‘white’ and why being or ‘acting white’ was seen as a betrayal to my heritage by my peers of colour. Likewise, I didn’t understand why my white friends felt they had to announce that I was a black person who perhaps enjoyed and embraced things that were stereotypically part of British culture. I just wanted to be me. I no longer feel any sort of anger or resentment towards any of these people for labelling me, they were (and many still are) my friends. We were all conditioned by the standards of society and I understand that they did not say it out of malice but rather because of societal pressure to conform to the norms.
Theories of being ‘colour blind’ are untestable. The key is to see race fully and actively choose to not define people by their outer appearance or cultural background. Understandably we live in a diverse society and so it should be without a doubt that we no longer define ourselves or each other by our race but I know some people around me still struggle with race and that’s okay. If I were to teach my younger, more insecure and vulnerable self and others one thing about race, it would be this. Cultural differences exist, but we all have the opportunity to unite. Dialect varies, but meaningful communication is universal. Traditions vary, but good morals are reflected in every nation. Racial history varies between cultures but unconditional love is what should bring us together and set us free. In essence the differences between our cultures should not tear us apart or cause us to fall into hatred and intolerance but rather bring us together, allow us to learn more about each other and cause us to grow in love and acceptance. There are more similarities between us all than differences. The YouTuber, ‘Prince Ea’ published a video a few years back about race and it was one of the most heartfelt videos I have ever come across. He posed the question “who would you be if the world never gave you a label?” His answer was “we would be one, we would be together” which as a girl who had struggled with societies interpretation of racial identity, spoke a lot of truth to me and was very comforting. (I’ll link the video down below).
I can only thank God for freeing me from the pressures of the world and allowing me to see myself as I was made. It was a journey to acceptance that I will never forget, one that I’ll cherish forever and one that I will use to help others who are going through the same thing. The human race in all it’s forms is beautiful. The multitude of cultures, races and nationalities that have surrounded me in my life this far have shaped who I am today. Forever and always embrace who you are and be open to learn about and love others.
Prince Ea – I am NOT Black, You are NOT White http://youtu.be/q0qD2K2RWkc