By Keziah-Anne Abakah
Where do I begin?
The 21st century is unique for a variety of reasons, amongst many, one of its most unique attributes is the range of labels (and in the case of some no label) that it allows individuals to identify by.
Those who have had to live on the fringes of society and those who have previously hidden in and amongst society can in most parts of the world proclaim whom they are vocally, knowing that if understanding can’t be reached, they will at least be recognised.
In this day and age, we can identify as so many things in terms of sexuality, race, gender, societal hierarchy, personal philosophy and culture. It’s safe to say that the tick box for other (I never could stand those things, especially, when they were handed out at the doctor’s office) is well and truly being outcompeted.
As a Black British raised heterosexual Christian woman of the African diaspora, I have both the luxury and honour of being able to identify in any way I choose. If the values, labels or structures to which I hold myself change over the course of time - I can change, my identity can change.
It is a blessing bestowed on fewer individuals than one would think, and a blessing made possible by a combination of factors. My geographical location and the policies of my governing body being one of the most prominent factors. It is a blessing I never fail to acknowledge and one I never take for granted.
Growing up in the west- I’ll pause here to mention that I was born and raised in London, England (truly a culture hot pot) - and being born to African parents, the first decade, perhaps even the first two, are a struggle in terms of trying to map out your identity as an individual.
Pre –puberty you are what you are. You just accept the identity assigned to you by your family and peers, and friends of family because at nine years old how you identify yourself is the very last thing on your mind. Puberty comes, and you start to notice that a lot of the labels you were assigned as a child, a lot of the things you purposely chose to ignore, now need to be examined.
Your teenage to semi-adult years are the hardest, you have opinions that sometimes put you at odds with your friends, your family, or your religion. You don’t want to be designated as any one thing and eventually when you do want to be labelled it has to be handcrafted, self-assigned and telling of your exact worldviews.
When full-blown adulthood rolls around, and you’re in that twenty to twenty-five range you’ve more or less found your footing. You know who you are, you know how you wish to be identified and what follows is a tumultuous struggle to hold on in the face of an ever-changing world.
All back dropped against the never-ending struggle to identify as you without forgetting traditions and the values of your culture, while also not compromising so much that you forfeit the identity you’ve struggled so hard to carve out. I feel strongly that it’s a struggle particularly impressed upon African children but not solely restricted to us.
There’s also the dual struggle of trying to assimilate to the environment in which we are raised and only the lucky amongst us grow to find that there’s no need to.
When we speak of backdrops I cannot overlook the fact that I am black and this is 2020. There’s a lot to be made from that one statement alone but we’ll take it a step at a time.
To say that 2020 has been testing for those who identify as black and those who come from black communities would be putting things mildly. The atrocities that have gone on, namely the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery aren’t shocking. Horrific, without a shadow of a doubt, but not shocking and that in itself is the problem.
You’ll note that I distinguished between those who identify as black and those who come from black communities. I do so because there are a number of intricacies when it comes to being black, identifying as black and coming from a black community.
Being black is simple, you have melanin, it’s your skin colour and no amount of powder or Instagram filters can change it.
Identifying as black ties into more than just your melanin, you could be bi –racial and choose to identify with the non black side of your race, you could be light skinned or as some would say black by way of passing (black but based on looks alone no one would know this) and choose to neither acknowledge nor refute the identity of being black. There is a whole myriad of faucets when it comes to identifying as black.
Then we have those who come from black communities, these I classify as people who were raised in predominantly black environments and that could be due to a number of factors such as in-laws, family, geographical location and so much more.
There are no defined brackets when it comes to these three pieces of terminology, they intertwine and expand over vast branches that are very difficult to separate. What holds true for all of them is that someone, somewhere, will try to discredit you for one if not all of these terms to which you identify.
There will be that one person that tells you, you’re not black enough. There will be another person that tells you, you’re too black (Ghetto is usually synonymous with this) and there will be others that tell you, you couldn’t possibly understand what it is to be black just because you have 0.000001% of black in you.
Varying on situation and details, this can sometimes be true but more often than not it’s neither true nor of value when it comes to the conversation at hand. It speaks of the wider problem, the mother, so to speak, of all problems when it comes to identity, accepting people in the way in which they choose to identify.
It’s difficult and truly it is difficult, because sometimes how someone chooses to identify themselves and the pillars on which that particular identity are founded, can contrast so widely that you find it hard- if not impossible- to perceive that the two can be one.
Identities change, in the climate in which we live they change at neck breaking speed and regardless of if you agree with them showing a person, no matter how or who or what they chose to identify as - basic respect, can even out the ever changing landscape.
Our identities are so precious to us as individuals and I feel that this is because they speak of whom, where and what we belong to. Belittling this, erasing this, choosing to turn a blind eye to this doesn’t eradicate it from existence.
It’s tricky and beautiful and brutal and rigid and fluctuating- all at the same time.
So to you I say I D E N T I T Y . . .
don’t judge her too quickly.
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