Today’s Song: Ani DiFranco.
I was flipping channels and CNN is broadcasting an installment of Who is Black in America? It made me think of my own decisions about how to identify myself.
Sometimes I tell my friends that I am almost the world’s most perfect minority. In addition to being Black, I am also Hispanic. A female, Mormon – all I need is a different sexual orientation and I wouldve hit the affirmative action jackpot. But being Mormon means saying I’m Black isnt simple, especially since I was raised outside of a Black community. In addition, not speaking Spanish, and having no connection to my father’s family, I have difficulty with claiming the Hispanic identity. In high school, my friends called me double-stuffed, which never really bothered me because it seemed accurate – I was Black on the outside and extra Mormon on the inside.
Going to college was the first time I was around a larger Black community, but my favorite comment when I told them I was Mormon was, “Um… you know you are Black right?” I still think its funny. I mostly hung out with minorities there – even the Mormons were minorities, mostly. But I didnt feel really connected to the Black students – I wasnt from NYC or Chicago or DC. In one class that was almost entirely Black, I was the person saying, “but Im sure they just dont understand and they arent deliberately trying to be awful.” Im pretty sure most people rolled their eyes at me and asked me why I was so conservative and naive. We were all having a tough year.
Choosing an identity under these circumstances is difficult. Once the social structure of being in the smart athletes group of high school was gone and the large Mormon social world disappeared once I moved East, it seemed harder to maintain a coherent identity. Add the normal part of growing up and deciding for yourself who you are – it just combined to make a frustrating stew. Politics aside, I read Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father during college. Really interesting good read. That book helped me think through who I was, so I could contain all the different parts of me in a way that might allow me to be whole.
The truth is Im probably not ever going to be one thing. I love other cultures too much to choose just one. Later this year, Im finally going to be leaving the country for the first time in 11 years to visit the Middle East and Im sure that will add another layer to the complexity. At this point, I embrace it. I used to think it was terrible to always be standing on the edge of the group. I went to college hoping to find people like me, and matched on different characteristics than I did with those I grew up with, but there was never a perfect alignment. Now, even though its still lonely sometimes, I realize that not belonging to any one group means I can belong to all of them (almost). From my perspective, its God’s gift to me. I will never lack for friends and a sphere to influence, because Im not restricted to any one area.
Im sure I will talk about identity again, since this was just a small random sampling of thoughts from the past 30 years. Im sure there are other ways to think about this than how Ive come down. So tell me – how do you craft your individual N of 1 status?
- “Who is Black in America?” Soledad O’Brien Tackles Racial Identity on CNN (clutchmagonline.com)