My main goal for writing this paper was honestly to express something that I had not ever really expressed to others but felt very strongly about. I wanted to write something that I could be proud of and that other people could read and hopefully understand what I had previously struggled so hard to say. When I started writing this paper I had thought that I would just talk about how society shouldn’t be allowed to affect your identity but as I wrote I realized that that’s not the case. My original opinion on societies affect on identity became a little different, and I now think that society and identity can go hand in hand, as I explain in the paper. I’m happy with the outcome of my essay and think that I did reach my goals from the beginning.
As a child I never understood why people from school who I had known for years would be surprised when my dad came in for parent teacher conferences. “Your dad's black?” Their face would be contorted with shock and disbelief. This would always confuse me. I never thought of my dad as black or mixed, or any race really, he was just my dad, but as these situations grew more in frequency I also grew to expect the shocked expressions. I would stand proudly next to my father, my broken elementary school smile there for all to see, and when conversations of ethnicity came up I was more than happy to state that my grandfather is from Jamaica. It suddenly seemed like for all of the previous times the question, your dad is black? were asked, there was an equal, if not greater amount of comments along the lines of, “It doesn’t count because you look white,” or “He’s light skinned anyways, you’re not really mixed” What does that even mean? I remember thinking. But as these phrases were drilled into my mind by my peers I started to wonder if I was mixed. I tried to correct people at first, but they would roll their eyes, say “Yeah, ok, but since you look white I’m just gonna say you’re white. It’s easier that way.”
Recently I have wondered how you get your identity. Do you receive it? Or do you create it? For most of my short life I have been under the impression that what others say about you, is what is true. Convinced that other people knew something that I would never be able to understand about myself, their words rang true in my mind, opinions turning to facts. In this way, society creates your identity and you then, receive it. This is not a bad thing; it can be helpful to get insight from others on who you are. It only becomes a bad thing when society refuses to acknowledge what you’ve decided is a part of your identity. So perhaps it’s the opposite, perhaps you create your identity and society is then the one who receives it. How they receive it, is not up to you.
What I notice more and more is that identity is influenced by both oneself and society. It is a give and take relationship, a balance that more people should understand. In a TED talks by Thandie Newton she says, “But the self is a projection based on other people’s projections.” I find that this quote has two meanings. The first being that you can show and express who you are, but you can also be shown parts of yourself that you didn’t even know existed. The second, that your identity comes only from what others have told you is your identity. The latter is what I experienced as a younger child. So many other people telling me what I am and what I am not that I accepted their opinions as correct and forgot my own.
Just because it’s a convenience for you to remember, and to put me in a box, doesn’t mean that you can. I am proud that I’m biracial. I love every part of my ethnicity and I am not ashamed to say that when you look at my family, you’ll see people whose skin contrasts their strong, dark brows and whose shoulders and cheeks turn a rosy pink in the sun. But that you will also see faces of cocoa and coffee, hair that twists, turns, and coils in the most intricately beautiful way. I am proud that when I stand with my cousins on my mother's side people say we have the same eyes and that when I stand with my grandfather on my father’s that no one can deny the resemblance. The shape of my brows, and placement of freckles a near replication. It is not just these physical similarities that connect me to all sides of my family, but our inner likeness, mostly overlooked. Little quirks that are more embedded in my DNA than any race. I know who I am and for anyone who tries to take away my identity, you can sure as hell bet that I’ll tell you, that I am a special breed of proud.