I was raised solely by my mother’s family and with that, meant I identified as a young girl and now as a young woman, strongly with my East-African roots.
As a young girl, I struggled tremendously with my ethnic identity. I wanted to stand out and be noticeably mixed, but where I have always been a little paler than other mixed race girls and my natural hair wasn’t as curly as it is now, I really struggled to portray myself as ‘mixed’. It would usually come down to people meeting my mother or my grandmother before they classified me as being mixed race as well and that was something that I hated, because I felt like fitting in to social circles was made a lot harder because I was constantly waiting for validation.
I naturally wanted to be friends with all the black girls, because that was what I was surrounded by in my family. Going to school in Kenya, especially when I was in boarding school, was an intense experience for me. I’d had some very uncomfortable social experiences and I was bullied pretty much throughout my whole boarding school life, combined with the fact I was already really unsure of ‘who I was’ at around fifteen years old, so I began quite vigorously to dislike who I was both on the inside and out and that then reflected in my personality and my actions thereafter. Some of the uncomfortable exchanges I’d experienced would involve other mixed race girls, which made it seem to me as though there was no real unity that I’d seen in other ethnic groups.
I think naturally at this point in your life you are very unsure of yourself because you reach that stage where you’re transitioning into a young adult so you’re stuck fighting a lot of your insecurities independently. With myself I felt that I was fighting a handful and a half of insecurities which was extremely frustrating but also quite detrimental to me when trying to determine my self-identity overall.
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that even to this day I relate a huge part of my racial identity with the natural texture of my hair and for that reason I am very proud and boastful of my hair because it’s a real connector between my ethnicity and I, but also it’s just that thing that makes me feel comfortable; it’s hard to explain in words and in writing!
What’s made things awkward for me along the way is in social situations, where I’ve met people I wouldn’t naturally gel with who feel to characterise their hateful opinions or experiences onto me. My most recent experience with this is when at University I had been told that I was the wrong skin colour, in a room full of people where I was the lightest and probably the most insecure. It really had a detrimental effect on the way I would look at myself and this, amongst other experiences had caused me to almost hate myself, transitioning back (mentally) into the younger Ally, overwhelmed by personal flaws. That might sound really extreme to some, but where I was surrounded by people that were careless with their words and actions and this wasn’t the first experience such as this, it caused me to question my confidence in my own skin repetitively.
Now, if this was to be depicted in the opposite way:
‘A black girl is told she is too dark and has the wrong skin colour in a room full of light- skinned girls by a light-skinned boy.’
Naturally anyone would associate this with racism, because it is! Why then, is it not so easily identifiable when it is the other way around?
Now looking at the other side of things and as already mentioned, I was solely raised by my mother and my grandmother which in itself can cause a little self-doubt when lacking a father figure at home. Once, a member of my biological father’s family had referred to myself and my sister as ‘half cast’. Although it had very little impact on myself because now at 23 I’m ‘half cast and proud‘ I know it could have had a more compromising effect on my sister-luckily it did not.
So, combined with the fact that I have experienced these kind of unfortunate events, how and when did I become to love the reflection in the mirror?
I think the biggest thing is that I learnt to surround myself with people who truly like me for who I am and more than it being a ‘colour thing’ which took me a while to realise. I began to strengthen friendships based on similarities in our personalities rather than off of cultural similarities. Now, with friends who I can count solely on one hand, yes-with African backgrounds alike, I know that I’m unlikely to find myself in a social setting where I’d be humiliated like I’ve been before.
On a more personal note, I love who I am. I love my diversity and I love my life story because it’s exactly that which makes me and many other people whom come from similar backgrounds regardless of skin tone, unique! I’m very fortunate that my grandmother and mother really instilled into me the beauty of acceptance and understanding other cultural diversities. I also truly believe and have seen in my growth that confidence is more than skin deep; once you overcome one battle you will be faced with another-it’s up to you to determine how you conquer that. Finally, I really feel that from a young age I was searching for acceptance, whereas now I have quite a strong ‘I don’t give a crap’, relentless attitude which means I no longer search for acceptance from others, but rather deeply within myself.
I’d like to close with my favourite quote, by my FAVOURITE poet of all time. (I even have a quote from one of her poems tattooed on my ribs!)
‘It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.’-Maya Angelou