riley mccullough | unsplash
Reflecting on my journey to self-acceptance
I refuse to entertain our over-reliance on labels.
While I understand their capacity to consolidate and convey meaning, labels allow for unwarranted assumptions.
Research dating back to the early 20th Century indicates that the words we use to describe others, determine what we see. Otherwise stated, our perception is shaped by our beliefs. Psychologists understand this phenomenon as a predictive bias, also known as stereotyping.
As individuals, we are limited to perceiving the world from our unique points of view. This provides for a number of cognitive biases, many of which we unconsciously use. For instance, stereotyping stems from our expectations of others, based on their relation to identifiable social groups. When combined with categorical labeling, this bias transforms classifying words into critical, or criticizable, traits.
This being said, through the classification of people, places, and things, labels invite judgement. For instance, if I were to describe myself in a few words, you would begin to develop ideas about my personality, based on each description.
Consider the following fragments:
- Areligious writer.
- Liberal black woman.
- Bisexual digital native.
The list could go on, but my point is clear. As a person progresses through this list, they begin to form an image from implied information about my cultural background, social status, and personal interests. By the end, have they gathered a comprehensive picture or are their ideas merely disjointed thoughts?
Who did you see?
My greatest struggle lies in beating you to the punch. It’s almost impossible to do. In person, the 100-meter dash becomes a 5-kilometer course, and as the path morphs, I begin to stumble over my feet. Rather than adding to my complexity, factors such as the way I dress or wear my hair, and the shade of my complexion come into play as defining traits.
I am a person, not to be bound by superficial elements. It becomes harder to convey the full picture, when your bias concludes that you know me, based on parts of my whole — when I am defined by words that fail to capture my entirety.
In the same way, labels affect my self-perception, which is why I seek to define them as they fit in my life before allowing them to define me.
I am Black but not Black enough
Growing up, I was immersed in a black community. Most of the kids at my school were black (or other POC). Everyone who attended my church was black. And accordingly, all of my social experiences were fueled by black culture.
I didn’t really know where I belonged. I can’t remember if I felt this way in elementary school. Probably not, because the only obsession I can recall concerned tubes of overpriced petroleum from Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret/PINK.
However, in middle school, the feeling grew increasingly pronounced. Unpleasant experiences made me aware of the disconnect between myself and the community to which I belonged. Overtime, I felt like an outsider. The thing is, I wasn’t sure I wanted to belong.
Ninth grade marked the start of a new chapter in my life. I entered an environment where I was introduced to a range of personalities I hadn’t believed to exist. There were different activities to explore, including hiking, volleyball, and independent art. Best of all, there weren’t many limitations on who I could and couldn’t be. So, I created absurd music videos with my friends, joined compelling clubs, and celebrated Halloween.
Once I returned home, I understood that I didn’t belong. I wasn’t sure why, because for me it wasn’t about color or culture. I still had little understanding of the depth behind both. From my point of view, I still had friends who were black. So even if I had the darkest complexion, and our group was relatively diverse, the difference would never amount to color. It was about freedom, expression, and being — the nature of who you are.
That was my fresh start.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? I began to learn more about myself, made new friends, and for the first time I can remember, I really enjoyed life. I loved being alive.
Even so, I still hadn’t found a community, or a place that I wanted to call home.
Overtime, I found myself lost in the midst of it all.
People from both communities often called me, “oreo”— I won’t begin to discuss the absurdity of that term. Then, there were those who told me I had been born the wrong color. I even had people imply that I was white in disguise, from my name, to my interests, to the way that I speak. Getting this input from a number of different people can be confusing, and as I now understand, alienating. I began to lose any sense of who I was, trying to understand who I was supposed to be.
Am I not black enough? What am I doing wrong?
At some point along the way, I began to reject the color of my skin. Not because I wanted to be white. Not because I hated being black. Because I was confused. I didn’t understand the logic behind assigning character traits to a skin color. More so, I didn’t want to be defined by a color, inside or out. Having yet to learn about self-love, I fell into a place of hate, and under the unrelenting Arizona sun, my self-doubt deepened with the shade of my skin.
My Black is Black Enough
Here, I end where I began, stating that life is too complex to be confined. Over time I learned that my likes and dislikes can’t, and won’t, be summarized by one syllable.
I love music from independent artists, and my skin glows in the sun. I often dance off beat, and I still feel like I’ve won. My Birkenstocks and a large men’s tee are, to me, a killer look. I love museums, afternoon naps, and getting lost in a good book. I have plump lips, and a pronounced nose. I’ve learned to love them as I’ve grown. I am me, and my black is enough because I say so.
I refuse to be limited by “but’s,” “should’s,” or “if’s” because no one else can define my blackness.
To those who led me to doubt my self:
I was black enough to be targeted as the only dark-skinned girl in class.
I was black enough to be called, “blackie,” a nickname no one cared if I condoned.
And, I was black enough to be called a n*gger by white peers.
I am black enough to face discrimination, and to fear the police.
I am black enough to be judged based on my skin color, regardless of my personal beliefs.
And, I am black enough for dating profiles to reflect the statistical colorism that many choose to ignore.
My blackness is not defined by the way I speak, the beliefs I hold, or the company I choose to keep. It cannot be reduced to a genre, or a personality. It should not be contingent on who I love, or where I choose to live.
My Black is Beautiful, and My Black is More Than Enough.