There is so much to identity that does not meet the eye, yet it is what meets the eye that often describes who you are, at least to others—an African American teen girl or a black American teen girl is how I would have been described when I was about your age. And as the eyes swept over me, other factors such as my medium brown skin, the shape of my eyes, the size of my nose, and my medium length tightly coiled hair would have given more information in some way or another to the onlooker.
And presto, a peer, the teacher, the coach, the bus driver, whomever was sizing me up, had all they needed to know. After all I was unmistakably all the things they could see through their filters.
But what they couldn’t see, unless opportunity arose, were the identity markers that are not necessarily seen through the filters that make assumptions and conjure up stereotypes, filters that define, that demarcate.
People can’t see inside of you, how your true self is connected to all the other factors, even in their purest form, without the filters. They cannot see what makes you tick. And may this continue. It is up you to unveil that.
For example, the stereotype that girls are not as good as boys in stem subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths still exists. Inroads are being made to dispel this stereotype and other similar ones but we have a long way to go, as explained in this article in The Guardian.
Anyhow, here is the thing about stereotypes and assumptions, they are illusive and disempowering such as the belief that one race might be superior to another or one gender has more rights than the other(s). There has to be a way around pigeonholing, right. Otherwise, simply going along with it make a big difference in your life experience, the difference in whether you follow a dream or not, believe you can achieve something or feel that you belong.
For me it comes down to writing new stories. But how do we do that?
First, be who you are. Do not apologise! This starts with understanding your history, your heritage, your starting place and being aware of how other people might see this. They are the ones holding the assumptions and stereotypes, not you! Don’t misunderstand, I am not proposing that we all walk around with a chip on our shoulder. It will either get knocked off or weigh you down. But there is a middle ground, if you will.
For example, as a tween, well into being a teen girl I loved activities that were associated with boys, see what I mean by stereotypes. I played baseball, ran, rode a dirt bike, climbed trees and had a boy best friend, who was my next door neighbour. I was called a tomboy and only the other day fondly remembered those days. Harmless, right!
Maybe but why did I give up all these activities I loved ever so much. I didn’t write a new story. I lived in the one that was told to me, that I couldn’t be a girl and enjoy the same activities as boys. Lesson learned, embrace who you are. Do not turn yourself inside out to be someone else.
Next, don’t let Identity markers hem you into margins. Remember, negative connotations associated with your gender, race, nationality, your socio-economic status, your ability, your sexuality are not yours to own. Doing so is restrictive. Such thoughts as I can’t go to this and that school or play this or that instrument because of my….limits you.
Give it a go, if you’d really like to, and if there are institutional barriers, write a new story. Of course, it is not as simple as that but as the old saying goes, there is more than one way to do anything. I have seen two examples in the UK where women helped girls set up their own sports teams, one a basketball team and the other football. Lesson learned, do it your way!
Last but not least, self-love is so important for many reasons but one thing for sure is that when you are living outside of the box, you just might get criticised and not always constructively. Also, you don’t always get awarded for your efforts or the external validation that you think you deserve. Better to validate yourself, if you will. And I am not talking about bragging or throwing shade on others who perhaps got your props. The key is to keep improving your game, honing your skills and enjoying the experiences along the way. Lesson learned here is that learning to love yourself is a survival skill.
In the meantime, consider that identity is as much to do with what you are about (your character and so on) as it is to do with where you are from. And what you are about has a lot to do with where you are going.
Stay tuned for the new podcast series kicking off September 5. First up: Series 2, Episode 1: Your Identity Inside Out with Rachita Saraogi and Rebecca Thomson. It is all about you inside out.