A common phrase I’m sure most interracial people have heard is, “There’s no way you’re x, you act too y.” Fill in the blank with whatever you are, it all comes out the same.
Growing up, I found myself in a constant state of limbo with my two races and multiple ethnicities. The worst part is that my cultural backgrounds do not overlap in the slightest. On one hand is the Jamaican side, which has loud reggae music, sweet sugar cane dribbling down your chin, dancing without a care to staccato drum beats, and the scent of ackee and saltfish wafting from the kitchen. On another, (and equally as important) hand is the Cuban/Scottish mashup, which has barbecues, our family’s famous “granny’s chocolate cake” (which resembles more of a fudgey brownie with icing), visiting abuelo, with long bike rides and nerf gun battles that last until night time. I always won, but that’s beside the point.
Being with each side of the family would always evoke a different persona based on the cultural backgrounds of each. Therefore, when I wasn’t around my different families, I found myself almost in an identity crisis. Which am I supposed to be more of? This occurred especially in school, when classmates would say to me, “Skye, sometimes I forget you’re white, because you act so black.” In all honesty, how was I supposed to respond to that? Thanks? I’m sorry? Okay?
I was constantly self aware, wondering and worrying about what people thought about me.
Clearly, the concept of cultural identity was hard for me to grasp in my middle school years.
The AFS Intercultural Program gives a crisp definition of cultural identity, “the identity of a group, culture or an individual, influenced by one’s belonging to a group or culture”(Miladinovic). The thing that this doesn’t address, however, is how interracial people are supposed to identify themselves when belonging to two or more races.
WEB Dubois was the first to explore what he dubbed the “double consciousness” of the African American Negro. Basically, Dubois proposed that black people have two selves- the black self and the white, American self, and these selves are constantly struggling against each other. He writes,
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder”(Dubois).
I think he was right on the money, but perhaps he could have gone further with the concept. Or perhaps I can.
What does this theory of double consciousness mean for people who are interracial? Is there a triple consciousness? Quadruple consciousness? As time progresses will there be increasingly more “consciousnesses”? Even the word “consciousnesses” is not a real word because no one has thought it is possible to have more than one!
I think I have fully clarified my point here, that being interracial can be the source of so many identity crises. It's never been really addressed head on. Juggling different races and personas is difficult! So what did I do?
Forming Your Own Cultural Identity
I want you all to take a look at this image. For my media scholars program at the University of Maryland, we were challenged to create an abstract self portrait. This was meant to be the conglomeration of your public self, ideal self, and true self. Who you think you are is your true self. It is dynamic and always changing. Your ideal self is who you want to be, including your role models and important figures in your life. The final self is your public self, the self that you let others see. This is my abstract self.
As you can see, I used my two biggest role models- Audrey Hepburn and Bob Marley. Both represent such different cultures and ideals, and yet I aspire to have characteristics from each of them. I have my natural hair, which forms a huge part of my identity. I added some quotes that carry a lot of meaning to me, and I also included coffee, which also carries a lot of meaning to me. It is my life source.
I definitely challenge everyone to create an abstract self. It is strangely therapeutic and eye opening as to how we perceive ourselves.
I mentioned the abstract self assignment because it has taken me a long time to actually form that view of my three selves. I never thought it possible to include Bob and Audrey on the same page, along with curly hair and a CocaCola sign. It’s me though, it really is. I urge you to think of the cultural identities or “consciousnesses” within yourself, and know that they can be included onto one single page.
That page being you, of course.
These multiple "consciousnesses" are not isolated from one another. They coexist in your person. You don't have to be hot or cold. You don't need to only like science and not art. It is possible to find that balance in who you are and what you’re made of. Understand that your ethnicities have been mixed together perfectly to form you, and give you an extremely unique perspective on the world. It’s a blessing, not a curse.
All of this is to say be confident in who you are. Be proud of what you’re made of. You don’t need to worry about embracing too much or too little of anything, because it’s who you are. You do NOT need to prove it.
B., Du Bois W. E. The Souls of Black Folk: Essays and Sketches. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1961. Print.
Miladinovic, Milena. "Forming Your Cultural Identity |." AFS Intercultural Programs. N.p., 3 July 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.