Society wants us to conform to the standard and to not push back. And while we talk a lot about the large systemic forces behind this. It’s our everyday encounters that reinforce it.
From the strangers we meet, to teachers, co-workers (and sometimes even family members), we come across people who don’t understand what it’s like to be us. And will try to get us to buy into their misconceptions that keep us from feeling secure and empowered.
So let’s run down a few of the scenarios we’ll encounter:
Feeling Out Of Place
We are told repeatedly that we will never be able to be at peace with ourselves since we don’t fit into one category. We’re doomed to always wish we were one or the other, and can never reach a full understanding of ourselves and the cultures we come from.
What’s forgotten is that we’re more than just the color of our skin or the culture that our parents came from. It enhances part of who we are, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The pressure to choose comes from the outside, that wants to claim us as part of their “team.” And if we don’t want to pick one or the other, then we must not have the ability to be whole.
We don’t need anyone else to tell us how we should be. Each person has the right to choose how they see themselves for themselves. It’s not up to anyone else to define it. When we try to live by someone else’s standards, we are doing ourselves a disservice by not focusing on what our own values are. When we focus on those, then the pull to satisfy the requirements of our peers become less of a burden.
Our peers, and sometimes even our parents, can put pressure on us to conform. All people want to be accepted, and when you add race into the mix it becomes more complicated. Sometimes we can find ourselves going “all in” on one part of our ethnicity to show that we belong and that we’re “down for the cause”.
But the key to remember is that there are no gatekeepers to culture. There’s no test we have to pass or criteria we have to follow. There’s not a certain way we have to look, talk or dress to know where we come from and how that influences our personal viewpoint. We just have to explore and make our own decisions on who we think should guide us.
Being the Outsider
On the flip side of being pressured to conform is being told that we’ll never be enough. We’ll never truly belong or know what it’s like to live the experience of one or maybe all of our ethnicities. I’ve encountered this primarily on an individual basis, and more often than not it’s coming from a place of insecurity.
The easiest way to lift yourself up, without working on yourself, is to tear someone else down. To make them responsible for the things you’re not confident in yourself. And people of color have been made to feel like the lesser parts of humanity for centuries. So it’s only natural that when someone like us comes along that some can view it as a threat. Because to look yourself in the mirror and accept what you don’t like about yourself is the hardest thing that one can do. We don’t have to be the scapegoats. We’re not the representatives of injustice or the great hope of the future. We’re all just different looking people, with a unique background.
We each have our own experiences and pain that no one can fully understand. But we possess the capacity to empathize, and so the notion that we have to have lived the exact experience as someone else to be their ally is false. Nothing has ever been accomplished in a vacuum, and progress is only made by working together.
So when you’re told that you can’t understand, or that you aren’t enough, that’s not a judgement of you. That’s someone who is still judging themselves.
Picking a Side
Some will tell you that there is no mixed. That society won’t let you embrace being multiracial and you need to pick a side. Or you’re asked which one you prefer over the other. This might be the most offensive, as this is asking you to deny part of yourself in order to satisfy how someone else sees you. To declare that one part of your personal history is better than the other.
Ethnicity and culture aren’t like sports. We’re not picking teams. Whenever I’ve been asked which side I consider myself, the answer has always been I don’t.
Because I know whatever I might feel about myself, someone else’s perspective may change based completely on personal experience. And to try and get become someone acceptable to everyone is an impossible task.
The focus is on how I see myself, and letting everyone know how I see myself.
Do that, and you will begin to find peace.