On a Friday night in a small overheated uni room, two fiercely argumentative law students discussed race, over a bottle of Pinot Noir. One of the girls was of Moroccan descent but had grown up in Eastern Norway. The other was of Angolan/Portuguese descent but had grown up in Southern England.
Despite both having a variety of cultural identities to choose from, their views on which one defined them was brutally different. One strongly believed in defining herself by her ethnic culture; the other hadn’t made up her mind, but passionately refused to view her ethnicity as her cultural identity.’
This was the setting of a conversation that plagued me with questions of who I am and who I should be.
Like opening a greasy can of worms, and allowing the creatures to spread like mold- questions of identity, culture, race, ethnicity and nationality infiltrated my mind, and, to this day, continue to inhabit my daily thoughts.
Not really White, Not truly Black, Not ethnically Portuguese, Not culturally Angolan and not legally British. Well, what am I- and more importantly, what does it mean to be any of them?
On a late Wednesday night (when I should’ve been prepping for a Public Law workshop) I procrastinated by watching Episode Two of ‘Black is the new Black’. It wasn’t until then, that I realised that I wasn’t the only one who felt pressured to pick one cultural identity, out of the many on offer.
Nine minutes and forty-two seconds into the beautifully produced documentary, Reggie Yates said something that pinpointed what could be the root of my cultural confusion.
“You have that argument with your parents, where they scream at you and say ‘”You’re not like your white friends”.
On some level, they’re right- because you definitely don’t look like your white friends,
but on (another) level you are (like your white friends) because you’ve grown up with the same cultural references, in the same school, and with the same accent”
This couldn’t be more accurate and applicable to my teenage years.
During secondary school, whether or not my (at the time) culturally limited white peers considered me as ‘one of them’, depended on the topic of conversation and the socially popular view of the time. For the most part, I saw no differences between me and them. But my parents were always quick to remind me otherwise when I’d (often) get sassy with them, and (commonly) ‘mouth back’- especially my dad.
Although ‘Black is the New Black’ cleared the smoke of some of my confusion, the fire still burns. So, even though I remain culturally confused, I know for certain that to say that I am a mix of all, or a selection of two is a far too simplistic conclusion.
Perhaps I have to go through the motions of continuously questioning my identity, to finally feel exhausted with the topic, and find peace in the fact that “I am a human being, and that is all I need to know” [Shahina Ahmed]