Both of my parents are from Sudan and growing up not a lot of people knew where that was. This caused me to feel embarrassed about my ethnicity but why did I let the ignorance of others affect my relationship with my culture? Now I’m so proud to be Sudanese and I’m constantly asking my parents and family questions about the culture and history. I feel that when you’re young, you’re quite embarrassed of your culture. Things like bringing into school the lunch that your parents cooked and being asked by classmates in a disgusted tone of what it is or how your parents speaking their language sounds funny, I think were common for kids like me. But then we all go through that process of self acceptance and appreciation of our heritage.
I’ve had trouble and still have trouble categorising my Sudanese ethnicity. Some would argue that Sudanese people are African whereas other would say we’re Arab or others would say Afro-Arabian. Many Sudanese people don’t identify as Arab because culturally there has always been a level of Arab superiority and racism coming from other communities leading some Sudanese people to not feel accepted by the Arab community. Therefore they identify as African. I understand where people are coming from, why would you identify with the people that hold prejudice against you? For me, I say I’m Sudanese it’s easiest for me and I don’t really feel the need to categorise myself.
I feel that identity is made up of your culture, beliefs, interests and dislikes. I think the word itself is incredibly charged, so many components come into it. I believe that everyone including myself is constantly progressing in terms of identity. We’re learning more about ourselves everyday. What helps me be more confident in my identity is by being honest with myself. When I’m honest with myself I feel that I’ve removed distractions and influences that affect me and I learn something new. It could be negative or positive, if it’s negative I try to look at it as a new opportunity to improve myself. I think also being open to criticism and being comfortable with checking yourself really contributes to self - growth as well.
Personally, my faith is the biggest part of my identity as it’s not just a religion but a lifestyle. I remember when I first started to become close with God at thirteen years old. It was during a time when I really wasn’t sure of who I was and my confidence was really low. I think what contributed to who I am now and how I’m so sure of myself is because when I wasn’t certain of anything about myself I placed my trust in a Being who was bigger than any other person who could give me validation. To anyone that’s struggling with their identity and sense of self I would say that they should put their trust in anything that helps them find a purpose whether that be religion, or energy or meditation. Being consistent in it makes you see a difference in yourself and being able to look at everything a lot more clearly.
Many components of my identity have affected me one way or another. I always think back to a speech of Malcolm X “The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman”. He then goes onto ask questions such as “Who taught you to hate your hair? Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin?” Growing up I remember wishing I looked like someone else, long straight hair, lighter skin, thinner. One insecurity I had growing up was my afro, I would constantly ask to have my hair chemically straightened and when it was done, I felt good for a month until it started to puff up again and the curls came back. It’s amazing that the whole natural hair movement is prevalent and that young girls can grow up in this environment. But when I look back I feel a sense of sadness for my younger self because I didn’t realise how loved and beautiful I was and am. I think because of that I’m so quick to constantly tell my younger cousins they’re beautiful and that their curls are magic. As a black woman, it’s hard to be confident in your physical appearance when everything you’re seeing in front of you is telling you the standard of beauty is everything you’re not. But that’s where I see my beauty. I defy those narratives by simply existing and being myself. Black women are the bomb. I went to a talk by Kelechi Okafor and remember her saying “I feel sorry for the motherfucker that believes that eurocentric standard of beauty” I just sat there like damn. We’re so quick to seek validation in others that it affects how we see ourselves.
I really feel that people should understand that confidence in your identity is an ongoing process. Not just physical appearance but every other component, your beliefs, opinions, etc. Being comfortable with who you are won’t happen in a day because of a ted-talk you watched or a line in a book you read. You’ll be on a high momentarily and then it fades, which is why it’s so important to that your self affirmation comes from you. Because at the end of the day you’re only left with yourself.