These past two days have been pretty difficult y’all. I’ve gone through so many different emotions in the past 48 hours and frankly, now i’m just exhausted. Many of my classes have taken time out to talk about the outcome of the presidential election, and while conversations like these are needed, I’m also having a hard time with them. Although I’m not ready to write a whole post on my thoughts and emotions about this election and it’s outcome, I wanted to write a post that came out of my recent reflections.
Today’s post is about how my identity came into formation.
The first nine years of my life I lived in Southwest Florida, which at the time was predominantly old white people. I remember being one of like five black people in my whole grade. However, as I look back I don’t remember ever feeling a sense of otherness because of it. I don’t know if it was childish naivety or something else, but I had good memories there.
In 2004, after Hurricane Charley destroyed our home, my family moved to Orlando. Now, Orlando is very much diverse as a whole but it is also very divided. The particular neighborhood we lived in was, and basically still is, predominantly black. The elementary school that I attended was also predominantly black.
This was my first experience with a kind of “culture shock”. I knew that I was black but somehow it felt wrong to be surrounded by so many people who looked just like me. It also didn’t help that the kids in my class were very disrespectful and verbally abusive towards our teacher. This was something that appalled me even as a child, because growing up I was taught to respect elders and behavior like this had never occurred in my old school.
I don’t know if it was because of this initial shock, but most of my close friends from that point on were basically every race except black. Looking back, I think I rejected my blackness in a way. I saw that the way the kids in my school acted was not the way I was taught to act, and as a reaction I avoided them and found other friends.
Another part of my identity that I struggled with at this time was as a Haitian American. Being Haitian was never something that I had to hide or be ashamed of in my old town. All the Haitian families in the town basically knew one another, so there was a sense of community. But, in my new city, being Haitian was something that was associated with dirtiness and almost a kind of savagery. A lot of the kids asked if I actually took showers, inquired about whether my family used a machete to kill livestock in our backyard, and would yell the phrase “sak pase” when they saw me in the halls.
I didn’t want to be associated with such negative imagery and so like my blackness I rejected the Haitian side to me as well. I would detest when my Grandmother would insist on speaking Creole out in public. Speaking Creole was something we did only inside of our home in hopes of fitting in.
Fast forward to college and I’ve met some really awesome friends. They all happen to be black and either identify as African or Caribbean. At first, I was kind of ashamed that I wasn’t in tune with my own culture in the way that my friends were. At home I would eat Haitian food and such, but if my mom wanted to play Haitian music or watch a Haitian movie I would get annoyed.
Through my friends and my incredible experiences here at Cornell, I think I’ve found this space where I’m totally comfortable with who I am. I don’t need to hide any part of me in hopes of fitting in.
I’m black. I’m Haitian American. I’m me.
Unfortunately its taken me a long time to realize it. I see now that instead of trying to fit a certain mold to avoid negativity, its much more freeing to embrace your culture and find friends who fully accept every part about you.
My whole purpose in writing this post is that I know many people in America are struggling with how their identity will affect them in the coming months and years. However, as someone who has only recently come to terms with how I define myself, I think its important to remember to stay true to yourself. Don’t deny who you are. Use your ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, etc as a tool to move forward.
I believe that although times will be hard, we have enough energy and fervor to fight back against a system that has pushed back against us for so long. Take what you’ve learned and experienced to create something powerful.
Until next time,
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