When I was a young girl and far into my teenage years, I was ashamed of my African heritage. I was born in Ghana to Ghanaian parents, raised there for the first eight years of my life. Being African meant standing in front of a group of children as my teacher welcomed me as a new student in their school and a new resident of their country and watching their faces contort in confusion and horror. At that moment, as I observed their faces, I believe the blueprint of self-rejection began.
I certainly wasn’t aware of that then, but as I grew older, the faces of those children remained with me, inside of me. Those faces propelled me to discard my past and create a new reality: a girl without an ethnic middle name or an immigrant status, a girl born, not in Accra, Ghana, but in these United States. Questions about my heritage resulted in replies that were creatively spun, nowhere near the truth, nowhere near a place where I would be judged and stared at like a strange creature.
Whether or not you share my unique background and experience, have you ever experienced that sad feeling? Not feeling proud of you who are as a person, even as a woman? It happens to all of us. Perhaps because of external causes, and certainly internal, too, we sometimes find ourselves in these weird places where we reject ourselves, our heritage, the essence of who we are.
Here are my suggestions on how to change those toxic narratives, based on the work I eventually did for myself:
Change Your Perspective and Accept Facts
I looked at my heritage as a burden. To me, the burden was being different from my peers, having something that removed me from the group because I wasn’t like everyone else. Perspective change/accept the fact: I wasn’t like everyone else. I realized this in my early 20’s. It was like a light bulb. While other young people discussed their families and cultures with pride, I wondered why I was hiding mine. Why wasn’t I talking about the beautiful Kente cloth that the women in my family wore? Why didn’t my friends know about the beauty of my middle name? When you change perspective and accept facts, what may seem like weights becomes winners: you realize that all the things supposedly holding you back aren’t holding you back at all. Because it’s your story. And being different is intrinsic to your story because no one else has that story but you.
Talk to People
When I would engage in meaningful conversations with friends, I found myself telling them about the wonders of my immigrant experience rather than relating the tough times. What it was like to arrive in a brand-new country. Eating my first hamburger. Learning slang. My first time on an escalator. (Terrifying.) My friends visibly loved hearing about my experiences, and I enjoyed the sheer honesty and joy of sharing those experiences with them. Have you tried sitting down and just talking to your girls about some of the hilarious stories our lives bring? What your journey as a Black woman has brought to the table? It’s incredible. Like me, you end up discovering that there is plenty of good to focus on, too.
Remember: The Past Is NOT Prologue.
No matter what happens, I chose to move forward from that scared little girl who was so fearful of being judged, mocked, etc., and just be me. Yes, my past involved me speaking a lot of untruths. Giving in to fear. Hiding. But I refused to allow that past to become the beginning of my story. I took a detour and started, not a new chapter, but a brand-new book. A book that was filled with the truth. It was freeing, authentic, finally me. Can you do the same thing? Can the days where you didn’t feel proud of who you were are or your story be replaced with a new everything? I love this quote and perhaps you’ve heard it before: “Don’t look back—you’re not going that way.” Rather than giving the past free rein to become a beginning, leave it behind and start fresh. Acknowledge that the past happened, yes, but take pride in the beauty of who you are in this present, this now.
These days, not only do I proudly claim my heritage, but I’ll tell you all about it before you ask. Do the same: shout your womanhood, your experiences and your lovely melanin from the rooftops. Believe me, someone is listening.
Thanks for reading! How do you remind yourself to be proud of you? I’d love to hear about in the comments below!
Latest posts by Shirley Davis (see all)
- Short Hair Don’t Care? A Haircut Journey From Regret to Acceptance - May 1, 2018
- Give Me a Break: Why Social Media Breaks Are Necessary! - April 11, 2018
- Why It’s Important to Always Be Proud of Who You Are! - April 3, 2018