Some adults still struggle with their identity. We all wear multiple hats, but at the core, our identity is our true self. It reflects who we really are and is comprised of our beliefs, qualities, characteristics, and values. Sometimes, the hats we wear don’t align. When our values, beliefs, and qualities conflict with expectations of our various roles and our understanding of self, it can lead to identity struggles.
But I’ve never felt that. I’ve always identified myself as a Liberian-American woman. I was born in Liberia but raised in the United States. I’ve been fortunate enough to identify and embrace who I really was since I was about three. I used to play ‘fashion’ show with the tons of Liberian dresses and matching head-ties my grandmothers would send over from back home. In fifth grade we had a choir concert with the theme “Love in any Language” and I made my mother sew me a pink kaftan dress with matching head-tie. See a pattern here? I love my accessories.
I had this feeling of being different because my name was different. My family was a minority in a predominately white suburb. None of my friends looked like me. I had to embrace my difference within my community. I rocked it too.
I ate all the Liberian foods my mother and family would cook. I wore t-shirts with pride that said “Got Fufu?” or “Vai Girl” everywhere I went.
I ate all the Liberian foods my mother and family would cook. I wore t-shirts with pride that said “Got Fufu?” or “Vai Girl” everywhere I went. I even found a job in my community where I could share stories and Liberian dance (my way) to thousands of K-college aged students for over an eight year span. It became common when I would go shopping to see a sweet blonde child smile at me and say “Yah-kuhneh”(Hello in Vai) and see their blonde mom “freak out” because she didn’t have a clue what her child just said. That was funny.
I have been blessed to add to my identity Naturalized Citizen, wife, and mother. Each of these facets of my identity make me the woman I am today. I cherish each one because it was no easy feat to accomplish the last three parts of myself.
As a person of color in a predominantly white community I often get asked, “What are you?” or “What should I call you?”
As a person of color in a predominantly white community I often get asked, “What are you?” or “What should I call you?” While these might be well-meaning attempts at understanding and being nice, they are also near-sighted. The answer they are often looking for is a descriptor of my skin color. But that’s not who we are. That’s not what I am.
Think about it. Would a white person be asked, “what are you?” or “what should I call you?” And, if by some chance they were, would “white” be the response? To those questions I simply say, “I’m Jebeh.” In my heart I’m thinking… “If you ask me a question like that, then you don’t really know who I am.”