As a young transforming woman on the verge of discovering my true purpose in life, cultural identity has come to mean much more than the color of my skin or ancestral heritage. I would safely say that I spend most of my time identifying my present experience as a challenge or a test that I must pass in order to advance to the next chapter of my life. Passing this chapter has everything to do with personal drive, optimism and surviving day-to-day interactions with the diverse world around me. It has very little to do with giving up on my pursuit of happiness simply because I am a black woman with a poor background.
I have learned to accept and embrace my identity as more of an experience, one that would be called by some cultural enthusiasts the ‘black experience’ (according to journalist and author, Toure). According to a New York Times review of his most recent book, “Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness: What It Means to be Black Now,” the new generation of blackness is expressed by a “liberating pursuit of individuality” (Patterson, 2011). I wholeheartedly agree with this perspective and for the sake of the reader, in order to give an accurate picture of my cultural identity, I must do as most articulate and down-to-earth black citizens should and “keep it real.”
When I think of cultural identity in the context of my experience on this earth, by birth rite, I am inclined to mention that I am surely a descendent of those mothers and daughters who were brutally misguided into integration through slavery. My great-great grandmother was a sharecropper in Alma, Arkansas and I am sure there is some European lineage down the line. I am lucky to be able to count back that many generations as most of the records for Black American ancestry were non-existent up until the 1800’s. I think a part of my lack of knowledge about the whole truth (but knowing enough) about my heritage has motivated me to pursue my life goals despite all of the unknowns. Those goals are to never settle for less and always push myself out of my comfort zone in hopes of discovering yet another talent that I must have inherited from the ancient African kings and queens of my cultural past.
Now that I have explained my understanding of where I come from, I hope it has set the tone for what I perceive this life to be all about: knowing thyself. Although the prompted question “who am I” is yet a simple three-word sentence, the answer for me requires a lot more reflection than stating who I know of my ancestors to be. Another part of cultural identity is the notion of how the world perceives me. A journalist like Toure would probably say I am a 24-year-old Black female with a college education and a promising future ahead of me. I am the prime target for media ads, reality television, consumerism and pop culture.
This is how the world may categorize me, but is this really enough to say what my cultural identity is perceived to be? The truth is, if I left it up to the media to tell me who I am, I would have hated my past, envied those who I have nothing in common with and spent the rest of my life mentally degrading myself. Thankfully, I aspire for more. The external world may look at me one way, but what about what my close friends and family have to say about me? They would say I am a strong-willed daughter with great achievements and still has the humility to thank those who have supported me along the way. Growing up in the urban midwest with a single mother, I was either on or below the poverty line. I witnessed other women in my family raise children with little or no money or education and their spiritual foundations kept them together. I think this is why I have such a grateful attitude to this day. It is with this same fortitude that I live my life.
I would not be keeping it “100” without mentioning that my cultural identity also has a relationship to my living in America. I may have come from a vibrant ancestral culture of many African dialects and spiritual understandings about life. But right now, I am an English-speaking woman who does not want for much and has benefited from much of the struggle and fight that some of my American ancestors experienced. Because of the civil rights movement, I am a citizen with rights, I can vote and I have a college education. I can go to any school I want; apply for any job I want; shop anywhere I want; date whomever I want; travel wherever I want, and exercise the freedom to live my life however I chose. This is the way of life for many other Black women in this country. These factors are major contributors to my ambition. Now if I can manage to become a millionaire I would be able to say that I am part of the one percent, but for now, I am a part of the 99% of Americans who live life in the pursuit of the possibilities.
Patterson, Orlando. “The Post-Black Condition,” Sept. 22, 2011, New York Times, Copyright 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/books/review/whos-afraid-of-post-blackness-by-toure-book-review.html?pagewanted=all June 21, 2012.