When you were younger, did you ever have a moment in which you not only analyzed your appearance, but you also compared it to those around you? I often did this as a young child as I sought to understand who I was and my identity. Even as a child, after long moments of looking into the mirror, I realized that my skin, my eyes, and my nose were different from many of my peers around. It made me question who I was, why my skin color was different—and was it okay that I was different?
Growing up around people of many differe
nt ethnicities other than my own, I often felt insecure or that I was lacking something since at my elementary school there were not many people like me. I would often ponder on who I was and why I looked differently from those who were not African-American or African. In addition, due to many of the racial hardships that I had to endure at the beginning of my life, it was often hard for me to accept who I was.
However, overtime, I grew to love who I was. I grew to embrace my identity, my ethnicity, and what I could offer to the world as an African-American.
Still, sadly, I feel that there are so many African-Americans and Africans who may often not embrace who they are, their roots, and their background. Indeed, as I have gotten older, I have realized that our society can often make us feel empty for being who we are. It can often make us feel that we have to change in order to fit in, that we need to mold ourselves into the “mainstream” to succeed or to get everything that life has to offer.
Yet, I have found that this is not true. Indeed, I have found that this notion is especially not true after visiting South Africa.
Traveling to South Africa and for once, seeing so many people who looked like me, who shared the same ethnic features or history as me, just made so much more aware of who I truly was.
My experience there has taught me so much about myself, and the importance of one revisiting or researching their history and ancestors. This is why I feel it is even more important for African-Americans and Africans to keep embracing our roots back in Africa, to never forget who were and all of the people of my ethnicity who have contributed to the world.
It just saddens me that our society makes us often hate, fear, or be ashamed of who we are. I just don’t understand it.
I don’t understand: why should we waste time feeling scared about traveling back to the Motherland? Why should we feel compelled to talk about those of our own race? Why should we be made to feel ashamed of our culture or our heritage?
My experiences in South Africa truly awakened me to the beauty of having roots in Africa, and to who I am. Seeing people just like me reassured me that I am beautiful. Witnessing the beauty as well as the rich history and culture of Africa reassured me that my ancestors are still just as treasured and important today as they were long ago.
I feel that anyone who has origins in Africa or any country should and must embrace their roots to become the best person they can be in present time. I feel that this is especially vital in order for African-Americans and Africans in order for us to work together and better ourselves. Indeed, I feel that it is so important for us to begin to educate ourselves on our rich history and on the many contributions that we have made to the world.
Certainly, I know that world leaders and other people may often make us feel inferior or that it is ok for us to not embrace our heritage.
However, we must not allow them to make us feel this way. We must hold each other responsible. If we continue to let the negativity take over, we are only hurting ourselves in receiving a great education, bettering our lives, and embracing who we are.
As African identity author Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. once stated,
…this is not the time for brothers and sisters in our communities to turn against one another, especially over some false notion that we are without a race, an ethnicity, a culture, a heritage and a proud history that we must convey from one generation to the next.
Indeed, I believe even more now is the time that we must either travel to Africa to learn about ourselves, or we must begin to deeply research who we are. It is by discovering our past that we will fully begin to embrace our present. I think these actions will help our youth to also feel more dignified in embracing who they are and to appreciate their history.
Now, as an adult, every time I look into a mirror, I reminded of who I am and my heritage. My skin, my features, my eyes, my nose—everything shows me my roots. My features inspire me to realize that not only am I an American, but I am African. I am beautiful just the way I am. I have so much to offer the world through my history, and I should continue to uphold the legacy of my ancestors and all they wanted their families and future generations to have: a great education, self-empowerment, freedom, education, and the drive to persevere throughout all of life’s challenges.