This week, the What I See project invited me to contribute a piece on how my racial and cultural identity shapes my female identity.
It’s a great community project, which asks women all over the world to think about the question ‘What do you see when you look in the mirror?’, as well as hosting monthly themes which various women contribute longer reflections to. Its purpose is to provide a platform for women to connect and share their thoughts on female identity, creating “a global exploration of women’s experiences, perception and self-expression”. Any woman can upload a video, or contribute a few lines of text – so please do so if you’re feeling inspired!
You can check out my post (and video, eek!) here.
I’m also copying it below. Racial identity is a big topic for three hundred words (and I already went over by quite a few – thank god this isn’t being marked by a university English tutor), so I’m hoping to explore some of these themes in more detail on My Motherfull Family in the future. Now go add your own voice to this wonderful project :)
When I first started thinking about this question, I wasn’t sure that I would have much to say. I identify as half Jewish and half Indian, and this cultural/racial identity is important to me both politically and personally. However, I’m not sure that it typically interacts with my female identity, which has been formed as a result of the people in my life – strong women who question societal norms and raised me to recognise and resist sexism and patriarchy and take pride in my gender whilst being exactly who and what I wanted to be.
I figured that my female identity and deep-rooted feminism were centred in my existence as a woman (in both sex and gender terms), not in my experience as a brown woman, or a Jewish one.
One of the reasons that I perceived my racial identity as not core to my female one, is that whilst I identify as half-Indian, I arguably have little connection to that side. This is because a sperm donor gifted me my Indian genes, meaning I possess the racial biology, but few of the cultural trimmings.
However, what I’ve come to recognise, is that what other people see shapes my identity just as much as what I feel. When I look in the mirror, I see whatever detail I am looking for that day – whether my hair is too messy, or if the colours of my clothes clash. I’m very aware that when many other people look at me, they see my skin colour, first and foremost.
That means that people make assumptions about me. They expect certain behaviours of me, based on my visible race and gender.
The identities people superimpose onto me come to matter too, because they affect the way I’m treated, which in turn affects the way I react. So the external and internal interact, and my identity as a woman becomes intrinsically linked to, and shaped by, my cultural/racial identity – if only because I want people to know that I am a unique, complex, multifaceted individual, who will never fit simply into a box for anybody else’s ease.