Plot Twist: Cognitive Dissonance With My Self-Identification

So let’s start from the beginning….my parents. For as long as I can remember, my parents have been divorced. Just like any normal child, I would wonder and ask questions about where I came from.

As the story goes, my parents met in Europe. My mother, born and raised in South Africa, was traveling on vacation with her friends. My father, born and raised in Germany by a German mother and an African father, was traveling with friends as well. They met, fell in love, and within 6 months my parents moved to America. They got married and then they had me. Around the time I was 3-6 months old they were separated soon to be divorced. Then begins the custody battle that would last until just before my 13th birthday. Yes, I realize there are a lot of details missing. However just getting this information out of them was like pulling teeth.

With a lot of questions still left unanswered, I was able to make it all the way through high school without having to think much about my identity or having to much self-identification. I grew up in predominantly white environments. When I was 6 my mother got remarried to a white man. I grew up not seeing or thinking about color, I guess you could say I was raised colorblind. However, looking back with the perspective I have now I see that problematic and I realize many subliminal and underlying messages that will have a large impact on my worldview.

The implications of walking around with interracial parents or anything like that didn’t hit me until I got to college. Then I was forced to figure out how I identified because everyone asked me, well either that or just assumed that I was black and white. The hardest thing ever was not having an answer, who am I? So being a generally logical person, who like answers and solutions, I went with the most logical explanation of “what” I am. I am mixed with South African and German, a first generation American, and African American. Notice I said African American, not Black.

Now let’s fast forward to present day maybe about two months ago, the day I spoke to my father for the first time since my 13th birthday (10 years later). To say that this conversation was hard and emotionally exhausting is an understatement. There were so many things that I had suppressed for years or been running from that all caught up to me in that two hour conversation. To ensure that I stay focused we are going to talk about the pieces of information I received from this conversation that affected my worldview, my self-identification, and what I have thought I knew my whole life.

PLOT TWIST: my father is actually an American. A Black American to be exact.

Turns out that my father was a military child. His father, a Black man of African descent, was stationed in Germany where he met my father’s mother. These seemingly small details now change vital parts of my identity. I am not a first generation American, but most importantly I am Black. There is no feeling like the confusion and chaos of learning there is a whole part of you that you didn’t know was there. Let alone that it is attached to a culture that you know nothing about and, as much as I hate to admit, intentionally avoided based on negative connotations reinforced into my world view.

I’m going to stop there for now, because that’s exactly what I did. I shut down. I pushed the cognitive dissonance away. None of it made sense. How? What does that mean for my life? Why was a lied to? Why no matter how hard I try do I have these negative views? And now these negative views about myself? Will people judge me? Will I be accepted into the Black community despite past negative experiences? Were negative experiences because of these views I didn’t consciously know I had? These are just some of the questions that when whirling through my mind. I needed to process. I needed time. So take time to process and take time to breathe. We will move on to the next part of the story when I return.

I would love to hear if any of you all relate! What was your self-identification journey like? When did you first realize self-identification was even something to do? I look forward to hearing from you all.



When I ran to the store…

Yesterday on a visit to target, I was in the aisle looking at the sports bras (yes I need to start working out again and what better motivation than a cute sports bra right?). Out of no where this small light skinned girl popped up next to me, close to my personal space bubble but kids don’t pay attention to those anyways. She was adorable with her hair in two braids. The little girl picked up the adhesive bra and looked up at me. She asked “do you think this will fit?” I replied, “maybe one day” and smiled at her. She thought for a second then put the bra back on the shelf. Before running from the aisle the little girl goes ” you’re really pretty.” I said, “thank you, you’re really pretty too.” Later on as I was leaving the store the girl walked by with her mother. She smiled, waved at me, and said goodbye.

That interaction was so short but just the innocence and genuineness of that little girl made my day. Now mind you I was looking pretty rough with a tshirt, leggings, and the last time my hair had come in contact with a brush was a few days prior, but hey it was just a target run. So I wondered what she saw in me when she called me pretty….a child’s definition of pretty or beauty prior to being told what society thinks?

What is it about society that makes us lose that light? What are we socialized into that causes us lose that childlike genuine love or care for humanity and those around us? That little girl made my day but she also reminded me of the power that words or even a simple act of kindness can have. Love your fellow human beings and if you see something beautiful in someone, speak it. 

Love, Nel.