I’m going to be upfront from the get-go and state that who I am – my identity – is one of things that I’ve struggled with all my life. You’d think that at 35 I would have figured it all out by now, and stand tall in what I know. But I don’t. For me, it’s been a process.
The BBC have just finished doing a fantastic series called Black and British, which celebrated the great things that black people in the UK have achieved. I loved it! Watching the likes of Sir Trevor McDonald, Trevor Nelson, Dizzie and Beverley Knight share their experiences about growing up in the UK, I had a beautiful moment where I thought: “It isn’t just me.” Even famous people struggled with the exact same things I did. The series articulated my everyday struggles and insecurities as a black woman born and raised in Britain.
For as long as I can remember, I have always found myself trying to fit in, from school to university to drama school, and now the workplace. I’ve a bad habit of fitting the label that I think others expect of me. And you know we all love a label.
One of the labels I always struggle with is feeling that I’m too loud. I mean yes, I laugh really loudly and that’s not helpful when you’re in church and the leader cracks a joke – people turn to look at you like you’re a crazy person. But recently, it suddenly dawned on me that this wasn’t weird; actually, it’s a natural response to the fact that growing up in our family we all had to be loud, just so you could get yourself heard. When we get together all hell breaks loose. And that’s just how we do things. I’m beginning to realise it’s not bad.
The thing I want to feel the most is to feel completely loved and fully known as me: Yvonne Dodoo. When I walk into a room I want people to see me. Really see me. But more often than not, when I walk into a room it feels like people only see my race, and that’s something that I’ve deeply struggled with. It sounds nuts when I say it out loud, but because of my experiences and assumptions, even if that’s not what’s really going on, that’s how it feels.
But these last six months or so, I’ve really been challenged by God on this. When I was brave enough to bring this to Him, He asked me to enter into a new way of seeing things. The funny thing is, He asked me to ask Him how He sees me. So that’s what I did. I entered a process of asking God the Father how He sees me.
Since I started this journey, I’ve learned that the more I turn my focus to how God sees me, the less focus I give to what others think and the more I ground myself in His love for me – including my wild afro and dark skin.
I discovered that God says that I’m fully accepted as I am: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7). So if this is true, then why is it so hard to grasp?
But it’s one thing knowing it, and quite another to truly believe it in your heart. So here are the things that I’ve learned on this liberating revelation; whatever your struggles with identity, maybe they can help some of you, too:
It’s a process
And as with all processes, it takes time. Just because a truth has been revealed to me doesn’t guarantee that I’ll get it ASAP. It means taking it day by day and surrounding myself with key people who love me and show me love in the way that I can receive it. This is key if you want to continue to grow in your identity. So who’s on your team? Who’s going to walk this walk with you?
Embrace what you see
As a life coach I regularly have to help people to accept the things they can’t change. This has also happened with me. It seems really silly, but I can’t change my race or my family – and neither do I want to – but I can accept that this is what I have, and frankly I have started to love what I see. That’s bringing a whole new confidence to me. We all know that comparison steals our joy. What joy is being stolen from you? How are you going to claim it back?
Change your information
The day I stopped reading magazines such as Elle and Cosmopolitan and picked up Pride, a magazine aimed at women of colour, was another simple but valuable lesson. Suddenly, I saw successful women talking about the same things I do. Things like how we struggle to manage our hair, or where to buy makeup or how to handle confrontational situations. I also applied this to my social media: I started interacting with people who loved themselves and who looked like me. And gradually I started to see things differently. We also have the Bible. I’ve been reading these verses to remind me of how I’m truly seen by God:
“I am the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“I am chosen, holy, and blameless before God.” (Ephesians 1:4).
“I am redeemed and forgiven by the grace of Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7).
“I am a member of Christ’s body and a partaker of His promise.” (Ephesians 3:6).
I could go on, but you get the picture. Go to Ephesians. You’ll soon see what I mean.
The great news is that just by taking these small steps, things have started to change for me. I’m not there yet, but I’m out of the blocks and ready to see what else I can free myself from, in order to have a better life.
For example, I built up the courage to share my struggles with a friend recently, and she was amazed that I would ever feel this way; she said that she always loves to hear my perspective because it’s often different from others around, and adds value to the conversation.
So what I’ve been asking myself recently is this: what if I walked into a room and rather than thinking that people are judging me because of my race, I went in thinking that I have something worthy and valuable to add to the conversation? What would change?
And now I’m going to throw this back to you: no matter what aspect of your identity you struggle with, what would change for you if you believed that what you bring into the room is valuable and worthy?