dear identity





Michael Adeyi, Sidwell Friends '18



Through living in both Switzerland and the United States, Adeyi has had unique opportunities that helped him discover how he defines identity and what it means to him.​ (Published: 2016)





Dear Identity,


What are you? Are you my name, my race, my color, or my age? Are you my class, my school, my parents’ bank account?


When I was a kid, I was just Michael; that was my Identity. Color was irrelevant. I spent

time with everyone. But that’s not how identity works in the real world.

When I moved to Switzerland, on the first day of school someone asked me, “Do you

play basketball?” Boom. I was nine years old. I was and still am terrible at basketball. But when

looking at my identity, someone saw my skin color, and the stereotypes that come with it. Did

that make skin color part of my identity? Is my identity determined by my own definition, or by

what people define me as when they look at me?


I know that when people look at me, the first thing they see is my skin color. Not my

race, but the color of my skin. Yes, I am black. But I am also white. Does that make me an

‘oreo?’ Does that give you permission to call me a mulatto? No, because that is not what I

define myself as, and that is what I think identity is—my own definition of myself.

Furthermore, the color of my skin immediately pushes me towards those who share that

same color, whether I consent to it or not. Are people of the same race supposed to stick

together because they ‘share a common identity?’ In that case, shouldn’t I spend just as much

time with white people as I would with blacks? I have just as many ‘black genes’ as I do white

ones. I was one of two black people in my grade for three years when I went to middle school in

Geneva. I live in a predominantly white neighborhood. So, wouldn’t that mean I should actually

spend more time with the white people in my life? No, because, although I would like to be the

sole determinant of whom I spend time with, that is not the case.

Others do not see my identity the same way. If a white person sees me hanging out with

a group of black people, that could be my identity summed up in their minds immediately. In

addition, societal pressures have created a mindset that people with a shared part of their

identity, usually race, need to stick together. But shouldn’t that mean I should stick together with white people as well? And with upper middle class U.S. citizens? And with people of dual­ nationality? To me, yes, but to society, no, because society


"YES, I AM BLACK. BUT I AM ALSO WHITE. DOES THAT MAKE ME AN ‘OREO?’ DOES THAT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO CALL ME A MULATTO? NO, BECAUSE THAT IS NOT WHAT I DEFINE MYSELF AS, AND THAT IT WHAT I THINK IDENTITY IS – MY OWN DEFINITION OF MYSELF."


believes that race is the overarching aspect of my identity. Society refuses to scratch the surface of who I am beyond that sixteen year old black—not biracial—boy with a funny last name.

If someone knows my name, that brings in another factor. “Michael”—nothing ‘out of the

ordinary’ there. ‘Adeyi’—“is that African?” Yes, but I might as well ask you if your name is from

China, India, the U.S., or most of Europe. Doesn’t make it easy to pin down your identity then, does it? People are too quick to put me in a box based on something as superficial as my name

or skin color; things they consider to be the defining characteristics of my identity.


So what are you, Identity? I can be proud of my name, and embrace it as part of my

identity, but is that all that defines me? I can go to an ‘elitist’ private school and live comfortably and securely, but does that truly shape who I am? I refuse to accept that my entire person can be explained by a handful of characteristics, but, unfortunately, I seldom have a choice. And that is not just because of my specific race or my specific class. It is because, in many cases, people see me and refuse to unpack my full identity, to pull back the layers and look deeper than just my skin, at my character, my history, and my thinking.


Sincerely,

Michael Adeyi