Identity, like language, must make sense to the wearer of that identity. Else, authenticity cannot be communicated, as it is my body and my breath that give meaning to my words. It is such devotion to the sensory expression of identity that enables me to know who I am. And it is through this knowing that I can feel anything, everything.
This is the guiding belief that shapes my process of understanding and articulating who I am be(come)ing. I speak of a process of identity because my identity is inherently fluid, mutable, and deeply responsive to my evolutions as woman, as artist, as mother. The only way I can actually perceive my identity is to express it as something that can, and must, take on many forms.
I was not taught to feel this way about who I am. No such thing was modeled for me growing up in a family that largely identified as “African-American from the South,” with an unspoken agreement that belonging to the South was an imperfect catchall to symbolize the intangible tangling of our beginnings. As we were descendants of diverse Africans who were enslaved in the Americas, forcibly disoriented from their mother tongues and any ancestral, geographic certainty that could have rooted us to the idea that we come from a specific, physically knowable home.
However much I was encouraged by my elders to focus on the pieces of myself that could accommodate labels and accredited heritages, I was more fascinated by what we didn’t know about ourselves. I chose to interpret the South as an invitation to fill in my own blanks with whatever felt real. At the heart of my choice was the infinite variation with which I was free to assemble, deconstruct, amend and invent narratives of identity. (More essays about this phenomenon soon come.)
Finally, an authentic process reflective of the kind of roots I had began to emerge. I saw that my roots existed as a constant dialogue between that which was known and that which would never be known. And I envisioned this dynamic conversation taking shape much like how the sea meets the sky, with the visible and invisible parts of my identity converging on the horizon. My process of be(come)ing, a perpetual, climactic interplay of what is true, and what could be true.
In this conversation, like many essays on Be(come)ing Binahkaye, I am just beginning to unpack language and feelings around the multiple dimensions of my identity. Check out other essays, art, and content related to identity in the Of Roots & Rivers: Mapping Mutable Identities collection. “I am from the horizon” is also a part of the A Tale of Two Africas series that explores my family process.