Identity and Belonging: A Student’s Perspective | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Portrait of Evelyn Adamson

Identity and Belonging: A Student’s Perspective

Facing History student Evelyn shares her poignant reflections on identity, the pervasiveness of stereotyping and the need to belong.

Facing History student Evelyn shares this poignant reflection on  identity and belonging, developed in conversations with Sanum Khan, Facing History teacher leader and Assistant Headteacher at Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School.

Evelyn joined our school this academic year having moved countries as a young child. Her previous school was significantly smaller than this one and Evelyn also changed her A Level options a couple of weeks into the course as she was figuring out what felt right for her. 

We’ve had a number of conversations about how our identity can evolve over time and I shared Facing History posts that other students and staff had written to support these conversations. Here, Evelyn describes her feelings about identity and belonging and how her commitment to being true to herself has been a significant realisation. 

When I think of belonging, I travel back to living in Germany as a 5-year-old Black girl. I have many fond memories but I also have some discouraging ones. I was born in Germany and spoke German as a main language, I even followed German tradition, yet I never felt like I did belong. I often remember being the only Black girl in my Kindergarten and the only one of the class to not be invited to the birthday parties. It’s amazing how much innocence I saw in being called ‘chocolate’ by the other children in my class - I’m only just beginning to see the wrongs to this.

I’d say reading minds. Only then would I really know if I had found places where I belong.
— Evelyn on what her super power would be

After some time, another Black girl joined my kindergarten. I felt we had some sort of understanding as the only two Black girls in our school. However, she was extremely favoured and treated differently. Looking back I question whether the welcome that she received came from being able to afford the nice new Barbies that I definitely couldn’t. This is my first real memory of how identity is intersectional and that how we see ourselves isn’t always how others see us.

Transcending Single Stories

In this lesson, students watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, and reflect on how stereotypes and ‘single stories’ influence our identities, how we view others, and the choices we make.

Sometimes I regret not growing up surrounded by people of my culture. I’ve been to Nigeria once, when I was two - but I don’t remember any of it. I’d like to visit again, but I feel a weight about it; my understanding of that life has been shaped by stereotypes and other people’s stories. 

Moving to this current school felt like the right step in my journey of understanding who I am. This school community is more diverse so I assumed that belonging would come naturally, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Everyone has been kind and welcoming - staff and students alike - but I still question what people really think of me and whether I meet the standards of beauty, intelligence and confidence that I see around me. If someone were to ask me what I want my super power to be, I’d say reading minds. Only then would I really know if I had found places where I belong. 

As a Black girl living in the UK, I’m starting to understand that people already hold stereotypes surrounding my culture - such as the aggressive Black girl, so I would counter this by trying to be quiet. Social media has not helped much. There’s a trend on tiktok at the moment called ‘UK Beast’, which is about showcasing Black women who are loud and describing them as ‘UK Beasts’. If you choose to follow a make-up trend that’s popular in South Korea you’re described as ‘Asian-fishing’. It feels like I can’t establish my own sense of self without worrying about how others will respond and that doesn’t seem right.

Race and Protest in Britain - A Young Person’s Perspective 

Read Kam’s Blog

Reading Kam’s post about heritage really resonated with me, allowing me to see that there are many people who feel the same way as I do. I’m Nigerian and German so finding a space to fit in has been challenging. I continue to feel restricted with different people as though there are two sides to me and I can’t quite be my full self with any one person.

After reading Kam’s post about race and protest I’m feeling more empowered as an advocate for my own identity that isn’t dependent upon other people’s perceptions. 

In a year’s time I hope to be more confident about my loud side and I won’t be a ‘UK Beast’ or an ‘aggressive Black girl’ for embracing my own self, but I’ll feel that I belong in the space between the labels. I may not be joining a protest soon, but I do know that I am ready to be a leader of this conversation.

You might also be interested in…

More Like This Ideas this Week