Do you feel like an in-betweener?
As mixed or multiracial human beings we sometimes feel like in-betweeners. Not necessarily because we choose to but because of how others perceive and treat us. We feel like we are in between different worlds and cultures, not fully embraced or belonging anywhere.
– Jawaharlal Nehru, anti-colonial nationalist & India’s first prime minister
In Lebanon as a mixed race child, I was always questioned about my origin. Being black with Afro hair was not synonymous with being Lebanese.
Who am I and how do I fit in here? I was asked repeatedly. This happened even when I came across Lebanese people outside Lebanon.
I remember an incident at university in Liverpool when my great uncle passed on my contact to the son of a Lebanese friend who also happened to live in the same city. This person gave me a call and after a brief chat we agreed to meet for a drink. I went along with a couple of other Lebanese friends of mine who were visiting at the time. Once I met him and introduced myself I could see how visibly shocked he was at my appearance. To him I sounded Lebanese on the phone, however I did not “look” Lebanese. He quickly lost interest to socialise with me and focused instead on my more ‘typically looking’ Lebanese friends.
Later on in my life when I was a parent living in Oman, I came across the restaurant chef at the club that we frequented. When I realised he was Lebanese I started having a polite chat with him in Arabic. His eyes widened with genuine surprise at hearing me speak with a Lebanese dialect. He stopped me mid-sentence and shouted loudly across to his wife, who happened to be there, to come over and listen to me speak, like I was some sort of an exhibit.
In Ghana I hoped I’d fit in, yet I still experienced incidents that told me that I did not fully fit in here either. I remember a time walking in one of the villages and being followed by a bunch of young children pointing at me and chanting “Obroni”, which means white person.
I am reminded by another incident again while at university where I was asked by a couple of black African students in my year where I come from, and seeing the shock on their faces when I said Ghana.
“You are African!” They said, “Really? We would never have imagined so.”
I viewed those experiences often with a mixture of emotions. They did however make me feel like I did not belong anywhere. So unconsciously I believe I was looking for my tribe, for others who understood my experience and felt like me, in-betweeners.
I did find them during my working years in London. I became part of a group of friends who between us encompassed many different countries and cultures: The French/Guadeloupean, the Ghanaian/ German, the Swiss/ Ghanaian, the Ghanaian/Dutch, and the British/Ghanaian, and in Oman the Namibian/German, and in the Netherlands the French/Togolese and so on.
I gravitate and feel a kind of harmony with people who come from mixed cultural backgrounds. Other in-betweeners. I am curious to hear their stories. So when I ask you “Where are you from?” I don’t mean to exclude you from a country you affiliate with, but more out of an intuitive sense that, like me, you might be amongst cultures.
It’s interesting that now as a coach and counsellor I do work with clients who feel like ‘in-betweeners’. They often share with me that having a mixed heritage was part of the reason they chose to work with me. They felt that I would be someone who would understand their lived experiences. Our work together includes issues relating to identity and belonging as well as other areas.
It took some time for me to arrive at a familiar shore with regards my identity and sense of belonging. I carved and created my own. An identity that incorporates aspects from every culture that aligns with who I feel I am. It doesn’t matter what others think. It does not define me. Like the song ‘I Am Every Woman’, I feel that I am every culture I have experienced and came across, and every culture is in me. I found my way home, not in a physical sense but a spiritual one.
-Pico Iyer, author
It is time we expand our perspective and let go of the idea that if you have a certain nationality then you must look a certain way. We are “global souls”, as Pico Iyer, writes in his book The Global Soul, and we only can find our own definition of home.
What about you? What cultures are in you and where do you feel at home?
https://www.thehagueonline.com/features/2023/09/26/do-you-feel-like-an-in-betweener Do You Feel Like An In-betweener?