Its fair to say that some, if not all of us have felt out of place or like we don't fit in with the people around us. This sensation can often leave us feeling isolated or even depressed. Whether it is the music we listen to, the clothes we wear and even the type of house we live in, we all yearn for social acceptance. Being socially rejected can often lead people to conform and become like the very people who criticised them.
Like many coming of age tales, mine began in high school. I was that weird black kid in an all girls’ school West Acton. I wore a black and red skull headband and black strapped Sketchers. I loved watching anime, reading manga comics and could beat any boy my age in any video games. I used to carry around this giant bright pink Tinkerbell backpack that could literally fit everything in it. Upon reflection, my dress sense was probably not the best, lol, but back then I loved it. I loved my backpack, I loved my anime and even the horrific sketchers shoes my mum put me in. The most important accessory I carried everywhere was my sketchbook. I loved to draw, and do anything creative. Art was my passion. These quirks were me, they made me who I was and gave me a sense of identity.
For the first couple of years in high school, my social group consisted of a Chinese girl, a Ginger kid and very tall white girl. To me, these girls were my squad, we listened to the same music, we shared some similar interests and hobbies. But as much as I loved them couldn't help feeling out of place from time to time. It wasn't until one day when I was listening to my favourite Panic At The Disco song when a group of black girls called me a “coconut”. At that moment I had no bloody idea what that even meant but couldn't help feeling offended.
Eventually, thanks to the urban dictionary, I found out what “coconut” meant.
"The term coconut, has been used to accuse someone of betraying their race, or culture, by implying that, like a coconut, they are brown on the outside but white on the inside."
I was still confused at this point. What made me a coconut? I’m black, my parents are black and I was born in Zimbabwe, so how can I be white inside. It didn't make any sense to me. I started comparing myself to these girls to see what makes me so different from them. I was black, they were black so why was I a coconut and not anyone else?
It came to me; it was the skull headband, the music, and the manga. The black girls at my school typically wore lollypops and shoe laces in their hair. They sported the latest Nike ‘Just do it’ bags paired with black or navy Kickers. They listened to Chipmunk, Tinchy Strider and Vybz Cartel, who ever that was. The girls would pass comments about my clothes and my interests in addition to constantly reminded me that I was black and not white which effectively had questioning my identity. Maybe that was where I was going wrong. Maybe that could have been the reason why I felt out of place with my other friends, I was too ethnic for the rocker friends but I was too white for the black girls. Maybe I needed Vybz in my life.
Over time I began to transition from being a coconut to being a fully-fledged “black girl”. This was my life now. I lost the headband, traded in the sketchbook and ditched the squad. I was a black girl now.
My new team consisted about 5 Caribbean girls, one white girl and me the African. We went on crazy but dangerous adventure, sported cool small children’s bags that barely fitted our schoolbooks. Mine was pirates of the Caribbean because I just couldn't help being my weird myself. But it was fine I finally found a group of people who I fitted in with….kind of.
For a while I stopped watching anime and even stopped drawing. I traded my passion for crazy house parties and postcode hood ratting with the new squad and the local boys around my area.
The years went by, the hairstyles changed, but for some reason I was still out place. I was hanging with “my people”, I was doing what they do, going to all the Tudor Rose Bashment raves and eating the jerk chicken. So why did I feel this way? Being the only African in the group, I still had to fight to fit in with this group of girls. My best friend gave me the title of ‘Jafaican’ because although I was African I had picked up the Jamaican culture losing mine in the process. There was no winning.
It wasn't until year 10/ 11 when I really began to struggle. I was in the middle of my GCSEs, I was having trouble with girls outside school and I was struggling with my identity. Who was I, who did I want to be?
With all the drama going on, I slowly began taking myself away from everyone, if it wasn't physically it was mentally. I would be in a crowd but still feel on my own with no sense of belonging.
As Fucked up as it sounds, isolating myself was the best thing I could have done for myself. I got back into my art and started meditating which helped fight against the depression and anxiety. Being alone gave me time to be on my own and to think about my choices and my direction in life. Did I want to be this sheep that longed to fit in, or was I going to be a lion and be the leader of my own pride. I chose neither; I was going to be lone wolf, a person who made their own choices, living free and independent from anyone else. I would wear what I want to wear, listen to what I want to listen to and just do what ever the hell I wanted to do. I felt liberated, unshackled from social conformism. I accepted my flaws and embraced my quirks and put them all into my art. My new mantra was live and let live. Don't let what others think dictate your happiness.
Here I am now, years and years later still living by the same mantra. You would think that being older having gone though my experience, I would have gotten over feeling the need to conform. My next hurdle was the pressure of being a postgraduate and having to get a job straight after Uni.
For a while it kind of made sense to me, but the more job rejections I got the more I realised that I didn't want this. I didn't want to work for anyone. Why did I have to work for anyone? Why did I need to find a job straight away? Why am I made to feel like a failure because I don't want to go down the route that society wants me to go though? I wanted to pave my own way through life and I wasn't going to do this by conforming to societal pressure. I was going to do my own thing. And that was the birth of Chanakira.
From being a confused teenager to a confused adult I’ve managed to start my own company show casing my artwork that I once neglected because of the lack of self-acceptance. I have managed to blend my interest in manga with my urban upbringing and pioneered my own style of illustration. If I didn't go through my experiences, who knows where I would be now. I appreciate and celebrate what other people considered as my flaws.
The girls from school, either side, have all grown up to be beautiful successful women, each with their own unique quirks that make them great. Sometimes it just takes time for people to grown and discover who they are for them to understand and appreciate who you are.
The key to your success and your happiness, no matter what stage you are in life is acceptance and conviction. When you finally accept your flaws and quirks no one can use them against you. Use your quirks with conviction and people will start to believe in them too. It’s natural that not everybody is going to be your biggest fan but take that with a pinch of salt and keep it moving. Use your weird to create beautiful art work. Use your awkward and turn it into a sense of humour. Use your music and make it your theme song. Whether you are big, small, fat, tall, weird, the only acceptance you need is from yourself. The things that make you so different are the very things that make you great. Use your super power and become the first of your kind.