What are African-background young people in WA saying about their identities?

We recently surveyed African-background young people in WA about how they navigate and negotiate their identities. Here is some of what they had to say:

Most identified as "African" (64%), followed by "African-Australian" (50%), then "Black" (44%), and then with their country of origin (38%) (people could tick more than one). Only 27% ticked "Australian".

These identities were very important to them (89 on a sliding scale of 0-100). 77% strongly agreed, and 17% agreed that they are proud of their African heritage. 84% spoke or understood a language other than English and 90% had been to Africa. Most felt quite religious (71 on a sliding scale of 0-100).

87% felt they were able to achieve their goals; 82% reported having experienced racism in Australia. 80% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I can be who I want to be”.

There was some ambivalence about what makes African-background young people feel they belong – with being able to participate in civic life such as voting, volunteering and community action, the most important, followed by ethnic community, Australian multiculturalism and having access to government services. 55% said they feel a sense of social inclusion in Australia. Most found family and friends helpful in navigating their identities, followed by religion, peer group, community, and pop culture. Many reported organisations such as religious sporting, dance, and other groups important for supporting their sense of identity (79%), and also ethnic community organizations (62%).

Some of the following issues were highlighted by participants in the project:

“The social inclusion or feeling of belonging here in Australia is different when it comes to other Africans and White Australians. We tend to mingle and keep within our "race" and it's almost like engaging and spending time together is uncomfortable. The main support and inclusivity I've felt has come from my African friends mostly from my origin country, Kenya. Regarding identity, religion, family, and ethnic background play a huge role. Those three things influence basically every aspect of your life.”

“I was born and raised in England. I can understand my mother tongue but not speak it well. I’ve only been to [my home country] twice. A lot of people I know in the [home country] community in Australia … don’t consider me a “true” [member] because of this. Any attempts to join in conversation about [my home country] or learn about it is dismissed. I tend to lean towards my friends’ culture (Nigeria and Ghana) not only because it’s becoming more mainstream it’s easier for me to learn about their culture, but because they’ve been really accepting of me as a foreigner and understand that I’m a foreigner so are gracious with me when I don’t understand things or get things right. … It’s not that I don’t want to learn about or go to [my home country], I try my hardest. I want to speak about my nation with pride and identify with my people. This is where my bloodline and lineage hails from. But it’s hard when you try and receive laughter, mockery, and belittling comments from a lot of people from the very culture I’m trying to grow in. I do my best to ignore it and keep pushing, but when learning about a people, you can only go so far with books, Google and YouTube. You need to talk to the people and so far, this has proven difficult. I’ve signed up for … (our language) classes online so I’m hopeful that learning the language will be a significant and rewarding step towards this journey of identification I’m on.”

“Identity to me is a multitude of things. From the things I enjoy to religion. My skin colour only presents that I belong to an ethnic group but doesn't necessarily tell people who I am. It's part of my story.”
“Family is where the identity lies in a in as person. Values and ideologies are taught here. Most that I have embraced and will reinforce in my outlook on life but others that I'll challenge and replace with my own.”

“Because most people in this country have heritage that isn't indigenous to it, I feel a sense of belonging in that I'm not the only one not from here, however being a minority inhibits that feeling to be full. I gain identity from the groups i am apart of too, like my friends (half of whom are black) and my family (all of whom are black).”

“I sometimes feel lost since I’ve grown up in so many places which makes me privileged and have had many unique experiences but makes it hard for me to connect. However, as I’m learning more about myself, I feel like the statement “being a citizen of the world” is true to me. I am a citizen of Australia and I love it here, but I love it just as much in Africa except here I have the freedom and liberties to do things and where things without being judged. It’s liberating being in Australia. I feel that many different things help navigate my identity in their own way. My family and friends are close to me so they help me, and I enjoy social media so all though it can lead me astray I guess that is still showing that it has some influence over me.”

“I always go by Maya Angelou’s statement on belonging. You belong everywhere and you belong nowhere. How I view this is that where you belong is influenced by our experiences and environment however who decides whether we feel a sense of belonging or not is us. That only comes after a sense of identity, self-awareness and acceptance have been established”

Participants identified a range of things that could help them become who they want to be.

These included more government support, more representation of African background people in the media, less racism, easier access to information such as through a website, and the continued love and support of family, friends, religion, and community.

We now invite other African-background young people in WA to tell us: how do you feel about your identity? what would help you feel you belong? And what helps you to navigate issues of identity? Blog posts can be anonymous if desired.

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