I Am 100% Z {Zakiya}

100% is a guest post series focusing on multicultural identity and the unique journey of connecting with more than one culture. To share your story, click here.

I saw a t-shirt in Rio de Janiero one summer. In big black print it said “100% Negro.”

I am still the proud owner of that shirt today.

One time I let my Korean-American friend wear it when we made a music video mocking a song by a white rapper by the name Bubba Sparxxx. Yes, we were in college. Yes, the video still exists. No, you cannot watch it. Yes, it was AMAZING.

A few years after purchasing that shirt I was at a new job when I heard…

“Zakiya, not only do you march to the beat of a different drum, you have a whole different drum line.”

That was said by one of my best friends, Rayshaun. She keeps it 100.

She said that because I am a mixed-up, funny, surprising, multiracial, multicultural, multi-living lady.

One of the funny things about my life is that people often assume I am…

Latino. I love Latin America—but as far as I know, I’m not Latino in any way, biologically. Nonetheless, people will start speaking to me in Spanish regularly. I’m not complaining. Aye Chico!

Indian. Maybe from near Hyderabad, where one of my best friends’ family hails. The Pallapothus are such lovely people. Whether or not I am wearing my ghagra that Saritha had made for me, I can “pass” for Indian. Mrs. Pallapothu makes about the best food in the history of all time so I am Indian as often as possible. ;-)

Middle Eastern. “Zakiya” means several different things in Arabic. I had a man once straight tell me that I am Egyptian like him. I assured him that while I have deeply enjoyed a bit of Egyptian culture, I am not from his motherland.

And still others are confident that one of my parents is White, whatever else I am mixed with.

Well, you guessed it—that’s not the case either, and yes, there are also plenty of White people I love. And there are some things affiliated with White American culture that I ascribe towards. Like…hum…music by Amos Lee and Pink Martini. I’m guessing there aren’t droves of brown Americans chillaxing to those guys.

My friend was right—I have an eclectic drum line of races, cultures and ethnicities that have formed the beautiful symphony of sounds that is me. Both of my parents are African- American. My dad’s dad was Jamaican. My mother has described herself as technically probably being one-third black, one-third white and one-third Native American. I have Scottish ancestry on both sides of the family.

Um…all that won’t fit on my t-shirt…“25% Jamaican, 20% Native American, 25% Unknown African Origin, 20% Scottish and 10% Unknown”...wow…I’ll just continue to call myself Black American and wear my t-shirt the way I found it in Brazil!

The hard part is that I don’t fit in just right anywhere. I am not Black enough.

The great part is that I fit in a lot in quite a few places. I have people all over the country and world that would open their homes to me and treat me like a sister.

Fellow Americans reject me sometimes because I do not meet their expectations. International friends receive me because I exceed their expectations of Americans. Go figure.

But don’t cry me a river. Now at the ripe age of 30, I’m more compassionate than ever for myself and for those who try to box me in OR out. I’m just 100% Z.

I’m finally comfortable being who I am. And I am busy enjoying the sound of my drum line.

Zakiya is a proud Southern woman happily living in Michigan and loving life. She loves God, outrageous laughter, community development and numbers. Check out her blog, Southern Z or connect with her on Twitter (@zakiyanaemajack).

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  1. Such a great post Zakiya! It's true that being 100% for many of us is nearly impossible. Growing up in a traditional Indian family in the middle of white suburbia, mixed with the adopted middle eastern culture I picked up in grad school has made the following statement even more true: ABCD - American Born Confused Desi. This series is awesome! Thanks for posting ladies!

    1. Love your comment, Niven, and so glad you stopped by the blog. Sounds like you have your own fascinating multicultural identity story as well! ;)


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