Belonging has been a consistent theme throughout these last months. I feel like the need to belong is inherent in everyone, whether it’s articulated as “the herd mentality,” “survival of the fittest,” “socializing” or “community.” Every person is constantly seeking a place to fit into. This is something that I’ve been prominently aware of within myself throughout this program. I’m seeing areas in my life that showcase my desire to belong like sporadic words highlighted on a page. They’re becoming more clear, especially as this quarter progresses. And while I’m focusing on the theme of belonging in relation to race, noticing the patterns elsewhere in my life is equally important.

I see it in the way I tried so hard to be characters I’m not: converting to the “emo” fad in middle school, joining the swim team, playing into party culture in high school, the difficulty of letting go of heartbreak at the end of a relationship because it also meant giving up people I thought of as family, the jealousy I feel for people with large communities, the minute shifts in my behavior so I can meld into a certain group, the urge to label myself, to claim, to be accepted by anything that will take me no matter what the cost is.

I see these traits as a reaction to my parents’ divorce in which I drifted between homes, constantly shifting myself so I could settle comfortably into two homes at once. It’s a reaction to the instinct to label myself, especially racially. And it’s a reaction to a social culture that breeds “like-mind” beliefs, where it’s looked down upon to be anything outside mainstream. It’s against the invisible rules to be anything but what other people want you to be. And we’re all part of that push and pull of social tides. We all take part in upholding this belief in some way because this society harbors exclusion as acceptable. In order to survive, people bond over excluding others. It’s human to do this, especially because we all want to belong. But is there a way to belong without using exclusive tactics so readily?

Since belonging has positive and negative hues to it, I’m wondering how to navigate my search for belonging in the healthiest way. Although I don’t have the answer to that yet, I came to one conclusion that’s been right under my nose. While talking with a colleague, I was asked a question that prompted me to think about community and what it means to belong to a community. He asked me, If I died tomorrow, what message would I want to leave behind for others? I couldn’t pinpoint one answer in the moment, but with later reflection it came to me. I remembered the whole concept of accepting yourself before anyone else, and my answer became simple. Before trying to belong in any space outside of myself, I have to belong to myself first.

Edit: I don’t ever want to “belong” to anything in the possessive sense, so acceptance* is a better word to use.