Being Black in All White Spaces

Making the Transition Growing up in New Haven and attending a predominantly Black public high school, I grew up used to always being around Black people. When I graduated and made my transition to college it was a cultural shock. I now attended a predominantly white institution (PWI) and sat in lecture halls as the only Black or person of color in my classes. It made me feel pressured to present in a way that didn’t make me seem like a “stereotypical Black person”. I felt like it was my duty to positively represent Black people. Today, I can say that this is something I have internalized. I wanted to tone myself down because unknowingly I sought out validation from my White peers. I also dreaded working on group projects. I always would put in extra work because I didn’t want my peers to think I was incapable. I did also experience some microaggressions whilst working in groups. There were times when my peers would question what I was saying and get validation from someone else in the group to make sure I was right. This made me start to question my belonging at the university and I had overwhelming feelings of imposter syndrome. This pressure started to negatively impact my mental health. The Turning Point Academically, I remember struggling in mathematics. Math has never been my strong suit. However, I was too afraid to raise my hand and ask for help. I didn’t want anyone to think of me as “the dumb Black girl”. I also caught myself not participating in class because I feared saying the wrong thing. In the instances when I did participate, I would keep repeating my answer in my head to ensure that I wouldn’t mess up. Despite my classmates participating and answering incorrectly at times. I felt the need to be perfect, so there was no room for error. This lasted for a good month in a half of my freshman year of college. It wasn’t until I saw my grades dropping that I decided to make a change. I came to the realization that I was cheating myself out of my education because I was worried about what others thought of me. Embracing my Blackness After this experience, I realized I would never tone my Blackness down for anyone. I would never hide the parts of myself that make me, me. In my opinion, my best parts. I will always stand proud and loud in my Blackness. It is very easy to feel isolated at a PWI. However, usually there is a small Black community on campus. If you are experiencing isolation, I recommend joining a Black student group on campus. Personally, I joined the Black Student Association. This gave me the opportunity to meet new people and have a space to discuss not only Black issues, but the experience of being Black at a predominantly White institution. It is easy to be discouraged and doubt yourself, however, make sure to take advantage of opportunities at your university. In addition to joining clubs, there will be internship opportunities, job opportunities, and a chance to study abroad. In my senior year, I had the opportunity to study marine biology in Belize. I did not let being the only Black person in class hinder my experience.  For the first time in a while, I didn’t feel the need to prove that I was as smart as everyone or I deserved to be there, because I KNEW that. The only validation that I needed was from myself. Looking back now, I don’t think the person I was freshman year could have done it. When there is injustice speak up. Don’t worry about being labeled as the “angry Black woman”. Your voice deserves to be heard and you have the right to express your emotions like everyone else. My junior year someone at my school spray painted the word “Nigger” on the side of a building. It was amazing to see how the small Black community on my campus banded together to protest and stand up for ourselves. Our voices matter and we let that be known. I know that there will be times where you have your doubts but remember that you DESERVE to be there. It will be uncomfortable being the only Black person in your class, or in a club. However, stand in that uncomfortableness and stand in your Blackness.