Here’s a truth: white people love a precocious, outspoken Black girl (child), but it is decidedly not cute when she becomes a self-confident Black woman.
Here’s another: Despite being a whole twenty-seven year old adult, in academia I am often (still) perceived as a precocious Black girl. It in part has a lot to do with the fact that I am actually young, and came into graduate school directly from undergrad, and also with my junior status as a graduate student. Folks on Twitter have talked about this phenomenon a bit: involved (Black) graduate students become a novelty, that are tossed out with disinterest almost as soon as they graduate and it becomes worse the further removed they are from the graduate student experience.
The point: right now, I’m still in that phase that white faculty do not always perceive as threatening. My advocacy for Black graduate students’ experiences to be bettered on campus are seen as quaint, my readiness to speak up for myself, endearing.
But I know what awaits me: when a precocious Black girl grows into a self-confident Black woman, suddenly she is disagreeable, she is argumentative, she is attacking. The courtesy of “exchange of ideas” that is extended to white faculty when they disagree is not applicable.
A third truth: Whether or not you agree with this tactic, I am going to choose my peace and self-preservation whenever possible. I have bipolar II and anxiety, and the “little” disagreements white academics have every day and forget about moments later, might be just the thing my mind needed to propel itself into a mood episode or a panic attack.
I can’t kill myself behind y’all. Not only that but I won’t.
So if this is true, then it follows that if I have chosen to stand against a room full of white faculty, I have considered:
- The power disparities
- My position as a young Black woman graduate student
- The potential for retaliation
- The risk to my own mental health.
And I have decided to speak anyway.
Given that I personally operate on a self-preservation basis, given that I do that for myself to keep myself safe and healthy, I understand that a white academic may perceive my generally quiet nature to be non-threatening, that I am in agreement with what is happening, that I can be taken advantage of.
Let me be the first to tell you that this is a lie.
So let me disavow you of the myth you may have conjured up instead of seeing the truth of me:
I was born to a legacy of spitfires. I was raised to stand up for myself and stand up for others when injustice has occurred. I was also taught to think first and act second, which I struggled with as a child, thrived in as a college student, and have totally disregarded now.
I know enough to know that my rage is power, energy, information, so sayeth Audre Lorde.
It was a mistake to think that I would not ride for a fellow Black woman who has been wronged.
In thinking I would stand down while harm was being perpetrated.
A bonus truth: I may not always stand up for myself.
But I will always defend a friend.