Tag Archives: grad school

Fade to Black: Double Consciousness/Double Grace

Aristotle and I have a…difficult relationship.

On my second day of class, after being assigned to read Aristotle’s Poetics, I was asked my opinion on the work. My response: F**k this white man. If you know me, I know what you’re thinking, “Did Micah just cuss!? Micah neverrrr cusses!” I was just as shook as you are and actually cried later because I felt like I didn’t rep Christ well in that moment. In reading that text, I felt like so much of the work that I love was erased, dismissed, and undervalued. Poetics is regarded as one of, if not the most, important texts for dramatic writers. Something scared me and angered me that this was the only measure by which my work might be judged. But if the tongue is a reflection of the heart, then that moment scared me even more.

So let’s call this my heart check.

Truth is, I don’t actually hate Aristotle. I hate the idea that writers are expected to worship this white man who presents only a limited perspective on storytelling. But if I’m being honest, he has a lot of valuable things to say. I also don’t hate rules—I just hate the systems of supremacy that create them. I mean, who am I kidding? Is there a film that follows three act structure more closely than Love & Basketball? Is A Raisin in the Sun not a Well-Made-Play? Does every episode of A Different World not have two turns and a comic block?

I think that I’m neither the artist that Aristotle nor Amiri Baraka would have hoped for. Horizontally, I’m somewhere in the middle, and vertically, I’m climbing deeper into my soul with every piece of art I make.

My verbalized disdain for Aristotelian ideas is rooted more in a desire to be seen, to be understood. If you can’t see my melanin infused middle ground, then surely you can see the polar opposite of something you’re already familiar with. Like in my middle school days, there are moments when I coon myself into visibility. And it’s a really bad classroom survival tactic. It crushes my intelligence and light under the foot of the white gaze.

It’s a tactic born of insecurity and also very real frustration. Let me be clear, I may have moments of being combative, but I am always substantive (at least I try to be). In his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois coined the term “Double Consciousness.”

“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”

Growing up in middle America, then attending a PWI for undergrad, Double Consciousness has always been a part of my life (as it is for most Black people everywhere. Thx yte sprmcy). But this idea has never felt so poignant as it does in my first year of grad school. Let me share some scenarios:

When you say that your film is Black Film A crossed with Black Film B and hear crickets in the room, but somehow everyone has seen that obscure Czech film from the 70’s; When you spend more time discussing a white woman’s view of Black womanhood than a literal play by a literal Black woman about Black womanhood; When your professor tells you that your play is, in fact, not a play, because they’ve read none of the seven+ plays that you’re drawing inspiration from.

And here’s the catch, you are expected to know the works of white artists, established or emerging, like the back of your hand. Double Consciousness means double the work. Black artists, there are [at least] two canons that you have to know. The Black one that gives you life, speaks to your history and your soul, and the white one that gets you audiences and a degree. And let me add these massive caveats, you are no less Black if you are inspired by white artists and this is much more complicated than this binary. But for me, it’s a matter of creating within two worlds. It’s something that I’m going to have to reconcile as long as I’m in grad school, if not for the rest of my artistic life. What does that look like in the classroom? Being silent or invisible or being loud and hyper visible? Often it feels like a deadly combination.

I went for hyper-visibility again.

Recently, I had an assignment to bring in a produced scene (something that you’d be able to see in theaters or on tv), along with a script of that scene, so that we could compare the two as a class. After almost a semester of doing this exercise, I got tired of being one of the only people that’s never seen a given white-people-famous clip. I wanted to bring something that excited me, that I was familiar with, was helpful to my process, and reflects the kind of work that I want to make. So, I brought in Kahlil Joseph’s good kid m.A.A.d city film—which was originally a dual channel projection piece—and the lyrics to Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst,” from the good kid album—which Lamar calls a short film.

It’s one of my favorite films and Kahlil Joseph is certainly my favorite director. But if I’m being honest, the very real creative and academic benefits of unpacking a piece like that were accompanied by some tongue in cheek. (And if it wasn’t already clear, I wore my Toni Cade Bambara t-shirt). But I was scared. Like actually so nervous my hands were shaking and I was talking faster than I already do. I over-explained myself because I wanted it to be clear that I had receipts. Black Girls ALWAYS need receipts. Sometimes it feels like that’s the only way that anyone will listen, let alone take us seriously. Then we read and watched the clip.

And it was okay; I was okay.

People shared thoughts, asked questions, offered alternative interpretations. One kid even challenged my interpretation of Kendrick’s album. It felt like most of my fellow artists were there with me. Like even those who may not have understood at least cared and valued my right as a fellow learner to discuss the things that matter to me. I didn’t have all of the answers, but I also felt less naked and alone in the classroom than I have in a while. (Is this my Randall Pearson moment?)

So @God, thank you.

For the courage to bring in something that felt like a piece of myself and who I want to be. For the conviction that Black art does and has always mattered. For confidence in You that reminds me that I deserve to be seen. Jesus, You’re the light at the end of the tunnel.

To all my Stage-D-Cadets, thank you for engaging in a real way. Know that for your Black (and other POC…but we’re talking about Black Girls here) classmates, that’s a real gift. It was the first time that my voice felt fully present in the room. It felt like I wedged a little path for myself and my work in this program.

And for my Black Girls pursuing or thinking about pursuing an MFA, a few proverbs for your edification:

  1. Be your bold/beautiful/Black/brilliant self. As artists, we come to institutions in search of instruction, refinement, and mentorship. But what they can’t teach you is your soul, your imagination. It’s easy to feel like making something “good” means adopting their structures and losing your spark. That’s just not true. I’m of the opinion that an MFA program shouldn’t be a factory of cookie cutter artists. Be humble and eager to learn, but also be the master of your own art.
  2. Protect your spirit, your work, and your seeds. Some folks like to call this “guarding your heart.” I’ve come to find that that’s about more than not leaving yourself vulnerable to damaging relationships. That thing that makes you excited? Maybe that’s not the thing to get in a heated debate about. Maybe your idea is so dope that they can’t understand it yet. Maybe that seed of your next masterpiece needs time to grow before it’s pruned. I know I’ve walked away from many a writing class feeling physically ill and disoriented because the experience of having something so dear to me be ripped apart was lowkey traumatizing. My ideas are my babies. That’s not to say that you don’t need the criticism (trust me, girl, you do. You’re incredible, but not perfect, so you better get your money’s worth), but you need to know the proper time for it. Give yourself time to love what God dropped in your imagination. Because if you don’t, who will?
  3. Do the work. I know you’re mad that Susan in your film class has never heard of Julie Dash in her life, but looks at you sideways when you haven’t seen the 17th Rocky movie. But, to paraphrase Ravynn, we have to be the artists to get these degrees so that a Black Girl ten years from now doesn’t have to fight for professors to value her sources of inspiration. You are going to be tired, you are going to be frustrated, but these trials come to make you stronger. This is really a note to self to double down on my commitment to doing double the work, so keep me in check, y’all. Capital F freedom is too important for me not to be the best artist that I can be. I like to think that someone down the line will be happy that I did.

For any of this to work, my heart’s gotta be in the right place. I pray that God’s Kingdom come, that reconciliation would be real, but sometimes wonder how much I mean it. Is my armor more valuable than my healing? Well, sometimes I make it that way. How can I defend my voice and the tradition from which I come without sacrificing my mandate and desire to show love to literally everyone? That’s a struggle every single time I walk into the classroom or share my work. But if my journey is hard and my consciousness is double, is it also not true that Christ reconciled this conundrum on the cross? (spoiler: that one is in fact true). I don’t have all of the answers, I’m finding pieces of them everyday. As for me and Aristotle’s relationship status: it’s complicated. But, in the last weeks of my first semester of grad school, I’m finding enough hope to know that the journey of making this art is worth figuring out this whole Black Girl thing.

Don’t Wait Until Tenure: A Journey of Hair, Self-Love and New Beginnings

By Angela Crumdy

On November 17th, 2018 my locs turn three years old. Yes, I plan on throwing a party or at least getting my hair done. It’s been a journey worth celebrating. Until this point, my relationship with my hair has ranged any where from indifferent to antagonistic. Growing up, I was teased for having ‘Oprah Winfrey’ hair. Hairstylists often described my mane as thick, coarse and one even likened doing my hair to “performing surgery.” I started getting relaxers in high school, but I was never really happy with that either—it was convenient, but my hair was always limp and lifeless. I went completely natural my junior year of college after spending three months in Cuba for a study abroad program. I was liberated from the ‘creamy crack’, but being a loose natural had it’s own set of challenges. For four years, I struggled to find the right products, tools and styles to suit my 4c hair. I poured over Curly Nikki blog forums and various YouTube channels like Napptural85 hoping that something would be the magic fix. I spent most of that time being frustrated with my hair and myself, and yet, I persisted.

When I began graduate school, there was very little time for me to fight my hair, balance a full course load, adjust to life in a new city, and, given my ever present imposter syndrome, try to figure out if I’d made the right decision to pursue a PhD in the first place. My hair looked just as frazzled as my brain, and it was not cute. As the only woman of color in my cohort, I was hyper-aware of my appearance and what my presence signified in the predominantly white space. Early on, I had the all too common experience of a white woman putting her hands in my hair “because she does it with all of her friends.” This, coupled with the fact that my nearly four year relationship was coming to an end, is what finally got me to start my loc journey. What else did I have to lose?

There was a running joke with a few friends of mine that we would loc our hair once we got tenure, but the graduate school experience was already taking so much out of me that I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to that point or if I even wanted to. I felt numb, and I realized that, life was too short to put off something I truly desired for an uncertain future. Maybe in all that was ending for me, I needed something to remind me that new beginnings were possible. I needed something positive to look forward to. So, after doing a Yelp search, I walked into a salon in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and made an appointment. I distinctly remember the loctician telling me that my locs were going to look like worms, but at that point, things really couldn’t get any worse.

As I approach this three-year milestone, I really think of it as a testament to how far I’ve come professionally and personally. There were times when I didn’t know what my baby locs would evolve into as they grew much in the same way that I didn’t’ know what would be in store for me as I developed my research project. As my locs matured so did I, and now, I am about to embark on fully funded dissertation fieldwork on a project that I found extremely rewarding. I’m finally settling in to myself as a scholar, and this is the first time in my life that I can honestly say that I love my hair. I finally don’t feel like I’m fighting myself, which is important when I am constantly confronted with external forces that would prefer I pursue the life of the mind and leave my body behind. My hair is now an adequate expression of how I’ve come to understand myself as person, and I am extremely grateful for the journey—ugly phase and all. Cheers to three years and not waiting for tenure to begin taking steps to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.


Angela Crumdy picAngela Crumdy was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina and is currently a fifth-year doctoral student in anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She holds a B.A. in anthropology and Latin American & Caribbean Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  Her current dissertation research examines the experiences of Cuban women educators historically and during the country’s contemporary teacher shortage. In her free time, she enjoys salsa dancing, volunteering and blogging on her health and wellness site academicmuscle.com.

Balancing Being While Becoming

by Arriana Covington

Transformative would be the word I’d use to describe my graduate school experience thus far. I find it amazing to acknowledge that everything I am evolving into and learning is what I asked the universe to give me. Prior to graduate school, I asked for a challenge and an opportunity to be able to discover who I am. I knew that I needed to be away from my home, and the familiarity of my loved ones, in order to have time to dedicate time to myself. Little did I know, this journey would be nothing short of easy. On the first night of me being completely alone in my new state, I kneeled down beside my bed and simply just prayed. I prayed for protection, discernment and patience as I began my new journey in an unfamiliar place.

When I asked for a challenge, I knew my experience wouldn’t be easy; but, I knew that this sacrifice would be worth it in the end. Obviously, I had a lot of faith; but, I needed to really trust myself. Within my first four months of my first semester of graduate school….I survived the challenge. Unlike my undergrad experience, graduate school required me to really tune into myself. Some days I enjoyed exploring and being in a new space, while other days I wanted to be alone to simply just cry. I spent a lot of my time feeling as if I was missing out on everything going on back home. The hardest part for me was having to acknowledge that I placed myself in this new space and that I had chosen to be here. I questioned myself and my abilities (especially when my grades didn’t match my peers), when there was knowledge I didn’t know, and when I was in spaces surrounded by people who didn’t look like me. Managing being a student, while also learning how to be a professional, is a whole journey in itself. Self-reflection, phone calls with my loved ones and making new friends is what really got me through my rough moments.

Completing my first semester of graduate school was a relief and the achievement I needed to confirm that I am capable of getting through this. During my second semester, I turned all of my negative energy into opportunities. Instead of aiming to go home at any chance I had, I became a part of opportunities that would keep my mind busy. I still missed home, but I learned how to cope. It’s hard to be in a new place and not really give it a chance, so I kept an open mind. My mind was so open that I accepted a summer internship opportunity that was further away from my home than my graduate school was. I was more at ease with the thought of being across the country during the summer because I knew the experience was not nearly as long as my time in graduate school. During my summer, I managed my homesickness a lot better and I was even a lot more open than my prior experience.

Now I am in my second and final year of graduate school and I am in a weird space. A weird space because I am now aware of how fast time flies. All of my worries about being in this new space are now nearly coming to an end. In less than eight months, I will obtain my Master’s Degree, yet I still have mixed feelings about what’s next. In this time of uncertainty, I have honed in the mantra, “I already am, the woman that I aspire to be.’’ My constant urge to figure out what happens next defines why I enjoy having complete control of my journey. I am learning that this desire to have control is what will get the best of me. I am learning to just be and to acknowledge my accomplishments, while being confident that my destiny is literally within me. The future me needs the current me to focus on today; and this is how I continue to learn how to balance being, while becoming and just letting things be.


IMG_7793 2Arriana Covington is a North Carolina native, but is currently pursuing her Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, with an emphasis on College Student Affairs, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Arriana received her B.A. in Organizational Communications and Africana Studies. She aspires to use the knowledge from her degrees to contribute to the field of Higher Education by focusing on access for students of marginalized identities. In her free time, Arriana enjoys podcasts, naps, cookies and working out.