There was no need to make eye contact because I already felt all eyes on me, not only was I the only black person in the room, I was late.

 

Sweaty palms, dry mouth, tight knots in my stomach, all these symptoms dominated my body while negative thoughts consumed my mind. These feelings weren’t foreign to me. I’m more than sure those who were about to give a speech, or make a life changing decision experienced the exact same thing.

I took a deep breath, “You’re just nervous,” I said in attempt to calm myself, ” This is all new to you and you’re allowed to feel a little anxious. But all of that reassurance fell short. My heart was beating faster and harder as I approached the door, dare I even turn the knob? It was only my second time in History 104 and I had already grown to despise it. My flight or fight instincts were kicking in and all signs pointed to run, but somehow, someway, I walked through the door.  I can recall having my head slightly down while I searched for a seat in the back row.

There was no need to make eye contact because I already felt all eyes on me, not only was I the only black person in the room, I was late.

It took all I didn’t even know I had just to come inside this classroom and now I had to sit through a 80 minute lecture about history with a at least 40 Anglo-Saxons.

How was I going to make it through this class, let along the semester. I could feel the preconceived notions about me as I sat there in silence. My high school experience was very different.

Diversity was not only something that was prevalent but something we appreciated. Each classroom was filled with welcoming students from serval ethnic backgrounds; Asian, Hispanic, African American, Indian. You name it and I guarantee that person was fairly represented and present. That type of environment was so liberating, I could thrive in a comfort setting and more importantly, be seen as an individual. Now it was me and I had never felt more alone.

Still, I sat, in silence. All the negative archetypes of black women running through my mind. From the “angry black woman” who was coined as being “aggressive” and “too masculine”, to the “ghetto barbie” who over emphasized her point with hand gestures or neck rolls and  wore 22 inches of  Indian Remy.

Oh and don’t forget about the “urban” black woman who only got accepted into college based on affirmative action. I was a fill-in for all them, I was every woman! I would later disregard these preconceived notions but for now  all I felt was the heavy burden of having to be different, having to be everything they thought I wasn’t. In that moment I  had the sole responsibility of re-illustrating the image of black women.

The thought alone had me self-conscious and cautious of any move I made. My right to freely participate in class discussion was revoked. No opinion, thought or witty remark came out of my mouth unless I’d  rehearsed it a minimum of ten times, there’s no freedom in that and there is no freedom in being black. There’s no liberation in always having to consider what others my think of you every time you raised your hand.

“Was I too loud, too ignorant, too black.” This mindset and cripplingly fear soon become the norm for me in History 104. There were times when “black” topics came up and everyone would turn around and look at me, piercingly, some stares of curiosity mixed amongst those of disdain. And don’t let me get the mic and  finally speak up because with a swift “well actually…” or, my favorite rebuttal, “okay, yea I can’t relate” all of my experiences were now somehow invalid. Some comments were beyond  ignorant and there were times where I just sat in silence, while screaming internally.  Frustrated doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. And the funny thing is I wasn’t upset with my white classmates, no I was so enraged, disappointed with myself.

I wish I could say that I stood proud and verbally annihilated everyone in the classroom who even looked like they had something to say, but I didn’t. It took a semester of tears, anger, discomfort and submissiveness to make me the college student I am today. I had to find the courage within me to speak up and silence that voice of inferiority.

In some of my classes they cant get me to shut up and if I’m quiet, it’s by choice not fear. And I would never trade my voice for anyone’s comfort again. My experiences, my existence are all valid, rather or not someone can relate or acknowledges them. Time spent thinking anything  less, is time wasted.