A #BlackAF memoir of a PWI graduate

I went to a PWI but my undergrad experience was hella BLACK.

We broke bread together, laughed together, cried together, marched together, started businesses together, supported art together, shit we all still out here being as Black as we were born and advocating for all of our sistahs and brothers, together.

Together.

We didn’t let the klan’s permit to march or the young republicans party stop our together. We experienced the second stage of racial identity development together. We raged together. We lamented together. We healed wounds together. We learned our language together. We replenished what was stolen from us, together.

And don’t get me wrong, this ain’t a hate piece.

I fully recognize and respect the sanctity that is the HBCU and the experience it provided and continues to provide my beautiful cousins across the diaspora.

This ain’t a comparison piece.

I don’t think one can compare a Black experience in these two ways much like one can’t compare the Black experience of growing up in Ghana vs. South Oak Cliff. In both places we claim ownership. In both places we know we are at home. In both places we find beauty, regardless of the _________ (I use this space when referencing the “it” Solange sang about in cranes in the sky)

This piece is about me showing love to those who walked where I walked.

I write this for those who knew from birth that Blackness and Africanness were synonymous and yet not at all, because of the things stolen. I write this for those who walked grounds soiled with the blood and pain of our ancestors and named for the cruel and sadistic southern “leaders” who implored their constituents to actively seek to destroy Blackness and Black bodies.

This piece is about NAACP #6816, BSA, Soul Lifters, and the whole NPHC who filled up conference rooms, auditoriums, ballrooms, warehouses, Farrington Pit, the YARD, and every other space with every Black face so often it wasn’t hard to claim you knew every Black person on campus.

This is for those of us who wrote VOTE OR DIE on the walls of campus buildings in spite of knowing we might be expelled but because we knew everyone didn’t make it to the Black Athena forum or take African American History with Dr. Pruitt and hadn’t felt the shaking and power in her voice when she spoke of the conditions of slave ships and the four little girls who were murdered in a church bombing.

This is for those of us who were denied access to our own information but fought tooth and nail to get it anyway.

This is for those of us who were never exposed to an HBCU, or any college for that matter but still made it across that stage.

This is for those of us who were told not to go to an HBCU if we wanted to be taken seriously or be successful in life by counselors, teachers or peers.

This is for those of us who got it out the mud and don’t think twice about doing it again and again and again.

This is for those of us who will create the legacy.

This is for those of us who generated and exemplified Black excellence at a PWI that didn’t have an Ivy League title.

This is for those of us who search grad school programs at HBCUs only because we’ll be damned if they bamboozle us again.

This is my story. This is our story. This is a story of Blackness.

Asé

The Microagression Mixtape

mi·cro·ag·gres·sion

/ˌmīkrōəˈɡreSHən/

noun

  1. a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.
  2. when someone from another ethnic or cultural background “lightly tries” you but pretends like they didn’t because they know in any other circumstance, they would catch these hands.

Track 1:

I first heard this word in a team meeting at a non-profit I’m working for. They consider themselves to be hella progressive so words like racism, cultural competence, disenfranchisement, and systemic oppression are as common as good morning and said with an intent that unfortunately equates the same energy, but that’s a story for a different day.

So yea, it’s my second team meeting, and this tall, Black Woman in leadership stood up and said “blah blah, something something, fucking microaggressions, something” and my heart thumped so hard I thought I was going to be dizzy.

I hit her with the “wait, what did you say… please repeat,” and when she did my heart started thumping harder. At that moment, I felt as if something lost or forgotten had been found and shined and polished and handed to me for safekeeping again. However, that feeling only lasted for a quick second.

Track 2: An Interlude

I have a fascination with DVDs. Even as a self-proclaimed PR guru with a real appreciation for successful marketing, I loathe commercials. And even though Netflix can rid me of that interruption too, I still prefer DVDs. Call me crazy or whatever. That being said, the Movie Exchange is my secret happy place, and on days I plan to veg out in the bed with a huge takeout box of jerk wings and a bottle of something brown, I pick up about $10 worth of previously used DVD sets and live my best life.

 

Lucky for me,  some soul with what I can only presume was a cluttered entertainment center, dropped off the “Underground” series starring Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Executive Produced by John Legend. Through this random purchase, I was provided with one of the most heart-wrenchingly illustrated accounts of the descendants of kidnapped and enslaved Africans forced to live in America that I’ve ever encountered. After finishing the 2nd season it was easy to see why the television network canceled the show:  the direct and indirect intentionalism of the script. I was 10000% here for it. Unfortunately, the powers that be, were clearly not.

While I was watching, there was a line said that aligned so perfectly with a feeling that had been lying directly under my skin. Someone asked one of the main characters, Noah, about learning to read. He responded saying that learning to read was the worst part. That being able to put words to the pain that he experienced made it even more unbearable.  That’s exactly what I felt the moment that I heard the word microaggression. Immense and unfiltered pain. 

**As I am in avid disagreement with spoilers in any capacity, I won’t be providing additional context as I would rather you watch the series yourself.

Track 3:

On my 28th birthday, Solange put out the “A Seat at the Table” album. “Don’t Touch My Hair” blasted on the radio and I felt that shit on a spiritual level. There is no need to analyze or read into the lyrics. They are clear and precise and bring out every single needed word without wasting it on synonyms nonsense. It’s blatant.  I had to get the album… and like many Black and slightly bourgeois millennial, I had to get it on TIDAL because black enterprise and the Reasonable Doubt album are indeed gospel.

That’s when I heard “Cranes In the Sky”, and by the 5th “it”, I was empty.

That day, I took one last, deep breath…

I breathed in every time I had been told that I was assuming or too racially sensitive

I breathed in the times I let sprinkles of racism, sexism, classism, and disrespect roll off of my brown skin to appease others

I breathed in the times when I felt too tired to fight or too small to speak and spiritually unconsidered and emotionally drained…

I breathed them all in and when I exhaled, I felt my equilibrium begin to tilt.

Track 4:

My whole life I heard that I was assuming, divisive, or intentionally looking for people to be causing me harm. I had been told for 27 years that I was the problem because I believe that racism was more than just a word in the history book. Then, I learned that word, and Solange put out the “A Seat at the Table” album and I think I took that one last deep breath because I had to prepare myself for the release of pain and weight that I had been trying for 27 years to convince myself that I may actually be making up because I was tired of fighting and arguing and feeling small and unconsidered and strange.

But then, when I exhaled, I lost my balance.

You see, of the biggest challenges of living in a space of consciousness or desired awareness is the lack of training manuals available that coach you through being your truest self to becoming your aspirational self. I move based on my gut instincts, vibes, energies, frequencies, and sometimes even the weather. There are so many words that I don’t quite know yet, and I feel that the lack of nomenclature takes away from the perceived validity of my speech- no matter how valid it may be, especially when I am attempting to bring people from different backgrounds into my thought processes or experiences.

The power that I felt being able to finally put phonics together to form a word that described this feeling that I’d been having was unnerving and liberating. This feeling… the one where people are saying something inherently racist and harmful, but not so blatant as to offend anyone else other than the already preconceived angry and repetitively outspoken black woman in the room– being able to call that shit out was just grand!

But, a few days later, that same knowledge began to make me feel really really small.

Track 5:

I started to think of all the other times I’d been trying to explain that feeling and had gotten nowhere. I thought of the times I’d gotten lost in battles of semantics with assholes that prided themselves on that type of behavior and walked away feeling like I somehow put the collective understanding of white supremacy culture, white fragility/privilege and institutional racism back another 2-3 steps. I thought of those moments and I started to get angry.

Angry because- like… who TF actually came up with these words and why aren’t they on vocabulary lists in schools so Black folks like me who don’t have scholars or academics in their families will have the nomenclature required to justifiably bring light to the fucked up, subvert and overt racist shit that happens to them on a daily basis?

Then, I started to feel empowered. Empowered because I had more than just a word. I realized that if someone had defined this specific Black experience, it was likely that they had done more. 

I started using the word every chance that I could- teaching every person I knew about what it meant and encouraged them to make good use of it too. Then came words like intersectionality, diaspora, monolithic, etc. These words and phrases rolled off my tongue freely and I felt like I had somehow joined a new part of the fight for liberation. 

Track 6:

This transition: grand, to small, to angry, to empowered… all of that in a matter of moments. I knew that I wasn’t crazy to believe in the validity of my experience, and I hate that it took me 27 years to learn these phrases. I’m sick of having to know exactly what words to say to prove a point that we all know is true, and I’m pretty much over the attempt. What I have committed to, however, is sharing what I learn with anyone who may also be in the process of figuring out how to stand in their truth even without the right words.