Minorities

How to stick out like a sore thumb (in style)

Warning: This post concerns some serious topics of race and gender. And it will most likely make you uncomfortable. If you’re fine with that, read on. 

In case anyone who reads my blog hasn’t noticed, I’m an African-American female.

This is 100% true, I promise. Feel free to check my profile if you’re still not sure.

And I’m a double major in economics and religious studies at a liberal arts college. And I’m a perfectionist, a social media obsessed millennial, and a fan of mystery novels.

In other words, I’m just like you! But at the same time, I’m not.

It’s not a concept that many are comfortable talking about, but if we’re being honest, being black and female makes me stick out like a sore thumb. I’m currently serving as a trustee student representative and I’m taking a high-level business econ class this semester and guess what? I am the only non-white person there. This often means that I’ll get a nearly hilarious barrage of questions related to my perception of Lafayette – because it’s presumably different? – or whenever the topic of race/ethnicity/gender/etc. gets mentioned, everyone uncomfortably shambles around, hoping to not make eye contact with me.

This originally made me feel special – I’m the only person like me in the room! Then I got really annoyed – why does it always have to be me? Then I got self-conscious – now I have to be the best because otherwise, I’ll get stereotyped! And now, I just look at it for what it is: an unfortunate, but current reality of my situation.  In many situations, I will be the odd one out. And I’m not shy about offering my opinion based on my ethnicity and gender, but I will most certainty call people out for making generalizations on who they think that I am.

I can’t be anything other than who I am. And I choose to go into the fields that I wanted because I want to be a face or a voice for people like me, and people from a variety of backgrounds. Even though 99% of the time any accolades I get will be prefaced with [the first African-American female X] I’m surprisingly comfortable with that. I’ll never claim to speak for every community that I’m a part of, and I won’t let people assume that I do (or can, really).

Oddly enough, by being an individual voice – or sore thumb – I’ve learned how damaging generalizations and dichotomies can be.  I used to think in that fashion about my own identity – still do at some points. There’s no checklist that will capture who you are completely, and I urge you to give that same leniency to others.

Until then, you can stick out like a sore thumb – just like how I do.

On Minorities and Depression

I’ll be completely honest. This was a hard topic for me to get around to writing about, and I’m still not exactly sure how useful it is. Additionally, I want to preface this buy saying that I was never actually diagnosed with depression, so I’m just talking from my own experiences.

2013 has not exactly been my favorite year. Considering that I have a weird fascination with even numbers, that’s not entirely shocking. One of the things I learned is that I don’t know when to quit, and I absolutely do not know when I’ve taken on too much stuff. I can justify some of this because I needed to offset the less academically wonderfully aspects of my college career, but if I’m honest some of it was because I wanted to be the best.

But pretty much everyone says that, so where does being a minority come in?

Well at least for me, I grew up in a predominantly black and hispanic elementary school and area. Buy the time I reached 6th grade, I was whisked off to a 98% white private school. I went from being academically gifted for who I was to being one of the ‘smart black people.’ I wasn’t like the others, and while I loved my school they didn’t hesitate to subtly remind me of the difference. And it kind of screws with your head and makes you think that you can only fit into the ‘smart’ or ‘dumb’ categories. You can’t be average, you can’t relax, and you can’t slow down. It’s either all or nothing. And to this day I have that mentality to a certain extent, which I think has messed with my relationships more than I can imagine.

So take a kid like that, put them in college, and see what happens if they do poorly even once. They freak out. And, true to my nature I did.  I think I can count only sophomore year where I wasn’t a complete wreck, and that’s only because I had to revolutionize my lifestyle changes. But I don’t believe I’ve every truly enjoy a single moment in college, and that’s mainly because I’ve spent most of my time seeing it as an enemy that ruined my sense of identity. This past semester, I almost ended up doing extremely poorly in a class, and at one point, I just laid in my room and didn’t eat for three days. When I think back on it, that sounds incredibly insane. But it also coincides with everything I was brought up to be. If you’re not the best (African American) in your class, who are you?

And to be honest, I still don’t know the answer to that. But I know that others shouldn’t have to go through with that. There are no straight solutions to these types of problems, but I know from past experience and from the experiences of others that it is a very hard mentality to get over. I just want others to know that there truly isn’t any great value in trying to be perfect. Does it help to excel? Of course, but if its the only goal you have you’ll always been fighting against yourself. Whether you’re a minority or not, set you goals, and breathe. That’s one of the few things I wish I had done before coming to college.