The Life of Black Girls at PWIs
Part I: White Space
by Anijah Boyd
Dear Black Girl,
College isn’t easy and don’t come in expecting it to be. That’s how you will fail. This one time I was in an elevator listening to two boys talk about their grades in Biology class. One was Asian the other White. The Asian boy with a Starbucks cup in his hand and a max of 2 hours of sleep in his eyes talked about how he was shooting for an A in the class but the last test they took left him with a B. The disappointment in his voice burned through my spirit. I can relate. B’s to parents are:
“I tried and did an average job when I could have done extraordinary.”
The White boy admired his friend’s grade then laughed about how he was now failing the class and had been all semester. He seemed pretty unbothered. I mean, why should he be when our society makes it easier for him to pick up from his mistakes and brush himself off?
You will make mistakes, Black girl. Don’t be too hard on yourself but don’t be soft either. Society wasn’t made for you to be able to easily pick up from your mistakes and brush them off. You came to school to finish molding the woman you aspire to be. Not to hang around fast ass girls that only want to party and ignore academics and definitely not to distract yourself with some funky tailed lil boy that meets none of your standards.
Keep people around you that demonstrate the love you have for yourself. They will encourage you to blossom. Ignore negativity. Quite frankly, it’s not worth your time to figure out why people dislike you. Don’t you have an assignment due at 11:59pm?
Practice self-care. Meditate, write, go for a walk, pray, listen to Telefone, be alone. Whatever you have to do to clear your mind, do it. A healthy mind opens the door to being healthy in all other aspects.
White Faces, White Spaces.
In my mind, I’m never really in White Space. It’s hard to be when you have so much Common, Pac and Dilla in your ear. White Space is nonexistent when you have Mick teaching you about the healing component and Joey making sure that you sit n’ prey. As I write this, I’m still unbothered in White Space and that’s because I’m in my own world full of the appreciation that I owe my Blackness. When the headphones come off, Hip-Hop is always there but it can’t save you from reality. Through my trials, the one thing that was trustworthy, understanding and always reliable was my love for Hip-Hop. On the days I feel like giving up, I remind myself that J Dilla worked on his craft even on his deathbed.
After walking the University of Nevada, Reno campus damn near out of breath, I looked around at the people in my freshmen orientation group. Katie… White. Stephanie… White. Chase… White. Sam… EXTRA White. There actually was one Black guy in my group but he was too busy kissing up to appreciate his Blackness so I almost forgot he could’ve been considered an ally. You ever notice that once we as Black people enter White spaces we look for a Black ally before even engaging in conversation? I knew this was going nowhere. Everyone was nice, but niceness doesn’t excuse ignorance and my first encounters with that group of students was my reality check:
I was outnumbered.
One of the more cocky and probably a member of some frat by now boys in my group had the nerve to ask the Black boy if he even liked Black girls. And being the coon that he was he jumped at the opportunity to say no. Well, this is awkward. Doesn’t it seem like they always get our men to turn against us? The weaker ones at least. The ones that don’t love their Blackness. There’s a lot of those at PWIs. Why does the experience only make them love their Blackness less or hide that they love it? Often times they only enjoy the parts that White people appropriate or approve of.
Ignore them. Your man ain’t here anyway, chil’. He’s probably in your hometown working at Pizza Hut and balancing school. Or maybe he’s at an HBCU prepping to be the second Black president. He’s somewhere growing at the same pace you are so that when it’s time, you’ll both be cleansed and ready to love one another to the purest extent. Don’t be discouraged by the Black men filled with self-hate that surround you. You’re the queen and they are just peasants in your sunflower garden.
I don’t regret my decision to attend UNR. Because of it, I’ve met my greatest friends (Chy, Trisden, and Elijah) and learned to embrace my Blackness even when it was misunderstood or made White folks uncomfortable. It’s important to still know and love yourself in White space. It’s easy to be around Black people and embrace Blackness, but how does that change when you enter a difference space? At a PWI, you are forced to learn how to stay yourself in those changing spaces.
My first semester was ROUGH, but I had fun and don’t regret the things I ended up making up for that included failing a class and then losing my Millennium scholarship. Without joining clubs like BSO and ABLE Women, my depression would have gotten the best of me, but support from those clubs went a long way. They force you to remember what you came to this campus to accomplish despite the obstacles you may face. You never really know how bad the storm is that you’re in until you get out of it and appreciate your growth.
Join your university’s BSO or create one if it’s absent. It’s your gateway to discovering your comfortable place. Because of my BSO, I met students at San Francisco State’s BSO. Because of my BSO I have marched and spoken up for my Blackness and met people willing to do the same.
Teach Something Other Than Slavery & MLK
It’s almost like you’re this black dot in the middle of white paper. No one really notices you, but as soon as slavery comes up, your presence is awkward. You sit in class tapping through SnapChat almost envious of your HBCU friends. Another step show, another swag surf. Meanwhile, UNR only has 2 of the 9 Divine 9 fraternities and sororities and the White kids on campus are getting real comfortable calling us niggers on YikYak but won’t pull up.🤔 In the words of the oh mighty wise one, K. Michelle, don’t shake:
There’s an old white man outside of the KC holding anti-Black signs that blame Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin for their own slayings and none of our superiors have called him out for being inappropriate or asked him to stop bringing this negative energy to campus, but when Black people come together and march for equality there’s an issue. Every time I walk out of the Joe I see the Republican kids tabling with a very large Donald Trump sign. I walk by and they smile at me like I’m a charity case or their token Black friend that proves even though my Blackness offends them, my company will hide the fact that they’re racist. Do you know how my times a day I have to hold back running hands with White ignorance? The
“I’m not racist. My boyfriend/girlfriend is Black,”
And the even more classic case of ignorance:
“I’m not racist. I have Black friends. My neighbor is Black.”
The answer is a lot. Prepare yourself for Tom Foolery, Black girl. Always address the ignorance with grace initially. You are an informer first and in some cases, the ignorance is innocent. In those times you should always laugh it off and aim to educate people of your Blackness. Gain an ally before gaining an enemy. Don’t act a fool unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Meeting My Nigga 4 Life
I was walking through the Wolf Shop and ran into Christen for the first time ever. We followed each other on Twitter previously and realized something,
We were both Black girls and quite magical.
At that moment, I had found my first ally. The White space felt less lonely and immediately after we ventured to find Chy. From what I remember, when I found her we called each other “bitch” for a good two minutes. This is our term of endearment for one another. I don’t know what it was about Chy and I’s first face-to-face encounter, but from that moment forward I knew what our friendship was meant to be. You don’t often meet people that you’re simply comfortable being around without having to try or fake happy. She’s a keeper. The conversations we had initially revolved around police brutality, being Black women in America, Hip-Hop, the government, pure foolery, and where we were going to find the rest of the Black people on campus. It wasn’t only that we could hype each other up for 10 minutes nonstop, but I also realized how absolutely beautiful her mind was and still is. That’s the kind of energy you need around you to succeed. I was growing and learning to love myself and she was doing the same when we decided to become Niggas 4 Life. We were both focused on being the best version of ourselves that we could be and were determined to beat the standards that the world had already set for us. This made our friendship even more extraordinary. If I fell, she was there, loving herself but also showing me how to love myself and I did the exact same for her. If you can’t say your best friend provides you with this kind of motivation, what are they really?
Soon after that, Chy and I, (ChyNy according to Kitty) would find ourselves in the Center with all the other minority voices on campus making a difference. Here we would build our safe haven and be the most comfortable expressing our Blackness with people that related.
Once you’re in the PWI world, you have to find your “person” as my inner Christina Yang would say. They make it easier especially when your mental health is at stake.