At What Cost
I have begun to believe that my Ivy League degree is bullshit. In fact, I would argue against the held belief that graduating from one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher education is the nation’s ultimate gag. Secured employment and advanced socioeconomic mobility associated with the Ivies is as real as the American Dream, which has proven to be untrue, unless you inhibit the body of a cisgender white man.
Lucky, I am not a white man, but a proud young black woman experiencing the stressors of unemployment, due to capitalism. Despite my academic achievements, such as presenting research at sociology conferences throughout my undergraduate years, and speaking on the steps of the Supreme Court, before I was legally allowed to purchase alcohol; and securing a master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 22. Alas, I am still unemployed.
I stated the accomplishments above, before readers secure through my LinkedIn profile to state the obvious, playing the game of respectability politics for young graduates of color does not work, so why even try? I understand the deeply seated fear of living your authentic life as a young person of color in a country that is actively terrorizing every section of your life. The daily fear of being murdered by an officer of state whether through the local police department or immigration officer, walking into your internship or classroom to experience the persistent acts of violence in forms of microaggression, and the experience of payday where you visually see the worth of your labor in zeros, although your counterparts receive more due to race and gender-based privilege.
It’s hard out here for us. Every day, we wake up and choose to navigate through the constant stressors of life. Never mind the high rates of suicide ideation, mental health, and unseen health problems, how are young millennials of color supposed to smile every day in the wake of gentrification and terror of state violence? Please tell me the answer to the question, because I would love to hear the moral justification. This experience is not new, our parents, grandparents, and great-grandfathers live in the fear of death every day. This is just the 2018 edition.
Long before, Donald J. Trump became the 45thPresident of the United States of America; communities of color truly knew who this country was going to elect. It came as no surprise to me when I heard his voice on election night, while I held my white crying female roommate. Even in that moment, where I knew whose family was going to be heavily impacted by his policies and legislation, I comforted a white woman before my very oneself. Why? Because my body has become custom to the deep pain ushered by those in power by this country.
Once upon a time, I believed in the ideals and values of this country. Indoctrinated through the education system, I trusted in the meritocracy in the American Dream. My mother entrusted this ideology to me as a form of protection, that she could not offer, as a recently divorced single mother on disability. Her childhood was shaped by the environmental factors that built her hometown of Rockdale, Texas. A community composed of low-income residents who worked in the aluminum mines that poisoned their water system and gave those in town, illnesses the company refused to accept responsibility for. She fought every day for an opportunity to define herself in this world, and lift herself by the bootstraps, but the societal tolls of being a loud black woman took their tolls.
Currently, she seeks healing through spiritual practices in alignment with her medical treatment, which can be removed from her at any time due to the political ideologies of the Republican Party in Texas. She encouraged me to move away from the racist practices of the South, so I worked myself to the bone as a first-generation student with the assistance of family members and university support, to achieve the highest honor in the American education system; an Ivy League degree.
I remember the day I received my admission to the University of Pennsylvania. The feelings of excitement and honor rushed through my body so fast, that I ran out of my house and jumped up and down over a pile of dead leaves in the driveway of my undergraduate residence. I told myself that, “I had made it”, that the universe had given me a signifier that the hell I experienced throughout my life; from being subjected to death threats for organizing black students on my college campus, surviving sexual assault by a fellow student protected by his fraternity and legacy status, and the feelings of loneliness and isolation in West Texas. I viewed my admittance to the University of Pennsylvania, as a safety net from this world.
While there, I heard the voice of my father who recited to me the old black staple, “remember you have to work twice as hard, as anyone else if you want to get by”, as one of the few black men in his industry, my father’s work ethic is instituted into the capitalist ideologies of people of color, in particular, black people working themselves to the brink of point for validation from system built to destroy us. Historically, his advice has become embedded into my academic endeavors, as one of the few black people from kindergarten to university, I pushed myself to be the smartest person in the room, but at the same time, the least threatening, because who wants to be labeled as the angry black girl. I’ve seen what society does to angry black girls, and at the time, I did not want to be classified as one.
Last July, I entered my master’s program and completed the vigorous coursework within the allotted time of 10 months. Did I mention it was an advanced program that wiped opportunities of stability, due to its composition and structure? Nevertheless, I engaged in classes with the highest regard professors in the social work field, but I felt lost. As the semester unfolds, so did my mental health, and self-esteem; without the community of peers, I would have unraveled from the person I know to be. In my place would be the American Dream, the young black woman who overcame childhood poverty and homelessness and gained admittance to one of the best universities in the world. It sounds like a feel-good movie accompanied by a soulful track with a message towards low-income youth of color to trust in the ideologies of the state about how to make it in America.
I’ve come to be the bearer of bad news, to proclaim the faults in the system, and encourage those seeking graduation from an Ivy League university to find another rite of passage. Being alive a young person of color in this society is an achievement. Fuck the respectability politics, because regardless of your education attainment, your contributions to your community, family, and society in general is a rite of passage. As I sit in my bed, applying for job applications, I have found that the greatest rite of passage for being a young person of color is the ability to breathe.