It’s never been a hard task for me to conform, if I must. I say conform because it is the only word to relate to the actions of watering down my culture, my beliefs, my ecentric “Wow, how did you get your hair like that!” style, to fit the standards that have always surrounded me.
Predominately White Institutions, or PWI’s, were not a foreign concept before attending Northwest. In fact, subconsciously, it may have been the familiarity of the environment that drew me to the campus.
Growing up in Lee’s Summit a suburb outside of Kansas City, it would seem Northwest was the college equivalent of high school. Though transitions from inner-city schooling to suburban is something that can truly alter any person of color.
While I’ve always been, as my family calls it, “proper,” speaking my words fully with efficient pronunciation, articulation and diction, properness made me “sound white” to family though my blackness seeped through decorum like black oil. It essentially left me unapproachable, unpopular and, frankly, isolated.
Being a black student and being surrounded by white students for the first time can feel like a flock of speechless birds gawking. As bullying and isolation increased, each day, I discovered I’d rather shy away from the stares by conforming to the things I recognized as normal. The process happened so gradually, I almost didn’t notice the changes; it is only natural for a child to want to “fit in.”
Of course, my changes in attitude, style of clothing and social standard were met with a sense of acceptance, though in reality, it was meer tolerance. Though tolerance was better than isolation, and swallowing down my “friends’” microaggressive behaviors was better than being the “hostile black girl.” Finally, I was “The black girl named, Carmeka”
As if I was one of the dancers from the end of “The Wiz,” the cloaked facet I had draped myself in slipped from my shoulders as I progressed through my freshman year of college. As my interest developed, I gravitated towards a sense of familiarity in the small and close-knit community of black students on campus.
Like many black college students who attend PWIs, according to a Gallup study which explored the difference between black students who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs and PWIs, there was significant lack of support. Support that could only be found in those who had experienced the same hardships, though I envied those peers who never experienced the package deal of conformity that came with being the “token black kid.”
After years of obeying the societal standards surrounding PWIs, I had conditioned my responses to hide my ethnicity, as if it was not clearly painted on my skin.
Many black students experience the suppression of their natural selves in order to be viewed as compliant, non-hostile and, in all honesty, submissive. Whether it is within the classroom, the workplace or simple interactions between our counterparts, some would find our ebonics as uneducated, unprofessional and slightly offensive.
My time at Northwest has provided me with a sight of myself that I missed growing up. Wrapping myself in the culture I had repressed for so long, an unapologetic fondness for who I am blossomed into an appreciation of my blackness. The integration of black celebratory events and campus activities I had never been awarded progressed my resurgence into my culture. And like many of my peers, I can finally feel a brand new day.