Years ago I had the distinct honor of being selected for an exchange program to New York University. Getting that acceptance letter was the fulfillment of a long held dream to experience NYC from the perspective of a resident. Mind you, I had never visited NYC prior to showing up that spring of 2001.
While I have many stories from that semester, the one I finally feel ready to tell builds on a sentiment shared by my blog buddy Clinnesha in her post from yesterday. She spoke on her transition from an HBCU environment to a space in graduate school where she was ethnically and culturally in a super minority and the discomfort she experienced.
My initiation into the club came at the age of eight and I have been code switching my behind off ever since. While the skill is a marketable one, it does come at a cost. This is one of the many reasons I elected to attend an HBCU as a place to heal from the scraping of my soul that comes from living in spaces that find my natural self to be nonconformist.
My semester at NYU was my first significant venture outside of my HBCU chrysalis chamber and while NYC is a vastly cultured place, I felt that familiar feeling and reached again for the mask that helped me so many times navigate “tricky racial situations”. Then one day while talking to my Cassandra I took time to consider all of the messaging that was being thrust at me all day long and how those messages framed black people. The messaging was overwhelmingly negative and oftentimes subtle.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to confront the publishers and editors and advertising executives, teachers, politicians and policemen and ask them, “What are you doing? Why do you hate what I am?” While that might have provided a temporary release, I knew I had to do something else, something that would help me to protect myself from all that negativity.
I started building a wall.
Not a wall to keep people out. I built a wall to welcome into my life all of the positive images of black and brown people I could manage. No print publication was safe from me and my scissors. I was on mission.
I filled the walls around my bed with those beautiful images and I addressed them every morning. I took responsibility for fortifying my own mind and it most certainly helped.
I learned something in the process of that experience that wasn’t captured in my report card. I have control over myself and my (re)actions. It is MY responsibility to assess my surroundings and make adjustments when necessary. If I find myself in a bad work environment, it’s my job to make a plan to get out of there and back in line with my purpose.
Trust me, I have my challenging days, but I have found that a little bit of positivity can go a long way. There is always something to be grateful and thankful for. And know this, positive energy can draw what my Mama calls desert people. These are folks determined to use people up and suck the joy out of every situation. You have to know when/if your purpose is to help them or turn them over to the Creator because not everyone is looking (or willing) to be helped by you.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.