I don’t think I’m better than you because I have a college education!
While some people reading that statement are mildly confused by the random burst of frustration, others related instantaneously.
The other day while discussing my dinner plans with my siblings, I hinted at wanting something, (probably sushi) that rattled my siblings with yuck-factor. My brother then commented, “Aye, don’t forget where you came from!” The statement both tickled and irritated me, because I didn’t know my taste buds had to remain in a specific guideline for me to maintain my street cred, or lack thereof. Furthermore, the number of times my black card has been revoked, at this point in life because of personal interests outside of ‘normal’, is not even funny. I can’t play spades, and sometimes chopsticks are simply my preferred utensil choice for meals.
The truth is, I never forgot! I honestly think about it every day! It has both molded and shifted everything about who I am today.
Many times though, during heated discussions, the statement that I think I’m better than others because of my degrees, has come up in some fashion. When I ask for an explanation, there is none, just festered anger and envy towards me.
Growing up, my family moved around a lot. We didn’t have much, and frequently had to live with others as my mom worked to provide for five children. While I was exposed to many things growing up, I also felt that I missed out on different experiences due to circumstantial poverty.
Education expectations from my family were pretty straightforward – graduate high school! That’s where the bar was set, and nobody felt the need to shift it, myself included. However, I had a high school counselor that saw something in me at the time that I didn’t see in myself. While she was interested in changing the trajectory of my life, I saw college as a means to remove myself from the dysfunction around me and, in a way, start a new beginning.
College transformed me in ways that I would never have imagined. It allowed me to meet people from various backgrounds, travel, mature, and explore. While some people go to college with the idea of gaining a degree and becoming successful, I went to college to find stability. All the extra things that came along the way were a bonus.
While conversations regarding being a first-generation college graduate happened at my HBCU, there was little conversation on how to navigate the nuisances and isolation you’d experience from family and friends when you returned home. Any requests to try or see something new were quickly dismissed, and a rebuttal on ideas or beliefs was viewed as shoving my college education in people’s faces. I wanted to share transparency, exposure, and newness, but somehow that translated to the bougie outsider in their eyes.
A toggle between identity and acceptance ensued.
Having a career working in college access was the beginning of understanding how hard it is for others to show excitement or acceptance to something they’ve never experienced before.
Degrees, exquisite taste buds, and traveling the world meant that I had experienced more life than those around me, and that equated to being better than, in the eyes of those I grew up with and around. Though this was never my delivery, it was the reality of those who perceived it that way.
Over time, staying true to who I had become and creating the space for others to experience new things with me shifted perception for some. I’m sure if anyone in my family is reading this now, they may still feel that I can be a bit eclectic with life, but they can’t deny the exposure and new experiences we’ve created together. Now, whether they liked or disliked it, I couldn’t guarantee, but our shared story was enough “thank you” for me.
So, I continue to rattle the status quo of what being a black girl from the hood entails. My college education allowed me to take advantage of opportunities others ignored. Many have questioned why I go against the grain, but I genuinely believe that I get the luxury of shifting the thoughts of those around me through adventure and storytelling.
I have younger generations in my family and career who are watching me, curious about my world travels, and the random snacks I bring to family functions and events. My hope is that they find peace in their individuality and never allow their upbringing to hinder their circumstances or desire to explore new things.
Gaining a sense of purpose makes adversity easier to sit in.