Everybody knows the reputation; being black at YALE can be detrimental to your soulful. I can attest to the utter whiteness of the institution, and for a while it looked like I might be just another statistic. You know the one - data points grateful to have survived long enough for commencement, topped with a post-graduation round of wound licking and re-calibration. This can easily be anyone's future when deciding to walk within a complex historical space that has housed the likes of Eli Whitney, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, among others. But I have recently decided that two years of bad memories and student debt are mutually exclusive. Since the debt has already been determined, my measure of happiness at YALE is now my responsibility. And, because I am black, I do believe that I have special access to a collective consciousness that makes me well suited to handle such a task. I mean, how else do you explain the best parts of Americana running parallel with an American Holocaust? In light of this toolkit, I wonder why we still rely upon the the duck-and-cover technique? Most of the conversations I've had about the grad school experience were excercises in commiseration, which I generally enjoy as sport, but reject as an ultimate solution. Convinced that my mother's death has made me more attuned to my feelings, I'm learning to balance an acute sense of grief with the forward movement of my life's journey. Luckily, I am one of those water-off-a-duck's-back types- instinctually positive. That being said, this charmed life perspective has lent itself to a number of strategies that I find useful in creating a graduate school experience that is not just bearable, but exciting. These suggestions are culturally based and biased towards individuals who self-identify as black, but I do believe that there are elements that can be applied universally. And so it goes...
- You will have to work twice as hard to achieve success. (I know you have heard this countless times before, but it is likely that the notion has been related to modes of production. For example a paper, presentation or project had to be of luminescent quality for passable acknowledgement. But this is not the work I am referring to. No, this measure of effort is strictly applied to your relationship to others. If you are to be successful in arenas predominated by the mainstream (i.e. white people), you must discover ways to connect with as many individuals as you can. This outreach should be extended to your classmates, faculty, administration, staff, spouses and children- should you come into contact with any. And since it actually does 'take a village', you must create one.)
- Stellar performances require rehearsals. (Many self-identified black people have a strong sense of 'keeping it real', but I suggest we explore 'keeping it reality'. It's true, I do think white people are crazy, but I also think black people are a bit touched if we think we can unleash the 'realness' without the 'rehearsal'. The reality is that most of us experience the greatest proportion of interactions with people who occupy the same social/cultural/historical/economic space, so we've rehearsed all kinds of conversations to the point of 'naturalness'. We've become experts at the various roles we can play within these communities. The family reunion is a wonderful example of this. But, within the context of a whitened landscape, I've found myself frustrated by missed ques. To improve the exchange, it's been helpful to consider conversations with 1-2 people as a rehearsal, and dialogues featuring 4 or more as performances. While do I think interpersonal performance is a hallmark of all stratified communities, allowing a space to practice certainly grounds my perspective.)
- The truth is always revealing itself. (The truth exists as energy- it is neither created nor destroyed. Often during evaluations/critiques I felt like my intentions were questioned to the point of interrogation. Interpretations of my work seemed to be restrictive connections to a black™ experience, reducing the formal and conceptual choices I made to invisibility and trumping exploratory development with 'implications'. It is here that I discovered an important truth truth; that the limitations of an audience is actually a mask of privilege that you can ask them to remove. Whether the request is granted or denied is not the point. Truth is found in the question, not necessarily the answer.
- A Chip on your shoulder stays salty. (One word: Hypertension.)