July 20, 2019 | 83° F

STROTHERS: When your 'squad' ventures into new cultural capital

Opinions Column: The Sociogram


We all know the very familiar saying, “You are what you eat.” Meaning, your body and well-being reflect what you take in. Very similar to this is the familiar saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with." This quote, focusing more on interactions and less on the internal, provides a similar meaning as well. Your character and your habits will reflect what you take in from those five people.

This lesson may be common sense to most, but for one who stands on the margins, it may not be so common. As a first-generation, low-income student, there is great comfort and solidarity in commonality. Being around people who have similar backgrounds has the power to make you feel warm and cozy on the inside, like hot chocolate on a cold winter day. However, when you venture into new environments and cross lines of cultural capital, you are met with fear and sometimes resistance. Despite this, it is important and very necessary for your squad to not only represent who you are currently, but more so who and what you want to become. In order to do that, you must cross many cultural, racial and other borders of identity.

Recently, Saturday Night Live produced a parody, “The Day Beyonce Turned Black.” This parody is based off of her new, highly debatable song, "Formation,"  which highlights black issues. Now I am not going to discuss the song here or the power of Beyonce and her Beyhive, but there was a part in this SNL video that stood out to me. In this parody, it shows what appears to be a white woman (whom we shall call Shantel) talking to a black woman (whom we shall call Jessica). Shantel is expressing to Jessica that they need to leave America because Beyonce is in fact, black. Jessica gives a gentle reminder that she also is black and there is no reason to leave. Shantel says to Jessica, “Yeah, but you’re like, my girl." As insignificant as this may seem, it spoke volumes to show the importance of your squad. In this exchange, their identity did not matter. What was most important was that they had a relationship, a bond and a sense of trust. And from relationships, comes access.

I was once fearful of "turning my squad white," or upper class, or highly educated or anything else that was different from my norms. However, here are three reasons why I am glad I did:

1. When your squad starts to turn into something that you may not be familiar with, you learn so much about yourself and others as well. You become open to different thoughts, ideas and traditions. One of the initial phases of any growth process is awareness. How can we become aware if we do not learn?

2. When you are surrounded by people who represent where you are going, it is almost guaranteed that creations will happen. In building these relationships, seeds are planted. And the more you water them, the more they will grow. These creations may be something as small as sharing an interest in music to something as large as a new business idea. Either way, your squad can be a main generator of creative genius.

3. As you begin to build and create, always remember to use those creations to help others. While you are advancing, do not forget to reach back and lend a hand to someone along the way. As Booker T. Washington said, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."

While SNL developed a parody using "Formation," I use this piece as a spin off of SNL to show the importance of your relationships and your network. The word "white" should not be equated to mean right. Allow your squad to represent where you are going and don’t be afraid to have a hot chocolate, bubble tea or macchiato along the way!

Atiya S. Strothers is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of Education. Her column, "The Sociogram,” runs on alternate Fridays.


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Atiya S. Strothers

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