SAINT-FORT: Be unapologetic about who you are
Opinions Column: Charged Up
A couple days ago, a friend of mine told me that I have a “heightened sense of self.” The original question was whether or not I was stuck up, and while we both concluded that I wasn’t, the idea of me floating just a little bit above the rest came into vision. He assured me that there was no problem with this. But even if there was, I'm not sure I would care. While his comments likely had nothing to do with my race, class or gender, my "heightened sense of self" stems directly from that. My struggles and my accomplishments make me exactly who I am. Every misstep and leap I’ve taken have come together as jigsaw pieces to form the larger puzzle of my life. I'm a black woman from a middle-class family with a myriad of financial struggles. This identity is exactly why I hold myself to a higher standard, one that's most assume to be far beyond my reach.
No matter what I’ve achieved, there has always, always, always been someone telling me I could have done better. At first it was my father. I would get a 100 on a test and he would say, “Good job yes, but maybe you would have gotten extra credit if your penmanship was better.” Of course he meant this in a caring way, he just wanted the best for his child. But then in middle school, when I started out-performing my peers on tests and projects, that was because I “had no friends.” That maybe if my parents “let me hang out with other kids, I wouldn’t do so well in school.”
Then in high school, according to a guidance counselor, who was not my own, I was selling myself short by not applying to any of the Ivies and would be destined to a mediocre existence. And then, according to my high school “friends,” I only got into all seven of the colleges and universities I applied to and received over $30,000 in scholarship money because I was black. When I transferred I was being foolish, and when I chose to double-major and minor I was being presumptuous.
Even now that I’ve signed a contract to work at an elementary school that I absolutely love — before taking or passing my final exams and graduating — I could still do better. I heard, “Well you know if you worked at this school in this town then you’d make more money." and “Those schools have a high turn over rate so you’ll probably be out after a year.” I’m over it. I’m tired of letting people steal my magic. Every time I reach the apex of a treetop, someone is standing beside me with a smooth bladed machete, prepared to cut me down to size — the size they chose for me.
I can say without a doubt that my intersectionality has something to do with it. Women are expected to be submissive and black people are expected to be unintelligent. The combination of these two social identifiers are the exact opposite of everything that I am and everything that I stand for. Whenever I receive praise, it comes with acknowledgment of a failure or shortcoming. Joyous celebrations are all too often turned into a conversation where I'm being scolded, so I learned not to care and most certainly not to apologize.
While this is my last column, I didn’t intend for it to be a goodbye column. Yet looking back over my time at Rutgers and my work at The Daily Targum both as a columnist and an opinions editor, this is exactly where I found my magic. Through writing about a host of issues from black women being marginalized, to acting white, mass incarceration and everything in between, I found myself. I’ve never had a problem expressing my opinions, but I used to shy away from stating them with verve. Yet after writing scores of columns and editorials, I found my voice and never looked back — I became unapologetic. So maybe I do have a “heightened sense of self,” but is that really a bad thing? The way I see it, if you’ve worked for something, then you’ve earned it. Of course I do not have the right to act or treat anyone as if I’m better than them, because I’m not. But my “heightened sense of self,” only exists because my entire being is the antithesis of what society expects me to be. As cliche as it sounds, if there’s one thing that I’ve most definitely learned at Rutgers, its to be unapologetic — or you’ll get screwed. Don't let anyone steal your magic.
Yvanna Saint-Fort is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and journalism and media studies with a minor in public policy. She is a former opinions editor of The Daily Targum. Her column, "Charged Up," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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