Minority populations must not let stigmas silence them
It is the burden of abject identities to remain silent. Three years of college has taught me that courage is not gained through age or experience, but with the social amenities that one is allowed and that one takes. Too often do I hear stories about in-class anxiety, usually with the pretext that one is not smart enough, or would be embarrassed if she or he spoke up in class or that their professor would find their point so obscenely inept. In-class anxiety is a huge problem, but it is its prevalence among systematically oppressed populations that concerns me. If it was the case that all students felt discomfort upon speaking up, so that the thought of raising one’s hand would induce goosebumps and the act of speech itself would result in incredible distress, then our problem would be a much different one.
The problem we are dealing with is the tendency of minority groups to think themselves not apt for academic environments, or rather “disinterested” with “nothing to say.” I don’t believe for a second that anyone can ever have nothing to say or “nothing new to say.” Point in case are all the privileged cisgendered folks who perpetually succumb to incongruous, repetitive arguments, even as they “have nothing new to say.” There is something to say, always! My suspicion is that there is something more that minority populations want than to express their deep-lying thoughts. I suspect that what they want is the courtesy of recognition, the kindness of acceptance, and ultimately, the gift of veneration. I suspect they want to feel listened to and not disregarded because their voices are softer than others and their diction is not as austere.
I have to admit — I do not myself suffer from the problem of in-class anxiety. My contributions to class discussions are sometimes lengthy and always self-assured. But I reject any assertion that this is because my volition made it so. I think that there is something to be said about the way that I was raised that has lead to my visceral straightforwardness. I want to think that because I was taught to shed those aspects of femininity that make women and men want to be complimentary rather than in plain sight that I am able to speak up in class. But women are not taught this. To repeat the already ubiquitous Ngozi Adichie quote made famous by Beyonce’s “Flawless” song, women are taught to “shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.”
Neither Ngozi Adichie nor myself have this problem. But as women, and as women of color, we are able to recognize it. We see it every day: present in the panicked faces of our pondering sisters, present in their shaking voices and halfway smiles, present in light of everything that towers over us and tells us that our comments are of no use. This semester, please charge yourself with distinguishing between what is innate and what you have been socialized into doing. Remember, there is always something to say.