Twisted: Black Women, HBCUs, and the Body

In honor of Bert Ashe’s visit and the attention that his work pays to race and the body, I wanted to share a submission from a current HBCU student on the subject. The student writer is a senior at an HBCU and would like to share reflections from many HBCU upperclasswomen about their own identity struggles. Here is the first installment of her work. Be sure to comment.

I didn’t want to share my past issues with being black. But, as a senior, I realize now that many other girls felt the same way I did.

Being one of few black students in the school.

Being the only black girl in the class.

Being the dark color overwhelmed by white.

In those situations, I had to play that role, you know. I would hide behind a mask with a bright, never-fading smile, day-in and out like nothing was wrong. So desperate to blend in but always out of place. My conspicuous blackness weaving its way into the classroom. Like the way my English teacher’s eyes met mine when she announced that we’d be reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“Will anyone have a problem with the usage of the word “Nigger”?

She was stressing how essential it was to stay true to the text.

Silence.

The gaze of my white classmates felt heavy. I bowed my head.

I wanted to shout! “Yes, I have a problem!”

But…admitting that would call attention to my blackness. So I sat awkwardly there for WEEKS. And my classmates repeatedly punched the word “nigger.” Nigger. NIGGER!

You know I didn’t even go to prom? My friends kept asking me why. They knew why. Interracial dating wasn’t…a thing where I was from so no guy asked me. And it sucked! Because one of my guy friends obviously wanted to!

But he didn’t.

And I wished I was lighter.

So…maybe he wouldn’t notice my dark skin as much. Maybe the others wouldn’t see me as a dash of color. Maybe my blackness wouldn’t burden everything. Maybe my blackness wouldn’t overwhelm me.

And I REALLY thought Hillman would be different. But, it wasn’t. No, there was this ideal “Hillman woman”. Even on a BLACK campus, she doesn’t look like me…she isn’t me.

She’s in everything! AND she’s got a size + shape + color + grade of hair that I can’t even aspire to. It was intimidating as hell and IT PISSED ME OFF! Look, I didn’t want to share this. But, I know other girls feel the same way I felt.

Being one of the many black students on campus.

Being unable to fit the “type”.

Still being the dark overwhelmed by light.

*Image of Tiana Parker. See the lovely response that these natural hair sistahs offered Tiana.

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