Living under pressure
I would say that my racial identity is that I'm a Black American that is a woman. I feel like in recent discussions, there has been sort of a grappling between Black or African American. I am fine with both. But I usually feel as though Black American more solidifies my identity, because it comes with the experience. I think that African American is more to say that you are like African and American. And I’ve never been to Africa, and my family isn't African. I was grappling with this the other day. My mom was like, Paige, we're from New Orleans. That's all we know about our family's history. I don't know anything beyond that, and probably never will, unless I do something like a DNA test for my family tree. Then again, those are like expensive. So unless it's something that I'm wanting to know then I probably won't be doing that. And so I think the struggle of that, and also combating what it means to be a black woman in America, has defined who I am greatly. And I wish that I wouldn't have to think about my race so much, but that's the reality of living in this country that was founded on racism.
So, I think that sort of having pride in who I am, has been something that's been a struggle after, decades of being told that I don't belong here. I don't belong in this space. And even like in class when we're talking about race, and people are just desiring to know what I think about it, because I'm the only Black student in the room, that's centered around my identity. And I think that thinking about it has no harm. But it's just because I've been so, I guess, nurtured into thinking about my race in proximity to everyone else, like my race and gender, I can't not think about, oh, was this situation a microaggression? And then being told that, oh, no, you're just overthinking it. Or like, being asked, oh, how long does it take you to do your hair? Just questions about the way that I look, the way that I talk. You know, people telling me that I'm not bBlack enough. Or that, I don't know, just all of those things combined, makes up my identity. And I wish I could think about it less, but I can't.
In a class setting last year, there were two other Black girls in the class, making three total. And the professor would confuse our names all the time. Sometimes he would use the excuse that we moved seats, or switch seats, but I often sat one chair over if I did switch seats, so I don't think that's a valid excuse. He asked one of my classmates what they had cooked over Thanksgiving. And before even allowing her to answer, he made the joke that she made fried chicken. And he could just never get our names right, he would always confuse us. We look nothing alike, all different heights. And I think just going into that class every day, and just anticipating for him to make any of those comments – in front of white students, who would then in turn view this as a normalcy– it made me very uncomfortable, I did not like going to the class, regardless of how enriching the class experience was, I just did not care for it. Because it's not that hard to learn someone's name. There's three of us in here. And the rest of the class is, um, white men and women and you are going out of your way to confuse our three names.
Paige Jenkins is a sophomore studying American Studies and English at the University of Notre Dame. Jenkins was raised in McKinney, Texas.