Challenging myself to write a blog post every day. Here it goes.
During my fall semester at Douglass Residential College at Rutgers, I was a part of a Women’s Studies class that made me really change the way that I looked at the world. This class is actually what inspired me to change my major to that of Women’s Studies. As our final project, we were asked to interview a woman in a position that we admired, and who was considered to be ‘successful’ in her workplace as well as aware of the difficulties that she had to go through (if any) in order to get where she is. I decided to post up my final paper, seeing as I found it to be incredibly motivational. My mother, the woman who I chose to interview, is an extremely intellectual person who has a way with choosing her words so that they may resonate with everyone she speaks to.
This past semester has been really challenging for me in a number of ways. Being able to finally take part in the ISS Women’s Leadership course is something that I am, not only happy to have accomplished, but also extremely grateful to have challenged myself in many different aspects of life. One of the challenges that I took on was being able to not only learn about, but also to reach out to women, and genuinely engage in conversations with them about their legacies. I was lucky enough to have interviewed a woman whom I admire very much, though I did not know much about her. The woman I had the pleasure of speaking with for this interview project was Lynda, a 1988 Douglass College graduate. Lynda is a recently divorced, single mother of four, and an LSW (Licensed Social Worker) who works two full-time jobs. In the daytime, she works at a social services office in Newark, from 8:30am to 2:30pm, Monday-Friday, and also works in the Emergency Psychiatric Department at a Hospital (eliminated the names for her privacy) on Mondays through Wednesdays, and Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30pm until 12:00 midnight, sometimes later. I took the time to ask her all kinds of questions, many of which were formed based on what we have discussed in class, from experiencing discrimination in the classroom and workforce, to being a feminist, to even having to choose between being a mother or having a successful career, all to which she answered very genuinely. Lynda’s tenacity is something that resonated with me throughout the course of the interview, and I can honestly say that she is someone who I have grown to admire through all of her struggles and successes.
- Firstly, I wanted to get some background information about her; to find out exactly WHO Lynda is. After all, it would help to get a little bit of history on the person I would be interviewing. Lynda was born in Guyana, South America. She is the youngest of three children, and is the only girl. Her mother left for America when she was three years old with ambitions to create a better life for her children. While her mother was away, Lynda was separated from her two brothers, who stayed together, while she was alone with her aunts until she was reunited with her brothers upon meeting up with their mother in America. She stated, “I didn’t see my mother or brothers until I was seven years old. That is when she sent for all of us to go to America together, because she had established a stable environment for us to enter into from being in Guyana. To this day, I feel like because of the separation between me and my brothers at such a young age, they share a bond that I will never really be a part of.”
- Through hearing about Lynda’s background: where she came from, and what kind of a dynamic in which she grew up in, it made me think about a lot of things. Firstly, this made me think about, and attempt to understand, what kind of a place Guyana was while she was growing up. I wanted to know, better yet, understand what went on over there for her mother to want to leave and go to America for a better life. Upon personal research, I found out that Guyana was not a place where all were treated equal. In fact, at that time, no place in the world had equality in anything: gender, race, sexual preference, and etcetera. Guyana’s nickname is “Land of Six People”. Of course, this nickname is not reflective of the number of people who populate the country; but instead the types of people who populate it. Guyana is a unique country because it takes pride in the diversity of its people. ‘Land of Six People’ refers to the six different ethnic groups that make up the country: from the Chinese, to the Africans, the East Indians, Amerindians, Portuguese, and Europeans. For all of these different ethnicities, they took pride in sharing the Guyanese nationality. During the time between when Lynda was born and when she left for America, the nation of Guyana was undergoing a fight for independence from Britain.I also began to think about the role of women in Guyana during that time period. Guyana was granted independence from Britain in 1966. Six years prior, I found out, a woman by the name of Christina Ramjattan joined the People Progressive Party (PPP). She was the “first woman in Guyana’s politics” (horizonsguyana.com), and because of her tenacity, she was a part of the PPP for almost 40 years. Learning about this really surprised me, for I assumed that the role of women could not have been this great, so far back in time. I also found it to be interesting that not many speak about this woman, perhaps because of the fact that she was a female. In our class, we discussed the role of women in political positions. I feel like because this semester was focused more on how women are oppressed from the American perspective, we tend to ignore when women do well in other nations. I also think that other nations do not necessarily acknowledge women who have achieved something great, unless one takes the time to search for it, or ask about it.
From this information alone, my reaction was that of awe and confusion. So many questions were boiling inside of my mind. I wondered if Lynda had any feelings of resentment towards her mother for having left her children at such a young age in their lives. She then explained that she was not bitter, though when she was little, she was confused and scared, for she did not know, let alone understand why her mother left, or if she would be coming back to her. Lynda then told me that as she got older, she began to understand why her mother did what she did: it was all for the benefit of her children. I then asked Lynda if she considered her mother to be one of her role models, to which she answered, ‘Yes’. She then went on to explain that, though she and her mother disagree on many things to this day, all mothers eventually will clash with their daughters, just as she does with her own from time to time. Lynda’s mother would always push her and her siblings to do well in their studies, as well as in life. She told me that through her mother’s ‘pushy’ attitude, she and her two brothers each have Master’s degrees. “My mother has a ‘dress you down’ style, which made me very upset, but it did, in turn, help me to be who I am today.”
When I asked Lynda if she considered herself to be a feminist, she claimed that she did not necessarily see herself as a feminist, per say, but instead, as a womanist. I was confused, seeing as I didn’t really understand where she was coming from. She then continued to elaborate, by stating that she believes that people, or society in general, view feminists as extreme, with an ‘all-or-nothing’ attitude and mentality. This reminded me of many discussions that our class would have throughout the course of the semester. The topic and idea of ‘feminism’ was something that was always viewed as taboo to society, especially to the younger generation. In fact, a piece that we have read, “Fear of Feminism: Why young women get the willies”, by Hogeland, specifically states that “The challenge to the public-private division that feminism represents is profoundly threatening to young women who just want to be left alone, to all women who believe they can hide from feminist issues by not being feminists” (Hogeland 20). Though Lynda did not necessarily admit to being a feminist, perhaps because of the negative outlook on the word, I believe that her rendition of the mindset of feminism through using the word ‘womanist’, did in fact prove that she does support the mission of feminism. Lynda took the time to explain her reasoning for the use of the word:
“Well, feminists can be extreme. But I do indeed embrace a lot of feminist values. Actually, I would like to even go one step further, and say I am a WOMANIST. Not so much a feminist. I just believe in women and the power of the woman. You know, throughout the ages, women have been abused, ignored, disrespected, and many, many limitations were placed on women. And in some cultures, at present, women are still struggling for equality. Even in America, we still have quite a disparity in terms of pay, and that is something that I am glad is finally being addressed. Because it really bothers me that women earn less in the workplace, simply because they are women.”
Lynda prides herself on being very passionate about equality. She told me that when she sees unjust practices and any form of inequality, it makes her angry. In fact, she told me that throughout her undergraduate and graduate school years, she witnessed a lot of unfair acts. She stated, “…I did witness a lot of unfair things: in the dorm, or perhaps with professors who didn’t necessarily realize their own biases, other students, even fellow social workers who were in the School of Social Work, were placed in various field assignments, and were definitely insensitive to certain vulnerable populations: speaking very disrespectfully about some of the client populations, and who they want to work with, and who they did not want to work with, and all of those experiences really, really, REALLY bothered me to the point where I became QUITE outspoken, because I found it, actually pretty disgusting.” It was that passion that made her want to help out and advocate for others who were being disrespected, and that is something that I truly related to.
Another topic that we discussed in class was the idea of women having to choose between being successful and having a family. In class, we touched on many different women who chose their career over having children. For instance, one woman that we spent significant time focusing on a woman named Sonia Sotomayor, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. We read her autobiography, entitled, “My Beloved World”, and in this book, she mentions her choice to pursue her career, and to not have children. She admits that she regrets not having children, but also admits that she is still very happy with her life as it is. When I asked Lynda if she agreed with women having to make a choice between having a successful career, and having and raising four children, this particular question seemed to irk her pretty deeply. She stated that she could not identify with that thought process. Though I agreed with the idea that a woman can have both a successful job and a family I was curious as to why she did not identify with the idea that other women in successful fields had.
“This is because I have both. I have two jobs, and you know what? They happen to be two FULL-time jobs. But, with decreased hours because of my luck and creativity. I work around any and all challenges, and so I will just say, I don’t know what these women are talking about; but I cannot relate at all…What I ended up doing was just prioritizing, praying, and just made changes…necessary changes. In fact, in my Women’s Studies Program, undergraduate, I came across a book that was assigned reading, by Judith Viorst, called Necessary Losses. And that book inspired me, and shaped my escape from this challenging marriage that I had; because in life, one must go through necessary losses…”
This idea of undergoing ‘necessary’ losses made me think of what women must do in order to climb up the invisible ladder that is the road to success. Women constantly must make sacrifices in order to keep a balance in their lives. Whether or not it is through making the choice to acquire an education so that they can get a good job, so that they can support their children, if they so choose to have them, there is always a greater amount of effort needed on the woman’s part, rather than for their male counterparts.
I then thought about why some women would think that one has to make the choice between having children and having a successful career. What caused this thought process to occur? Who decided that women couldn’t have both? Just as motherhood is expected to present many challenges, having a career should present just as many, though different, challenges. Because Lynda is a mother of four children, I asked her if she experienced any difficulties with working and raising her kids, that of which she admitted was difficult. She stated,
“I experience challenges with my children. Having children can be very painful at times; because you want the best for them… there are parental challenges…but the kids did not come with instructions. So yes, being a parent is definitely difficult. But, it is so rewarding at the same time: and once again, assessment wise, the joy and joys far outweigh the negativity and misery…so, I’ll keep them. I’ll keep all four of them. My youngest child is Autistic, and I love how understanding and empathetic the older siblings are. They are so loving, and so nurturing towards my youngest Autistic child, so, again, we are a complex family, but even with the challenge of having a special needs child, I turned it into a part of my career! Social work, certification, and began working with special populations: Helping other parents who were lost, and sad, and helpless, and hopeless with early intervention, and understanding and deciphering IEPs (individual education plans) for special needs kids. Even at the hospital, when DDP (Developmentally Disabled Patients) come in, I would advocate for them, because I have a special needs child with very limited vocabulary. He uses augmentative devices. So, I turned my personal challenges into positive things. Into positivity, into incorporating all of the skills I learned on a personal level into my career. So…I have nothing negative to say…I am a happy person, and I am telling you the truth.”
Lynda then left me some final words that I simply could not leave out, for they really stayed with me, even after the interview was over. She told me,
“… Remember; do not set up road blocks for yourself. Think positively. Set a goal. Continue to assess where you are, and if you are not happy, then change the plan. Approach it from a different angle. Be open. Make every day a learning day…Don’t act like you know it all. Everyone can be taught something. And every day, live with meaning and purpose. And that’s how you’re going to be able to achieve your goals.”
Those words resonated with me, the most, because the idea of ‘setting a goal and achieving it’ has been a recurring theme throughout not only this semester, but throughout my life. This mentality is something that truly breeds leaders, and quite frankly, I think that the world needs more female ones. Which leads me to another realization: throughout the course of taking this class, and through completing this interview, I realized that I, too, am someone who does not accept nor like any form of inequality at all. The time spent on complaining about what is wrong with the world, and what is wrong with our society is time wasted that could be spent on taking affirmative action. The only way that change can be made has to begin with making moves and taking steps that not only challenge the social norms, but also leave a mark. This class has inspired me to speak up about what I may not agree with—because in my mind, thoughts can only go so far if no action is taken to make them a reality.
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed my reaction to our conversation~She truly does inspire me everyday, and I am so blessed to have her in my life as my mother. I am too lucky. ❤
So, I guess this is going to be my first attempt at a heartfelt entry. I haven’t done this in a while. Since high school, actually.
That’s…almost six years ago. And the funny thing is, I don’t even know how I should begin…
Well, I guess I should start by stating what I hope to, and want to get out of this. I am a person who deals with a lot of different things (sooo cliché. I know.): Most of them on the negative side…almost always at the same time. Or one after the other…after the other. I am hoping to rid myself of my negative thoughts, through this little exercise, and continue my day, and ideally my life, without so much anxiety. And who knows? Maybe if I commit to doing this at least once a week, I might be able to organize my thoughts, and ideally, return to my old self. Actually, no. I want to become a genuinely happier, confident and more evolved version of myself.
Part One: Understand where I am coming from. A Detoxification.
First, I feel like I must write from my darker side. The side of me that feels hopeless. And the funniest part is, I HATE IT when feel this way…but when I am by myself, all I do is think. And when I think, I try to plan, but then the darker side of me comes out and says, “Your life. it sucks.”
I mean, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THIS HOLE. It has been getting deeper and deeper, and I want to climb out. I want to be able to say that I am better than this, than them, than everything that wants to keep me down. I want to be able to understand why bad things happen to good people. I want to turn back time. I want to start over. I want to be able to go back to the girl I used to be: bright, positive, happy, SATISFIED. INNOCENT.
I mean, I wish I could, but I know that wishing is something that will never make anything happen. What I need to do, is work on being able to tell the difference between the two. Between reality and imagination.
I mean, I used to be such a talented child, and am still a very talented woman. This is something I KNOW. I feel like my light has been burned out, and I want to be able to spark it back up.
I have realized that I want a lot of things.
I want to be able to smile, for REAL. Not because I feel that I have to.
I want to be able to love myself for my mind and soul. Not because I feel I have to. Actually, I feel like I always HAVE to do something. To BE something. I want to know WHO I AM: and WHAT I WANT…and WHAT I DESERVE.
I want to rid myself of all of the negative people in my life, who wish me nothing but sorrow and, eventually, my demise. I want to love myself. As much as those who love me do, and I them. I want to be proud of myself, because I am not, always. I want to be able to speak up whenever I do not agree with something, which is a good amount of the time, and which is something that I don’t do. At all.
I want to be able to take these posts, and turn them into motivation to be nothing but a better version of myself.
I want to live and love without worry. I want to be healthy. I want to love my life. I want to be able to have all of my anger, frustrations, worries, sorrows, and angst disappear fully with every single letter that I type. I want to be free of disease. I want others to be proud of me. I want the people in my life who I call my closest and dearest friends and my boyfriend to be mine forever. Because I fear that all of these negative thoughts that I am haunted with will scare them all away. Forever.
Like they will eventually get sick of me. And my thoughts. And my childish reasoning… And of me.
I want to stop wishing. I need to be able to get my head together.
But I wish that I knew how to be a better friend. And girlfriend. He is always so good to me. They are ALWAYS so good to me, and I just don’t know why they deal with me, sometimes.
I wish I didn’t feel so much pain. Maybe if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t cry so much. I wouldn’t hate everything so much. I would feel the good things in life more. I would be a better person.
I wish I was better.
…I NEED TO STOP WISHING.
And just do what I need to do. In order to get to where I WANT to be. I need to graduate. It has been long enough.
I want to be able to ease my mother’s burdens.
I need a good job.
I want it all. And, yet…I want nothing. But contentment. That is really all that I want. I want to love myself.
^You see, THAT. THAT RIGHT THERE IS MY PROBLEM. I am always wishing, wanting, thinking about the past and becoming upset by it. This has GOT TO END. And it WILL END. STARTING TODAY. Because I WANT to make it stop, and so I am making an EFFORT to stop it.
Writing is my first step.
Let’s do this.
So, I have missed months and months of writing. Shame on me. But, I do feel that I have not been wasting my days being upset about everything going on in my life. In fact, I feel pretty alright today. I spent an amazing weekend with my boyfriend, Richie. It was our six-month anniversary (though, I rather hate it when others go around saying the word, ‘anniversary’ when they are talking about a relationship’s time span. And yet, here I am doing the same thing. I swore I wouldn’t…but look at me…Happy Six Months, baby!!). It was also Chinese New Year for his family. As I got there, I was expecting his family to be rather ticked off that I dared to even come over during the Lunar New Year. I tend to over think (in the worst way…) sometimes. But surprisingly, this weekend was AMAZING. His family welcomed me with open arms…and even gave me red envelopes! ^^ I feel like they do accept me…but it seems like I am always trying to find something wrong. With anything. I mean, this weekend was amazingly amazing, and we spent all of our time together. And it felt great. I feel great. I finally got him to watch Korean movies with me…and he liked them (though, he still wouldn’t watch a tear-jerker with me…in due time, I suppose…)!
Then….we sort of stepped out of our little honeymoon fantasy…and began to talk about the serious things… Which lead up to us having a little bit of an argument.
I was talking about a hypothetical situation in which, I was pregnant with his child (which I am NOT, no worries…). He got super serious, and asked me what I would do if I was in that situation. I said that I wasn’t sure, but I knew I was not ready to have a child. At all. He got so serious all of a sudden…and then proceeded to talk about what he would like to happen, and then letting me know that I am most definitely not even mature enough to have a child…let alone start a family. He mentioned school, my ability to work, with my current pessimistic mentality…and then said he would not want to deal with me, nor would he let my child deal with it either. That is, if I decided to have the child. I snapped. And I started to cry, and got really, REALLY upset. I don’t know why this made me so upset, though. He was right. I most definitely am not ready. I don’t know why I always think this way. It’s like I HATE to hear someone point out the fact that I am wrong, even when they lay out how incredibly ludicrous my thoughts and ideas may sound, or even are. I feel like I am really immature sometimes. Like I need to keep whatever may seem to be farfetched in the back of my brain until it is time to focus on them. I mean, I do have a lot of negative things going on in my life…but I also know that I have a lot of absolutely and amazingly wonderful things happening for me as well. I have met the love of my life, I have one of the most supporting mothers, I have this incredible ability to feel for others, genuinely, even if they do not care for me at all…
I can be someone amazing.
And, I think that both my mother, and Rich see it in me.
Which is why they are always so hard on me (it may seem to me at that particular time of scolding). I can be someone amazing.
I am amazing.
And, this is something I need to work on telling myself everyday.
Not just everyday, but numerous times in the day.
So, here are my promises to myself, that I will make sure to follow:
I promise to speak only in positivity. I cannot afford to succumb to anymore negativity. It will make me sick, and will physically, mentally, and emotionally ruin me. I need to be as positive towards myself as I am towards others. And it WILL happen.
I promise to focus more on myself first, and then others. I need to get my life together. This is obviously a pretty good way to get towards that goal.
I promise to work on awareness. I need to make myself more of an alert and credible person.
I promise to save 50% of every paycheck. Whatever is left of what I make, is what I will use. Nothing more.
I promise to make sure that I put more time into how I look. Appearance is everything. If I do not feel good about how I look, how can others?
I promise to go to the gym religiously. It will take some time, but I need to do this to make myself feel better. This is something I MUST commit to. Today was a cop-out, but tomorrow morning, I WILL BE AT THE GYM.
I promise to get my degree.
I promise to love myself. Unconditionally.
I promise to keep all of these promises.
My name, Jemila Adanna, was given to me by my father. The name ‘Jemila’, meaning ‘beautiful’, is of Arabic origin. The name, ‘Adanna’, meaning ‘father’s daughter’, stems from the Ebo. Though neither of my parents hold any of those nationalities in their blood, the name seemed to fit me perfectly. In fact, both of my parents are West-Indian. My mother was born in Guyana, but came to America at the age of seven; while my father was born in Jamaica, and came to the States at age thirteen. I was born the eldest of four children: two younger brothers, Jabari, and Jassim, and a sister, Jahira. The one thing I loved to take pride in (but also despised…) was the fact that all of my siblings and I shared the same initials as my father, ‘JAS’. It was a funny thing, but sorting out the mail to ‘J A Sterling’ was always a hassle. I always wondered what my life would have been like if I was given a different name, and had different parents. Even a different name. I feel that I would not have experienced as much as I have. I most definitely would not be the person that I am today. I am a Black American female, living with multiple sclerosis and bipolar I disorder. I may be expected to seek help from others due to my disabilities, even to be a victim of them, but I know that I am fully capable of taking care of myself: even if it takes me more time than others.
My identity is something that I have always struggled with—mainly because I did not want to identify as anything in particular. I felt that by labeling myself as something, I would be selling myself short. It wasn’t until I reached high school when I began to change this way of thinking. Perhaps this was because of my childhood. I was bullied by all of the kids in my elementary schools, mainly because I was different from them. It wasn’t just a racial difference, in fact, most of the students in my classes were black. I was ridiculed by people whom I thought were the same as me. In any case, however, we were most definitely not the same. I was a black American female born of West Indian descent: a first generation American; while the others were ‘African American’. Because I didn’t speak like the kids in my class (Ebonics), and because I was raised to say “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” all of the time, they thought I was ‘not black enough’; and so they would call me names and make me feel like I did not belong. It was not a very good feeling for me. Because of this, I ended up being very soft spoken and kept to myself a lot. I read a lot, and ended up getting a perfect score on the Terra Nova exams. I was asked to skip the second grade, and was placed in a third grade class at the age of seven years old. I thought that this was a very high achievement, and felt special. That feeling went away quickly when the kids in my class would ridicule me for being younger than them. “Go back to the grade you came from”, they would say. I would go home and cry and not want to go to school. However, when my mother would say that she would confront my teachers about it, my fear of further ridicule would make me tell her “No, please don’t! It’s not that bad!”…when in fact it was.
One day, when I was about eight years old, this girl in my class threatened to stab me, because I was ‘too white” because I was “too smart”. She said that I “needed to learn how to be black”. I really did not understand what this meant, especially because I was eight years old. Innocent. I went home, obviously scared, and asked my mother why I was considered to be that black girl who ‘wanted to be white’. She answered by asking me. “Do you want to be white?” I said, “No”. “Then she’s wrong. You need to realize that she’s bully.” It was funny, because right after that, my mother called the school and notified the principal that there was bullying in the school, and I became very anxious, fearing that the girl would find out that I ‘snitched’, and instead of being thankful, I grew bitter at my mother for getting involved (which I realize now was incredibly stupid).
In my junior year of high school,I attended a diversity camp. At this place, I was exposed to the truths of the world. I realized how incredibly skewed the world was, especially our country. Prior to this experience, I was incredibly sheltered, and thought the world was the way it appeared to the blind eye, and in stories and on television. I was raised to never talk back to my elders, as well as keep my opinions to myself. To add to this, at home, I was always silenced by my father. It was not very apparent until I reached puberty, and would try to voice my opinions by talking back. That quickly stopped, because ‘children never talk back to their parents’. I was not allowed to have a voice when it came to going against my father. It amazed me how after only five days of being at this camp, I was a completely different person. I learned that I was entitled to a voice, and had so much to say to so many people. I never cried so much to leave a place. When I got back home, I cried to my mother, and asked her all of the questions that were rushing throughout my mind. “Mom, why do white people get everything so much easier than other races?” “Why do men feel that they can just have us when they want us? Aren’t we in the 21st century?” Way more mind boggling questions were asked. My mother got quiet, and then answered, “Because we live in America. In this country, you have to work three times as hard as anyone else.” I honestly didn’t know what that meant until she elaborated: “You have three things that others may consider to be ‘handicaps’: 1) You’re a female. 2) You’re a BLACK female. 3) You’re a dark-skinned black female. You’re perfect the way that you are, though. Never think that you’re lesser than anyone. It’s simply in the eyes of the ignorant.” I began to see her words come to pass when I was applying for college.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, I had to deal with a lot of drama and turmoil. My father was not very supportive towards me starting off at a 4-year college. At the time, I didn’t understand why he was being so controlling about MY future. I was a straight-A student, what parent wouldn’t want the best for their child? Because my father is the type who does not like to share what he is doing, none of us, not even my mother, knew that he was messing around in the stock market. He didn’t make the best choices, and because of this, he ended up declaring bankruptcy. (Of course, this was when I was applying to colleges…) Because of HIS mistakes, he expected me to suffer. Thankfully, my mother was NOT going to let this happen. She told me that I was going to go to Rutgers, one way or another. In her mind, because both her and my father graduated from Rutgers (my mother attended Douglass College when it was a separate school), I should have the same privilege; and shouldn’t have to be punished for my father’s mistakes. My father is an interesting character. He was born to very young parents, young to the point that he was raised by his grandmother, who was born in 1909 (You can only IMAGINE what kind of an upbringing he had…).
My mother had to make a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to attend Rutgers University. I may have been a straight-A student, but because of my name, “Jemila”, no scholarships were simply given to me. I had to apply for minority scholarships. When none of those were available, my mother had to take out loans in her name (I was still a minor at the time) so that I could be here. My mother would tell me that once I started college, I would become very aware of the world and just how the people in it operate. She said that I would be reminded of what they saw me as: a dark-skinned black female.
It wasn’t until I reached Rutgers University where I was enrolled in Douglass Residential College, that I began to see just what my mother was talking about. Up until that point, everything that I thought about the world and experienced was based on what I have heard from other people, or saw in overly graphic skits, or even from letters of rejection for scholarships. My freshman year roommate was proof that racism was still VERY alive in our country, let alone in New Jersey. She was my polar opposite: while I would fight to not be a part of the black stereotype, she would bask in her ‘whiteness’. She knew that she would have an easier time with everything that she wanted to do, because of what I learned was ‘white privilege’. Though not many people seemed to make it obvious that white privilege really existed (and it was not an over-dramatized figment of our imaginations), I was made aware that it indeed did exist by living with and watching her. How someone could be so incredibly ignorant and open with her racist ways baffled me. She would always comment on the way I spoke. “Jemila, you’re so articulate”, she would say (As if a Black person was incapable of speaking the standard English language without bursting out into Ebonics). If anything, I spoke “better” than she did, since she couldn’t speak a complete sentence without using the word “like” out of its context. I truly confused her, and it felt amazing. One day, she decided that the reason why I went so incredibly against her definition of ‘Black’ was because she didn’t consider me to be Black. She said (and I QUOTE), “Jemila, I figured it out. You’re not Black. You’re Jamaican. That’s why I like you.” So wait…all of a sudden, she thinks that she can decide what I am because I didn’t fit a stereotype? You have GOT to be kidding me. I told her that her little ‘epiphany’ made absolutely no sense; especially because ‘Jamaican’ is a nationality. “I am American,” I would tell her. “Plus, my mother is Guyanese, so I can’t just claim ONE parent’s nationality.” “That doesn’t matter,” she would say. To be quite honest, I could not stand my freshman year roommate. The differences between us were too great: not because of the racial differences, but because of her ignorance. The saddest thing was that at the end of the semester when grades were given out, she did better than I did. This confused me, because I would help her edit her papers for Expository Writing, because to be quite honest, her writing was rudimentary. She received an A, while I was given a B; and I couldn’t change my grade. Funny, huh?
Aside from the roommate issues, I had to deal with a lot of people who didn’t understand my choice in majors. I took Korean classes when I got to Rutgers, mainly because I was so fascinated with the language, and the culture of South Korea. When I would tell people that I was majoring in East Asian Studies: focus in Korean, and double majoring in Communication, most of the time, I would receive looks of confusion. After all, not many Black women want to study Asian culture, let alone the Korean language. Lots of people, especially Korean Americans (who ironically could not speak Korean) would try to test my ability to speak the language, as if I was incapable of speaking it. When I would speak, jaws would drop, mainly because my accent was almost native. Apparently, I confused a lot of people: not only whites, but Asians, and Blacks. I didn’t understand why people couldn’t appreciate my interests. Instead, they would interrogate, and after awhile, some of them would be understanding.
I was not aware that discrimination existed in places closer than I had hoped: in my own home. It was 2011, and my younger brother was graduating from high school. My father (the same one who did not want me to apply to ANY 4-year colleges) was showering my brother with applications to schools (though no one heard about them). He was still encouraging my brother to go to a 4-year school. He also was not helping to pay for my schooling, so of course this made me very upset. Why was my brother getting support from my father? Why didn’t I have that support? My grades began to slip, and with that, my motivation began to slip with it. It was during my junior year when I was de-registered, and all of my classes were removed, that I began to fall into a state of depression. I asked my father if I could take a summer class, to which he said that “he didn’t have the money” for. Meanwhile, my brother was a freshman here at Rutgers, who did not take full advantage of the opportunity that he had, and was academically dismissed from the University. My father paid for him to take two summer classes, so that he would be able to return to the school. The irony of the situation: none of that money that my father gave to my brother went to his schooling. Instead, he paid a month’s worth of rent for his off-campus house (that he got without permission) and completely blew the rest. After that, I slowly stopped caring about almost everything. “Why should I care about anything when nothing is going my way?” I would think this to myself: THIS was my mentality.
After this, my parents got a divorce (for many other reasons), and I became very depressed. It was not just the divorce, because quite frankly, I did not like how my father would speak to my mother when they were married. He would be very verbally abusive towards her. After the divorce, however, he became sadistic, in my opinion. My mother would tell me what he would do to either manipulate, or get his way in the eyes of the law. This stressed me out and made me very upset and very angry. ‘How dare he?’ I would think to myself. I couldn’t go to my mother with my problems, especially when she was dealing with her own. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to my father. I began to internalize my feelings. I would simply go through the motions of what I had to do, and would sleep when I finished. Since I was a child, I would have migraine headaches, but they began to get a lot worse. It was when I started to forget short term things and events, seeing as my memory was very sharp, that I decided to get an MRI. When the results came back abnormal, I fell into a deep state of depression, again. I even considered changing my name; I didn’t want to be connected to my father at all, and I most definitely did NOT want his initials. Of course, I was being irrational, and completely immature.
This past year made me really realize who I was. In February of 2013, after numerous doctors’ appointments, I was officially diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder, as well as Multiple Sclerosis. Though I am still coping with it, I am slowly starting to accept it. I have realized that feeling negative about so many things is not beneficial for me. I decided that I will not be a victim, but will continue to be myself. Who am I? I am beautiful, and I am my father’s daughter. My name is Jemila Adanna Sterling, and I am a 21-year old Black American female. I am the eldest of four children, living with Multiple Sclerosis and Bipolar I disorder. And to be quite honest, I would not have it any other way. These are the cards that have been dealt out to me, and with them, I create my identity.
So. This is a new blog of mine. Here, I am going to talk about very personal things, as I have been going through a lot at once. I really don’t care about views, this is just for me to get my thoughts out there, so that when I get out of my funk, I will be able to re-read what I’ve written, and can maybe begin to understand why these things were going through my mind at the time I was experiencing them.
Only up from here~