Had the great pleasure of meeting Monica after her Code Red Experience Tour in NYC. I told her I was a long time fan and traveled to NYC from Boston on Sunday to see her, despite having to teach an early morning class the next day. She graciously offered to record a special message for them.
Monica and Toya T. Bucket List Moment. December 13, 2015
Me and My Students. Sociology. Social Inequality Class. December 14, 2015
Me and My Students. Criminology. Social Deviance Class. December 15, 2015
First Lady Michelle Obama is an inspiration. She is intelligent, beautiful, and confident. She is a role model for all women, especially women of color who have to deal with racism, sexism, and classism from those outside their communities and sadly also from those within their communities.
Hearing First Lady Michelle Obama speak candidly (in the video below) about her personal struggles dealing with racism and sexism, during the time of her husband's first presidential bid, with the media and opinion polls openly picking her apart and questioning her every action really hit home for me. Despite her educational and professional pedigree, as a Princeton grad and successful lawyer, almost all of the critiques of Michelle Obama were steeped in longstanding stereotypes of black women as being too loud, too angry, or too emasculating. As a black woman, I struggle with how people, including my family and friends, perceive me. The way I present myself, speak, eat, dress, and choose to live my life is constantly judged and ridiculed by not only mainstream society but also by other black and brown people.
Lately, I have been especially concerned with not being viewed as an "angry black woman" (which I discussed in an earlier post). This concern has invaded my everyday thoughts. When I am teaching in my classroom, when I am interacting with people in public, and even when I am hanging out with my friends, I am checking myself. Am I talking too loud? Am I coming off as bitter or angry? Am I being too aggressive or too bold? If I feel the answer is yes to any of these questions, I try to change my tone or my mannerisms, or I completely shut down. It is a hard thing to deal with, this feeling that something is wrong with you or that you need to change yourself to make others comfortable around you. And then I think...Why do I care if people think that I am angry? Why can't I be angry? Isn't anger a natural, normal feeling? Why are people so concerned with black women's anger? Why am I worried about how people may or may not view me?
The First Lady's ability to overcome being publicly critiqued, through confidence in herself and in God's plan for her, emboldens me. Her story points out the possible light at the end of the dark tunnel of negativity and racial/gender stereotypes that I face as a black woman in America. I aspire to be like First Lady Michelle Obama, to be able to fully embrace being me. All day. Every day. To stand proudly in my truth, in my skin.
I am loud. I am opinionated. I curse. I cry easily and often when I'm mad, sad, frustrated, or happy. I am overly protective of my friendships. I'm rude. I'm selfish. I'm giving. I'm intelligent. I'm silly. I'm introverted. I'm outgoing. I am not friendly. I sometimes speak before I think. I think too much and tend to dwell. I'm insecure. I'm confident. I get angry. I am a womanly. I am perfectly imperfect. I am divinely favored. I am my mother and father's daughter. I am me and the best thing I can do is, like First Lady Michelle Obama, "have faith in God's plan for me, [...] ignore the noise, and be true to myself; and the rest [will] work its way out."
Not too long ago I was engaged in a heated debate on Facebook with a few friends about the pros and cons of incurring student loan debt in the pursuit of getting to putting a few letters behind one's name. In my case, I have amassed over 100k in student loan debt to be called Dr. LaToya Asantelle Tavernier, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Having that much debt is not a great thing. I have lost sleep some nights thinking about how much money that I owe Sallie Mae and her bastard minions. And I have often talked about my thoughts on the graduate school experience and on whether or not I would do it again if I could relive the past 10 years of my life. But since I can't turn back time, I have spent many hours thinking about what was the point of all the debt and stress that I brought on myself in the pursuit of the professional titles.
One of the participants of my Facebook debate argued that people today put immediate gratification--the desire to pursue advanced degrees in spite of their inability to pay for it without taking out massive loans--over their financial health--the future ability to buy a home or save for retirement. They suggested that folks should attend schools that they can afford (e.g., attending community college or state schools instead private universities), and/or they should work first and save money (or get their employers to pay part or all of their tuition) before they pursue advanced degrees. This opinion didn't go over very well with me or my Facebook friends that possessed advanced degrees and student loan debt.
I completely understood the point of living within your means. I know that my massive graduate school debt is going to delay, or possibly prohibit, my ability to buy a home or to build a sizeable nest egg for my later years. I live at home with my mama in her house. I have been living there for the past 4 years because I am not in a place where I can afford to live in my own place, pay bills (including my monthly loan repayments), put food in my belly, and have an active social life. But you know what, I can't say that going to graduate school straight out of undergrad and taking on thousands of dollars of loans a year for the past 10 years was a poor or unwise decision. Yes, I could have made better efforts to apply for scholarships and to find ways to cut my loan amounts. But I can't say that I have ruined my chances at good financial future. Maybe it will take me longer than my friends who didn't take out over 100k in federal loans in the pursuit of intellectual growth and a professional title. But I will get there. I may not have my own home or my own apartment at age 32. But I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have accomplished something that a small percent of people in this world, especially among those who look like me and come from where I came from.
I have earned my PhD, a goal that I created for myself in my early teens. That accomplishment makes me happy. It gives me great pride. It means more to me than owning a home in my 30s or having $10,000 in my savings account.
Because I truly believe that the point of it all---in my case, the stress, student loans, long nights reading, the multiple research assistant and adjunct jobs for low pay, low bank statements, and the living at home as an adult (in other words, LIFE)---is for me to be able to do work that I love and that I am proud of. That is something I tell my friends, family, and my students. The point of this life is to be happy (and to not let debt, naysayers, self-doubt, and other barriers stand in your way).