The Power of Looking Back to Move Forward| Black History Month
Over the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of mentoring a scholar through our ServiceWorks program and recently we entered into a conversation about the stereotyping and perception of black males in society.
In hindsight, recognizing that we live in a society with institutions set in place that support and perpetuate racial oppression this conversation should have not come as a surprise, but admittedly, I was ill-prepared.
My mentee expressed an overwhelming pressure to mask his true self in order to become successful in life because society has already, as he put it “put him in a box.” As I intensely listened to him, I considered how familiar it sounded, how many times I have connected with those same feelings and what I could say to help him move forward.
My mind shifted to one of my favorite thinkers of African-American thought: W.E.B. DuBois. I explained to my mentee that what he was articulating was contextualized by DuBois as the “Double Consciousness” of the African-American: the struggle to be able to please both sides of self: the African side and the American side.
The African-American seeks to fulfill himself as an American but it conflicts with his loyalty to the African-American Community: “double aims.” Simply put, being black has often meant living in a society that glorifies everything that you, as a minority, are not.
This constant messaging by society–subtle and not so subtle–of the majority as ‘supreme’ is often central to the feelings of inferiority and the pressure people of color face to mask their cultural identity.
After talking through these ideas my mentee yearned to learn more about DuBois and other black philosophers.
I believe a large part of understanding who you are and your purpose is looking back at the roots from which you ascended and using lessons learned to inform your current path of greatness.
In the spirit of black history month it is crucial to acknowledge the unchanging and unparalleled resilience of people of color who have come before me; along with reclaiming, reviving, and preserving any part of our legacy that has been lost or forgotten.
Terrica Mitchell, originally from Tampa, FL, is a recent graduate of Mary Baldwin University (Staunton, VA) with a B.A. in Political Science. In college she served as an active leader in numerous organizations including: Black Student Alliance, Minority Clubs United, Ida B. Wells Society and was a “Big Sista” in the Ubuntu Mentoring program. Along with her various campus roles, she worked in the Office of Institutional Advancement and the Office of Inclusive Excellence. As a ‘Boldy Baldwin’ woman, Terrica dares to be intentional and dedicated to civic engagement and seeks out opportunities to give back to communities.