What do you do?


There is the age old question that happens when you put adults in a room. That question is, “What do you do?”

“What do I do? I am a student.”

“Oh really! What are you studying?”

“I am trying to get into nursing.”

“So good of you to be going back to school.”

“Ha, yes, but the thing is…”

Then I explain how even though I am back in school, I have been in school. I have done school, and I have done it well. Sometimes I need to emphasize that because people become condescending.

Nothing makes me more afraid than being read like a stereotypical black woman. You know the black woman of many a racist imagination; young single mother, uneducated, poor and struggling.

The fact is I am none of those things, except single. I am old, not a mother, definitely educated, earning a living and thriving. I am nobody’s cliche. But as you learn when you have lived in America long enough as a Black woman, nobody gives you the chance to define your existence. Your being is defined for you. Sometimes, when you realize that your autonomy is being taken away, you become defensive.

The thing about going back to school for me is that for the first time in a long time, I feel like I am walking a path to somewhere I want to be . I am not doing it for anybody’s acceptance or to prove that I am intelligent. I am doing it to fulfill my own needs. I am finding every day that because I have nothing to lose, I am enjoying being a student.

Back in that room where I am being maligned for being a student, I have learned to relax and let people make a fool out of themselves. If I am feeling particularly mean, I start talking about my background. On the days that I feel kind, I smile. I have nothing to prove.