EDITOR’S NOTE: Diary of a Black Girl is a monthly column focusing on the experiences of Black women at the University of Mississippi. In this installment, Opinion Editor Justice Rose interviews sophomore political science major Bre’Anna Coleman.
Transitioning from Drew, Miss., to Oxford for my freshman year was a true change of pace.
Drew is such a small town. I can’t express that enough. Everybody knows each other. That’s somebody’s cousin, and that’s someone’s auntie. Saying it now, it probably doesn’t sound that bad because it wasn’t. That’s all I knew. Drew is all I knew for so long.
Traveling was more of a concept to me than anything. Of course, I went here and there. Nowhere too far, though. You learn about all these places all over the world, in the country, and it only does so much.
Those cities and the lifestyles associated with them were foreign to Drew. A gap unabridged. I knew what I wanted to do was outside of my small town.
It’s no hard feelings. You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you came from.
I was a bookworm growing up. I loved school, I loved to write, and I kept to myself. That didn’t bode well overall. I got picked at and bullied for being myself. My short stature didn’t help, either. I got thrown into competition with my peers. Who’s the smartest? It’s funny; the most we ever focused on academics was when it came time to spite one another.
“She’s smarter than you…” and “You’re not that smart. I knew that.” Talk about blissful ignorance. None of us were particularly smart. The school system we enrolled in didn’t permit or encourage it. Academics were not the emphasis.
There were so many other everyday issues that occurred; I can’t blame them. The school functioned as a second home. Some kids would get all their meals there. Some kids could finally get attention for once. School administrators had their hands full trying to dispense well-being in 8 hours.
Moving to Oxford was easily one of the biggest moments of my life. I had waited for it.
Ole Miss has always been my dream school. I mean, it’s the flagship university in the state. Very well known.
I had my goal set. Get to college; preferably Ole Miss. That’s such an accomplishment in itself. So many of my high school classmates were not able to pursue education due to either financial burdens, being left behind early or family issues.
I’m one of the few girls left out of my class who hasn’t been pregnant. I’d say it’s a cultural thing. Being pregnant anywhere from ages 17 to 19 isn’t a terrible thing in the Mississippi Delta. It’s very common; people finish high school and start their lives in a different way. School was my ticket out. I am so blessed to be here.
Being in college is an opportunity to grow, and I’ve taken it as such. Freshman year: all about adjustments. So many things were new to me. What’s business casual? My southern accent? Aren’t we in…the South?
I never really had to code switch back in Drew. Sure, I knew what not to say, but what was I supposed to say? I have an essay due next week?! We had all year to write it back in high school. I went to Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A for the first time.
It was a big learning curve. Quickly refining myself to become presentable, and supercharging my effort to make up for a gap unabridged. College professors only care so much, they expect you to know something coming into class. I was missing that expected foundation in many ways.
I went from classes with only Black students, to being the only Black student in my classes. I wasn’t scared, maybe a little intimidated.
Being a Black woman didn’t help my anxiety. Everything we do, we must go the extra mile. Our appearance must be kept up — hair done a certain way, clothes fitting like this, English sounding like that. If we don’t check most of these boxes, it opens a door to harmful inferences.
Our professors may have biases. My classmates might not be familiar with where I come from, so it makes them behave differently. It makes everyday life unpredictable. Black women do not get the benefit of the doubt. It makes us stronger and more resilient, but we’re still human. We become conditioned to not being treated the same. We learn that our expectations aren’t quite the same as everyone else.
The goalpost is always changing. That’s why authenticity is so hard to come by. Women have been watching what they say or do their whole lives for any number of reasons. It took me coming to college to finally have the opportunity to explore myself.
At last, I can heal, I can build my individual relationship with God, and I can follow my own pursuits. My obligations here pertain to myself only. As long as I handle my business, I’m doing just fine.
Frankly, I’m not even worried about money right now. When I put everything in perspective, I’m proud. I’m content. I used to slave away at a gas station for eight dollars an hour. I was the janitor, cook, technician and manager rolled into one. Early mornings before school, I scraped up every penny that I could. When I was younger, I would sell snacks, wash cars, write papers and do anything to get an extra dollar.
I don’t miss that hustle. It made me who I am, but that’s unnecessary stress. Money is something that will consume you. I just bought a car that works and is reliable. I moved into an apartment. I traveled outside of Mississippi for the first time. My GPA is good. I’m getting in tune with myself. I love how things are coming along.
Content. Not complacent. I still have my responsibilities as a daughter, sister, niece and aunt. I still have my goals. I want to go to law school and provide legal support wherever I can. I want my family to know me. I want everybody to know that I’m a resource.
I’m a giver by nature. Always wanting to help, you don’t even have to ask me. I won’t say people exploited my kindness because they never knew what I was thinking. Now that I’m older, I’m still that way. I’m much more considerate of myself, though. I put my studies first, then everything falls in line.
To anybody reading this, find yourself and know yourself. The worst feeling in the world is leaving an encounter and thinking to yourself “that wasn’t me.” Be yourself, set your goals and collect the fruits of your labor.