How to Survive at a PWI if you are Black, Woman and Interracially Adopted

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I was perusing the site For Harriet the other day, and immediately found myself clicking on the article titled “How to survive at a PWI if you are Queer, Black and Woman.” While the article was intersectional (and provided some excellent recommendations,) I wanted to articulate another angle.

If you are an interracial adoptee reading this, then you may know that there are a lot of articles/books/magazine opinions that talk about your body. You have been examined and investigated and each time they will label you as this thing that doesn’t fit any required mold. Maybe, if you are like me, you are even used to the words: “well you’re not really…(anything).”

Working or attending a Predominately White Institution (PWI), you have probably felt the microaggressions, heard the “but you’re not really…” or the “you’re not really like them…” and maybe you haven’t completely lost your ish yet.

Here are ten tips and reminders to stay sane, healthy and fully engaged and committed to your own emotional well-being:

1. Don’t doubt your voice. Your imperfect truth deserves respect and so does your body. Allow yourself grace and gentleness (and, I have found that when I take a moment for myself to allow space and grace, I can sometimes allow those, who may not even deserve it, grace and gentleness as well).

2. Don’t argue with crazy. (This is most definitely one of those tips that I have most had to learn the hard way). It is possible to live respectfully and responsibly without engaging every single person whom is committed to critiquing and disavowing your body.

3. Find your group and lean into them for strength. You are not in this alone.

4. Remind yourself that not every battle is yours. Your body is your own unique, important, beautiful body and it it has the same right to engage and communicate as any other person at the table.

5. You are not a corporeal racial translator (unless you want to be).

6. “Be prepared to have microaggressions lunged at you” (I’m stealing this from the “For Harriet” article).

7. Take time to detox. Whether it be picking up a book, taking a long soak in a bath, meditating or exercising, find time for you. You are important, and as a POC, stress is literally causing our bodies to breakdown. Take time to love yourself in a space where you feel the most comfortable.

8. Notice those around you. I’ve found that sometimes I can lash out at those who are trying to be compassionate even when they are saying the wrong things. And believe me, if you are anything like me, you may find yourself with a whole lot of Caucasian friends that say the wrong things. I have found that, when I have the space, I can take a breath and say, “hmmm, their words are not okay, but their heart is working on being in the right space,” when I do this, I find that I usually have enough space to answer with something like: “I’m glad you are trying here, but here is what I’m hearing.” Let me be clear, this is in no way shape or form advocating that you should always be the one to translate the pain. This is not your role. But, I have also found that when I take the time to respond this way, I too experience something that feels a little more like transformation and a lot less divisive.

9. It’s okay to be just who you are, (and, you didn’t even need me to tell you that). Maybe you have heard the you aren’t…whatever. It’s okay. You are a perfect brand of exactly what you are. I am of the mind that no community is perfectly monolithic. Whatever ethnicity you rock, you are unique and you deserve a place at the table.

10. Be prepared to be the tokenized POC. Sigh. Lemme guess, you got there and now it’s the first day. And, just like that nightmare you’ve been having for a week ever since you noticed their “diversity” campaign was really just a copy pasted photo from a google search with that classic: one white, one black, one Asian group hug…you’re the only one. The ONLY POC. And you’re panicking. Wondering why you couldn’t sense it before.

I won’t lie to you. We know that it probably won’t get better. In fact, it might even get a lot worse. What’s that teacher every POC has had say? What is the “(choose your POC) opinion here…” See, we know that people are going to say ignorant stuff. But you got options, right? Wait it out and see if anything materializes. Start to look for new jobs on the side. Hope that if something happens, you can complain to a group of actual change makers.

But, there is that sinking feeling at the bottom of your stomach. After all, you knew what it really meant when the tiny font at the bottom of the application read: “persons with disabilities and minorities are especially welcome to apply.” Translation: We don’t have anybody that is disabled or a minority working here and, if we do, they most definitely they didn’t write this little byline.

Probably by now, my dear friend, your brain is working overtime: did I get this job on my merit or on my skin color? What are they actually expecting from me? Do I actually have a voice and a place here or am I supposed to just repeat whatever they want me to say with my POC skin? See, now the words are “ethnic” approved. Maybe your friends and family members start to remind you that the only reason you are (fill in the blank) is because you’re just a token. No credit. Just affirmative action. Just…nothing. Which compounds your personal feelings of anguish and exhaustion.

It is here, that I wish I could stop you. And, if I can, then perhaps it is worth writing this to you.
In the spirit of Mother Theresa, here is a “Do It Anyways” type deal just for you:

People will criticize and demean your body. Love your body anyways.

People will tell you you are not worth anything. Know that you are valuable anyways.

People will assume negative things about you because of your skin color and your hair. Walk  with your head straight and your truth poised anyways. 

The world may tell you that you will never amount to anything. Know that you are capable anyways.

People will tell you that you aren’t really anything. Know that you belong, that you are enough and that your body and voice deserves respect anyways.

You may some days feel as if no community will ever accept you. Dig into your community anyways
Take courage, dear heart.
Shalom, 

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