The month of February, the month dedicated to the history and achievements of my ancestors, haunts me. It comes upon me, taunting me, revealing every corner of my inadequacies all twenty-eight days, the horrors prevailing an extra day in a leap year. A strange combination of pride of black Americans’ accomplishment, frustrations with the lack of my own, and, finally, embarrassment changes the celebratory month into a personal pathetic comparison that ends inevitably in a pity party.
As a twenty-six-year-old African American woman, eleven months of the year, I am proud of my standings in society: married woman with children, two degrees, and a rising career in the realm of academia as an Ohio State University PhD candidate. And then comes February, the month when none of these undertakings satisfy, for these undertakings were not snatched from the unsuspecting hands of people who held me down, they were in many ways given to me unyieldingly, willingly, if not happily.
I look to my passed-away grandmother and eighty-year-old cousin: women who achieved Masters Degrees when being black was a defect instead of an added bonus onto one’s graduate application. I received cushiony stipends while in graduate studies; they worked forty plus hour weeks. I chose my university; they had no choice, driving four hours during weekends to the only college providing graduate opportunities to minorities at the time. And eleven months out of the year I have the nerve to think I’ve accomplished something.
February provides the encouragement to do more in rejection of the embarrassment of the little I have done according to the “race-inflation” of the America in which I participate. Although the weight of dissatisfaction is heavily carried, the fear of complacency in the eyes of my ancestors is a greater fright. And so, I believe that feelings of inadequacy spur one along to success. In writing this belief, seeing the words in text, I am overwhelmed by the slanted irony. Here I am motivated by feelings of inadequacy while my predecessors were motivated by others’ belief of their inadequacy. Indeed, my grandmother’s pursuit of degrees against all odds was to prove that she was not only adequate, but exceptional. In a strange way, my grandmother and I are driven by the same feelings, her drive based in resistance to inadequacy and my drive rooted in the belief of my inadequacy. To allow such women to clear the path for me socially, academically, and, ultimately, professionally without conjuring the bravery to go down the cleared pathway would only indicate an acceptance of those feelings of inadequacy. In many ways this frightening attempt to live up to the heights of giants that preceded me reminds me that their magnitude is there to encourage me as well.
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