A White Man Told Me I Didn't Know How To Write, I Almost Believed Him
How prejudice brewed my anxiety and grew my imposter syndrome
It was the end of my first semester of graduate school when I was still a student in the College of Public Health, and I turned in my final term paper. It was my first paper for this professor, and I spent weeks reading, researching, and writing. I always considered myself to be a decent writer, but I knew that I would have to improve to be at the graduate level, but I was determined to do whatever I needed to do to become a better writer.
After spending weeks on my paper and having people edit it for me, I turned it in. I did all this work without many directions because there was no rubric, but I did the best I could. However, when I received my grade, I realized that my best was not good enough. I received a C-. I was confused. How did I get such a bad grade on a paper that had many qualified eyes read over it? Being the person that I am, I immediately made an appointment with my professor because I wanted to know how I messed up and what I could do to improve.
To my dismay, this professor did not have much to offer. The only thing he told me was "When I read your paper, it sounded like you do not know how to speak English!" These words crushed me. Me?! Not know how to speak English???!! I literally thought to myself while I was sitting in their office: What the actual fuck did he say to me?!
After I calmed myself down in my head, I spoke out loud and asked for an example. And to my surprise, they did not have one. They did tell me that they were surprised I was able to get the citations right. That I did better than most people in the class. He was even surprised that I turned in the paper on time.
Fast forward to this school year and I have switched programs to the College of Education and I am thoroughly enjoying my classes; however, there is one problem that I am running into. That problem is that I have to write multiple papers per class and I am second guessing my ability to even write them.
As a black woman at a predominantly white research one institution, I already struggle with imposter syndrome. I already feel like somehow I snuck past the gatekeepers of acceptance and landed in the classroom. But every time I pick up my pencil to begin to write those words from that professor sneak back into the back of my brain and I cannot even write one word.
I know this professor was not expecting me to be a decent student. They even made comments about my anxiety and how I would not make it in a graduate program. They even told me I only had a chance to get into competitive doctoral programs because I am a Black Woman and they like to say they are diverse. But even though I know deep down that all their comments were rooted in their own prejudices and misconceptions of Black scholars, I am unable to let them go and my imposter syndrome just grew.
It is easier for me to formulate my thoughts about personal things like I write about on my blog; however, it is another thing for me to write an academic paper. Every time my pen touches my paper the weight of proving my worth sneaks up.
I know I am in a new program and I know that I am the only one holding me back at this point. And me writing this post is more about me putting it out there that I DONT BELIEVE THAT BULLSHIT! No one is ever a perfect writer, your work can always be edited. I work extremely hard to improve daily with my writing. I have a weekly appointment in the graduate student writing center and I read books on how to become a better writer.
I almost believed this professor. I mean even for some time, I did believe them. I let those words overshadow my every word. I literally have cried every time I try to write my first paper for this semester.
I don't think that professors realize, or maybe they do, the power of their words over a fresh graduate student. As a student of color, hearing a white male discredit your existence in a program is more than disheartening it is heartbreaking.
It is hard to not let the words seep into your subconscious and control your actions. But from here on out, I refuse to let someone's preconceived notions and prejudice control me. I already have General Anxiety Disorder so I do not need anything else to cause me to be anxious and cause me to ruminate over something.
It is funny, I pride myself in being a Strong Black Woman and not letting stereotypes hold me back; however, this time I almost let these words hold me back.
I cannot say that I will just get over imposter syndrome in one night but I will not allow words of slightly racist and prejudice professors make or break my confidence in myself.
I don't know how, but I hope that that professor somehow reads this post. I also hope that this post helps someone else struggling with things like this.
You belong where you are. I belong where I am. We earned this!