Black Girl, Red State*: From Poverty to College


* Disclaimer: Black Girl, Red State is a column. It deals with Race and Social Issues, and is devoted to Understanding. It shares inner feelings of a Black student in a predominately White state. It is an opinion piece. The title and material are personal to the writer but provide a narrative that she believes is needed for readers to understand the message and feelings that she is trying to get across.

In the inner city, your mind and your skill set is all you have.

For many it’s the only way to get your family out of poverty.

Poverty is universal and it doesn’t always mean being inadequate in wealth.

In our society many African American families are not families at all. Single parent families are more prevalent with the majority having a woman as the head of household. This one woman must go to work, be financially stable, cook, clean, provide, do laundry, do homework with their child(ren), all to provide for her family in a economy where things are only getting more costly. Given this strain, giving one-on-one attention to your kids is a tedious task with little hours in the day to provide.

The absence of their parent for the duration of the day leaves the child to learn from their surroundings.

A mother works from 8 am to 5 pm and lives in a city where she makes just enough to not be considered truly “poor” but only enough to survive. After eating for the day and providing the basic items that every child needs, what additional money do you think she has on hand to pay to a babysitter?

A normality among African American kids is being left with a family member until their parents pick them up. In public schools in New York City parents or anyone that is listed on your emergency contact list are able to pick you up from school. A parent or guardian has to pick you up until the 5th grade. At this time you’re only around ten. After that, you somehow must figure out how to take on this big city all by yourself. You must learn the train system, which is hectic when first figuring it out. I remember taking the train one morning in the opposite direction on my first week of going to school by myself because, of course, I was a kid and kids just don’t pay attention.

It’s not that your parent doesn’t want to drop you off at school or pick you up, many times it’s because they cannot. Their time is dedicated to their job, because without any job in New York City there is no livelihood.

I say this to say:

For many inner city minority children, the neighborhood raised them, or they raised themselves.

Do not misinterpret me.

Their parent is a huge structure in their life, but there is only 24 hours in the day. That is not enough time to do all that you can to raise a child to their fullest potential. The beginning 11 hours are consumed with work, another 2 hours will be spent cooking once coming home, one hour spent helping with homework, giving the child a bath, and unwinding from a busy day, and still that is only a fraction of all that needs to be done in such little time.

How many hours in the day is there to be an effective and efficient parent when you are the only person who can provide a solution to your problems?

A lack of resources, wealth, and experience makes for a harsh reality.

And it makes children raise themselves.

So for inner city kids that make it out of environments that can be considered poverty-stricken, college is a tough ladder to climb. It is a ladder that only gets harder and with every step your bones ache. At any given point the ladder can break from under your foot and there’s no way to give yourself a perfect landing.

As you continue to read my column and understand my personal encounters you will understand the difference between someone tolerating you because they don’t want to be the “Racist” in the room and someone who does not care about your race. Almost all the times I have experienced this is when the doors are closed, when no one is around to listen, or object to any sly comment. Their only comments towards you are negative. It casts a doubt or shadow around you. It makes you feel very sketchy especially when they know your name but only identify you to their other Caucasian friends as “The Black Girl with…” It is discomforting to only be known by your features. It is like telling me that I am only my color and my features, nothing more. Nothing else of me matters; not only that, it confirms to me that I still have not earned respect enough to be called by my given name.

There are many things, too many, that is hard about being a Black Student on Campus; I will share three that are important to touch on.

Confronting Racial Bias

As a Black student you not only have to confront the racial bias of your peers but those of your professor as well. Sometimes it is so subtle and can be on a topic that may be viewed as not that “serious” but what is not serious to you can mean the world to another. I can easily recount many times where my race is what singles me out in a conversation in class, when I am called on as if I am the voice of the whole African American population, when I am looked to for answers with how to understand or give an opinion on a topic that breaks my heart. I am enraged to talk about these topics because I know no matter how many times you explain, they can never truly see it.

This happens every single day. This is my reality, and can happen in a split second so every water is treaded carefully and every battle is picked wisely. My race is what drives a conversation on so many social topics that are taught with the idea to inform when really it is not informative enough. Learning when to combat racial bias in a school setting can be your biggest downfall and when you truly speak your mind, in a way you feel excluded. Like no one around you truly knows how deep of a cut the words you’ve spoke left in your heart. Still, as best you can you try to explain how you feel, and when you look around no one seems to be interested. Even if they are, that’s how you feel.

Pressure to Prove Yourself

The pressure to prove yourself is not only projected by you. It is projected by your peers, faculty, staff, parents, friends back home, because you do not want to be the person who fails. You do not want to be the person who adds to the stereotype. You don’t want to disappoint your family, even in a situation where you are 100 PERCENT uncomfortable. For many black students, we are the first in our family to go to college, especially if your parents are from the Caribbean islands. That comes with it’s own stress and trauma. You want so desperately to succeed because you do not want to be a statistic.

When you are from poverty, there are only four ways out without creating something you are good at on your own accord. Jail, School, Sports, or Death. That is reality as plain as it may be, these are the only options many of have. So for those of us that do end up in school, this is all we have. This is our chance to prove to ourselves, our families, and administration that we belong here and that we won’t become a statistic or product of our environment. We’ll be the ones to make a name for ourselves, our future families, and give them everything that we could not because every day we tell ourselves we can make it through this. In the end it’s because on the other side is the chance to get out of poverty and make it out of the ghetto.

“One day” is on the other side.


You cannot help but feel excluded when no one is really kin to you. No one is family or familiar enough where you can genuinely be yourself. In parties you feel like a lot is going on around you but still you’re alone. The people around you don’t dance like you, they don’t listen to the same music as you, or if they do, they say the word they know they aren’t supposed to and all hell breaks loose within the party. So sometimes, you get into the habit of excluding yourself before others can exclude you. Not because you want to, but because it’s better than dealing with constantly feeling like it’s not a space you belong in. It doesn’t only happen at parties. This feeling can hit you when you’re walking around in Concord, at the town’s local store, picking up something from 7/11; everyone stops and stares at you, stops to wonder what it is you’re going to do next, and that’s irritating. It makes you want to scream “Mind your business” in the middle of the street but then you will only look like a lunatic. It is EXHAUSTING.

These are only three that I personally resonate with; leave me some comments on your thoughts/reactions, questions, if any, and also feel free to share with me what are some things you feel are problems that resonate with you!


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