By Kpakpando Anyanwu, Lifestyle Writer
Hearing my Facetime ringtone in the unexpected moments of the night has become an abiding alert of my younger sister’s excitement to share her recent personal and academic successes with me. During our conversations about family drama and exchanging insults to one another, I internally question when she brings up one of the primary experiences that we can both relate to being one of the most academically praised students of our graduating class in high school. While I do not explicitly tell her that I secretly find joy in hearing her achievements as a Black woman, who is also one of the most admired students in a predominately Caucasian setting, it makes me question how exposed I was to the realities of success when I was her age. Anytime she is itching with enthusiasm to say, “Ndo, don’t you care that I’m the vice-president of the Beta Club or on homecoming court?”, I cannot help but sound dry with a reply like, “I do, sis. You know I’m happy for you. Congratulations!”
Within those moments with my sister, my thought process on the reality of my success in high school and the prominent moments of my failures at the University of Virginia play a brutal game of tug-of-war.
The environment of my high school and the University significantly contradict. The effort of performance varies by academic rigor and comparison of students depends on work ethic or popularity among instructors. In high school, I was not given enough challenges that made me understand that failure and success correlate. It was as if everyone was handed the same luxuries on a silver platter, and the breadwinners were the ones who wisely used the privileges to their benefit. The weary distribution of race at my high school was also not a target that affected students’ performance, but that is not to say it is an implication that can affect Black scholars in the United States of America.
The University advocates in shaping every student into the model example of “responsible citizen leaders and professionals,” but the reality of this goal is hidden when one of the actual notions of failure is still judged through one’s biological characteristics. If an attribute of how worthy one may be successful in this country (or one of the most famous Southern schools primarily constructed through masculinized white elitism) may be defined by race and gender, the life of a Black woman is truly perceived as a pitiful game of “survival of the fittest.”
How can the essence of failure benefit the Black woman and put her on her path of success?
Well, it is certainly not easy since one’s vision can be blurred when the hopeless blessing in disguise weakens ambition. When I came to the personal realization that constant moments of failure catalyze success, I had to fight to ignore the doubts I spoke to myself. From an academic standpoint, disappointments in my performance discouraged me from finding solutions of improvement. I saw myself ignoring insight, especially from my immediate family, and would rather drown in misery as punishment. The stereotypical view of Black women being forced into the lowest category of social status in the United States of “Amerikkka” also did not help me think of better days ahead for my future. As the current debates about race in American society remain a burden for the Black population, I could not use it as an excuse to abandon my desire for success.
The feeling of oxymoron attached to the phrase “failure is the key to success” may sound absurd because it is commonly perceived with tunnel vision, but it speaks the truth of reality that is often ignored. It was the type of advice I regularly heard, but self-disappointment created a sense of unawareness. Failure must be perceived as the crutches needed to walk on the pathway to success. From the falls and the stabs to the blood and the tears, they all harmonize to write a story that exemplifies the beauty of fulfillment. A utopian society is non-existent, so even the idea of constant perfection can be toxic and misleading.
The Black Woman. A warrior who is socially declined the right to show agency in the fight of acceptance. Unprotected and often neglected, even in a university setting, the combination of deep color and female identity is questioned for greatness. In disguise, it is motivation enough to do what is destined: to be the successful engineer of one’s life. A powerful mindset can contain the distress associated with failure so that the journey to success can thrive.
Before I know it, my younger sister will experience up and down moments associated with higher education and professional goals. Just as she is the star student in her high school, I have no doubt she will still win against any life obstacle as she transitions from adolescence to young adulthood. Naturally, I need to advise her that a strong mindset passes through it. A mindset that relies on learning from mistakes and acknowledging hope cannot be denied the success that it deserves.
Psalms 119:105 – Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.