Too far right, or too far left

Niomi Nunez, Features & Lifestyle Editor

My mother told me a brutal truth at a very young age: “You will have to work harder and faster than the rest.” Of course, young Niomi did not understand why. But as time went on, that brutal truth became an exact fragment of my life, especially considering what I am.  

Trust me when I say, I know what I am. I am saying this because all of the little warnings my mother whispered in my ear as a child are starting to make sense. “People will only recognize you for this,” she would mutter, pointing at the topside of my hand.  

In all aspects of my academic and professional life, I am constantly reminded of what I am, as if I did not grow up in this body. As if I didn’t spend years perfecting a dialect that can be switched on and off depending on who my spectators are. As if I haven’t learned how to hold myself upright in a windy storm of bigoted critics and diluted microaggressions.  

 I have never been allowed to forget what I am. If I not being reminded by my peers, I am by my “mentors.” And it’s not like I’m being reminded in a “celebrate your identity” way, it’s more in a “this is all I see you as” way. And all these affirmative action programs dedicated to diversifying careers are great and all, but people use them as just another reminder of what I am. 

I’m saying “what I am” rather than “who I am” because those are two separate things. What I am only goes skin deep and is summed up in one look at me. Who I am is much more, and those who take the time to look at me beyond my complexion will see that I am bright, witty and full of ambition. It will be a long time before people see me for who I am, rather than what I am. But for some reason paper always beats rock.  

I think this new need for “diversity” to make an institution look better is only perpetrating more issues. I feel college institutions are either going too far right, which would be the conservative choice of remaining undiversified, or too far left, which would be the progressive idea of excepting everyone and their grandmother with the sole purpose of saying they did so. This makes people of color feel like pawns in a terrible game of chess. And it makes me experience a surreal amount of imposter syndrome; so much so that I can’t tell whether people are actually applauding my abilities or whether they are clapping just to clap.  

As discouraging as this all is, it is also very encouraging. I want to prove people wrong and exceed all expectations, because I know I can—I am not certain of many things, but I am certain of that. I promised myself that I would succeed on behalf of my hard work and determination, because that is who I am.