Part 3 of the Embracing My Blackness series.
La’Nae Plaxico is a third-year psychology major at The Ohio State University. Her love of dance blossomed while she grew up in Chicago. Plaxico continues to cultivate this passion at Ohio State in her dance groups where she’s connected with people from all over the nation and has come to learn herself more than ever. We discuss the importance of having friends from the same and different races while at predominantly White institutions and how self-knowledge is the only way to build community.
Why did you decide to come to Ohio State?
I came to Ohio State because I wanted to get away from where I was from, essentially. I just wanted to experience something new and I got a scholarship (at Ohio State). Those two things went hand in hand. Ohio State was far enough away that I was getting a new environment but it was close enough that I still felt like I could get home easily. Oh, and money.
As a Black woman, have you felt that your experience has been different than other races, in any particular way, since you attend a predominantly white school?
Definently. Just being Black, it colors and narrates your entire experience at college. Before I came here, I was definitely aware that I was Black but I wasn’t as aware of it on a daily basis as I am now. Just walking around as a Black student, I’m constantly having to be better than everyone else. Especially in classes, if a teacher asks a question, I have to make sure that whatever I say is well-formed or I can’t stutter when I speak. I have to know for certain what I’m talking about before I speak.
Also, I feel like interactions with other students on a daily basis is just, it’s very awkward in a sense because I feel like we’re supposed to be used to their whiteness. I have to know what White culture is but whenever me and my blackness comes up, it’s an awkward silence or awkwardness in general. You’re always aware that you’re black no matter where you are on campus.
Do you find these experiences very different than your experiences in Chicago? What were the racial makeups of your environments there?
When I was really young, I went to a predominantly Black grammar school. My high school was super diverse: it was 20 percent white, 20 percent Black, I think 15 percent Latino. It was super, super diverse. Being around different people and having to learn about different people and being racially aware and culturally sensitive, then coming here and realizing that not everyone is like that is so different.
Being around people that know Black people is key. Here, not a lot of White people know any black people. Just the chance of when you encounter someone here, a predominantly white school, you might be the first Black person they’re really interacting with. Who you are is going to basically determine what they think of black people for a while, until they can interact with another Black person. That’s really really scary. At home, it wasn’t like that at all.
Most of the time when I interact with people who aren’t Black at home it’s definitely more culturally stimulating.
From my perspective, typically when people say Black people, they often mean Black men, not Black women. On campus, has there been anything that’s made you feel excluded when “Black people” are referred to?
There’s kind of a divide between Black women and Black men in general. But I feel like as a Black woman it’s especially hard because there’s not a lot of support out there for you. A lot of Black men will be praised for various things by women and men of other races, for whatever reason. But Black women usually don’t get a lot of love. Who can you really turn to? is what I wonder.
Even within Black women, there’s a lot of competition so it’s really hard to cultivate family and cultivate a support system. I can’t think of a particular instance where I felt like that, but I really feel that on a daily basis. I just encounter so many Black men where I feel like I don’t know if you’re really supporting me as much as I support you.
Being a Black woman is particularly hard at a predominantly white institution.
Do you find some type of community at Ohio State at all? Is there anything you’re a part of that helps you find a home at OSU?
It’s really all about what you, as person, like to do and are in to. If you find the places where you can do the things that you love, you’ll find a support system. Whether the support system be predominantly Black, White, Asian, Native American, whatever it is, that’s the best way to go. Ofcourse you can find your group of Black friends, which I think is so important. If you’re a Black person at a PWI, you have to have your group of Black people, you what I mean?
It’s all about finding what you love and finding those people that also love what you love and connecting in that way. At a PWI, it’s very hard to find the Black community and to join them and feel completely at home because not all Black people are the same. A lot of times, at PWIs, Black communities try to come together and be unified. I totally agree with that, but I feel like we’re all so different. If I want to feel at home I can’t always go to the Black community because not everyone will be trying to do the same things I’m trying to do.
It’s definitely important for me to find and connect with Black people but also to find the spaces that you belong, and there will probably be more Black people there as well. It’s important to tell other Black people about these cool places that you find.
What are those places for you?
My dance group is really important to me, they’re like my family at this point. My dance group is super diverse and I love that: everyone comes from a different background, different places in the country. We all bond over dance but then we also bond over wanting to get to know each other and know more about different people.
My close-knit friends are very important, I don’t even know how I found them, it just kind of happened. A lot of social-advocacy groups like this group Power I’m in is (important) also. I love all of them to death. It’s a good example of a group of Black people who aren’t necessarily in the Black community that is set-forth at Ohio State but we’re a group of Black people who really like helping the community and helping other members of Ohio State have better awareness of themselves and their communities.
What advice would you give a Black woman, going into her first year at Ohio State, whose looking for community?
I’d say really take the time to get to know yourself. Get to know yourself, what you want out of your college experience, out of life, out of it all, so that you can surround yourself with people who want the same things as you. If you know yourself, you won’t allow people to treat you any kind of way. Really know and find yourself first so you can find confidence in yourself as a Black woman.