Part 1 of the Embracing My Blackness series.
The premiere subject in “Embracing My Blackness” is Mariah McDaniel, a third-year Physics major at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. McDaniels hails from the south side of Chicago and has found community at Ball State University through her love for One Direction and dedication to loving herself, even if she goes unnoticed to her university’s majority. We discuss how being a Black woman in science- related fields can be difficult, but McDaniels shows no signs of giving up any time soon.
What made you choose Ball State for college?
Well they gave me the most (scholarship) money and they have a great physics program: it’s close and intimate so I know I wouldn’t be lost in the crowd.
What were you expecting, social wise? Do you feel very acclimated to Ball State?
This is interesting. If I didn’t like One Direction, I know that sounds crazy but, that’s what brings me and some of the white students together. If I didn’t like One Direction I feel like I wouldn’t be able to connect with anybody as crazy as that sounds.
How would you describe the shift of coming from the south side of Chicago and going to Ball State?
There’s definitely a change of music. There’s a lot of country music over there. I don’t know, they think it’s the south or something, but mostly the music (and) the people because it’s mostly white (people). I’d say 90 percent White. That’s really a big difference.
How would you describe your experience in Muncie, Indiana, being a Black woman?
In the classroom, we have discussion time. One time a teacher asked the class,” Do you think racism still exists in America?” and people will say “Well it’s not as bad as before.” I’ll be in my seat squirming. What do you mean not as bad? Just because you think it’s not as bad doesn’t mean it’s okay. Is there some sort of limit we have to be at that’s acceptable? Like, alright, this is enough racism for 2016. Be happy that it’s not more than this!? You know what I mean?
Has there been any specific instances where you’ve felt invalidated in your courses or on campus?
In my physics class, not only am I the only Black student, I’m the only Black girl in that class. There’s only a few girls in the physics class, maybe five out of 30. I’m the only one that’s a Black girl. In class I’m always scared to raise my hand because what if I say something wrong and then they’re like, “Of course the Black girl would say something wrong.” Everybody else can be wrong but I can’t do that.
What do you do to find support at Ball State?
I definitely talk to my professor. He was encouraging me. He asked where I’m from and when I told him he said, “I already know this story. You just keep doing you.” I’m also on the speech team and they’re all liberal and really accepting. It’s like a second dorm on campus—I was going to say second home [laughs].
Have you found support with any other Black women on your campus? Is that difficult to find?
I guess if I socialize more. I don’t really socialize. There is a Black Student Association. I went to one of their meetings and it was great. I’m like this is the culture I need. I don’t want to hear about Eminem. I don’t want to hear about any of these other people. I want to hear about hip-hop and the White people who do talk about hip-hop, they don’t even like Black people. What’s going on??
Do you feel that being from the south side of Chicago has impacted who you are when you’re in different spaces?
Absolutely. There was a discussion-leader session in one of my classes and the activity was to talk like you normally would around your group of friends. In my head I thought, this is a class full of all White people, I’m notgoing to do that. So I just spoke like I normally do around classmates.
Another time, there was this one dude in my math class. He asked, “You’re from Chicago? How do you dodge bullets all the time?” I’m like, “That really isn’t a joke.” Plus, he was talking to another girl who was from Schaumburg, Illinois, not Chicago.
What do you do to embrace who you are: a woman and Black? Do you feel that being around many White women has made you more self-conscious?
I’ll be walking to class, and I know I’m looking good, but I’ll only get Black people’s attention. The white boys, they are not going to look. If they do look they’re looking at your butt. That’s it. I wonder why they won’t notice me—not in a desperate way—but why can’t they just see, I’m looking good today.
Do you feel that that’s lowered your confidence at all?
Absolutely not. You have to know you look good because if you put your confidence in other people’s hands, they’re going to drop it.