I have not been blogging much lately, and it is definitely not for a lack of things to say or new experiences. Rather, I have been having a sort of crisis of self since getting to Stockholm, which finally culminated in a Come To Jesus moment with my brother earlier this afternoon.
I came to Stockholm with the desire to escape. Being black is lit, but it is also exhausting. And to be a “woke” black person in America is to be constantly aware of everyone’s expectations and perceptions. Even the concept of a carefree black girl/boy still requires an explicit decision to acknowledge the judgements being made, and then choose to ignore them. And I was tired. I was tired of reading about someone getting shot every other day, about Donald Trump, about white guilt and misplaced outrage. I was tired of being a beacon for black women in engineering and STEM fields when I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to be in STEM myself. I made the decision to apply for study abroad two weeks before the deadline. And I wasn’t thinking of an “immersive cultural experience.” I was thinking of escape.
As it turns out, this is not a particularly sustainable mindset. I came here forcing myself into the “rose-colored glasses” from high school. I chose to suspend reality, trying “not to see color” in the hopes of giving myself a more open-minded approach to the study abroad experience. I was completely aware of what I was doing, but I thought it would be less exhausting to be this happier “carefree” version of myself than to continue carrying the weight of everyone’s expectations.
The interesting thing about pretending to be someone you’re not, is that your spirit rebels. I was tired all the time but couldn’t sleep at night. I got sick. I’d find myself randomly getting angry and unable to explain why. I texted my daddy, telling him how tired I was, and he responded:
“Don’t allow them to get you sidetracked.”
And I was upset about it. These were my friends. I wanted comfort not a lecture. But parents know. They always know. And even through text and half a world away I think my daddy could tell I was losing myself. So yesterday I prayed. I stayed in bed all day with Netflix and a box of tissues. And today I called my brother, and he gave me some of the best advice I’ve gotten in a while:
“Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not to make other people comfortable.”
And I realized that since getting here I’ve been holding my breath, treading this line between the person I’ve grown into, and this person I was: someone who smiles and doesn’t rock the boat, and smooths her edges to make other people more comfortable. I think it’s very easy to want something so badly that you sacrifice your own needs to see it happen. I wanted Stockholm to be different. And it is. People are friendlier, the water is cleaner, and racism is not an institution here the way it is back home. But people are still people. Prejudice still exists. I am still a black woman. And the experiences and issues that lead me here don’t disappear simply because I don’t want to deal with them. All this is not to say that I am unhappy, or that I dislike the friends that I’ve made and the people I’ve met here. But I know more about the world than I used to, and sometimes…I just don’t feel like smiling.
Now that I’ve had time to wallow and be a bit willfully ignorant (I told you it’s an American concept) I feel heaps better. I’m ready to stop pretending, and just trust that being myself is enough.
***I have a lot of studying to do this week, but hopefully I will have more posts soon about sights in the city. Stay tuned.