Country Strong by Vashalice

01 Nov 2019 11:36 AM

Guest Blogger Guest Blogger

“You got to be country strong, from the root (pronounced rut) to the leaves,” my grandmother would always tell me in a boastful manner with pride marching through her words. My grandmother, who is my partial namesake and daily inspiration was all about being strong. You have to be strong in word, thought, and deed is you wanted to survive. In all my life of living, I never truly understood the meaning of being “country strong” until I moved to Ames, Iowa from my small rural town of Bealsville, FL, one of 3 historically Black towns in Florida.

Being a Black women, southern, and extremely country in my mannerisms to boot in academia has been interesting to say the least. More than once, my deep southern drawl, my colorful down-home euphemisms, and the Blackness that connects it all has been commented on since I decided to attend Iowa State. These comments (mostly positive) have made me aware of the attention that it draws. I sometimes worry that my southern-ness, my unique way of viewing the world will be a hindrance in the field of academia. I love to learn and I enjoy learning how to learn better. So like with most things that can be learned, I set out to “learn” how to be an academic. 

To be an academic, you must be: 

  • smart (check)
  • dedicated (check)
  • willing to “go hard in the paint” for your research topic of interest (double check). 

I had the core part down to a science but what I was lacking was the look and sound of an academic. I have been told by a well-meaning professor that I have to “play the game” if I want my voice to be heard. “Playing the game” meaning that with all the talk of social justice, decolonization, and pedagogy sorely needed in the academy, I STILL must submit my positionally as a staunchly country, southern, Black woman, with a strong voice to the gatekeeping that is rampant in our higher education system. I have to make the sacrifice of my voice to be heard. Isn’t that ironic? That comment, while well-meaning struck me and made me seriously think about reconsidering my choice to enter academia. 

I was raised to never be ashamed of my Black country upbringing but my grandmama (God rest her soul), has never been in a university classroom, full of white peers who deem your worth to sit at their side only because it reflects their performative diversity and well-roundedness of their liberal thinking. My grandmother, born during the great-depression, had only an 8th grade education and was never in this space.

How do I translate my voice into power? How do I translate my ancestors' prayers into reality all while representing their hopes of upward mobility in a manner that will leave them glad that I was born into their lineage? I do this by saying “HELL NAH!” to conforming. It's a conscious decision that I have had to make within myself. I cannot afford to lose myself when myself is expensive in the eyes of my people and community. I cost a great deal. My Blackness and country bringing cost a great deal. My unique womanhood rooted firmly in the traditions of faith and love, cost a great deal. The academy cannot have it. So, as I continue my journey through academia, learning and growing all the while, I hold firmly to my uniqueness. My voice is more than just strong enough to break down any gate or keeper that is standing between it and progress, its country-strong.

In My Words     Black/African American, women, Grad School