This comes on the heels of self-doubt. It is an answer to all who would have us second guess our worth as minorities.
Someone recently confided in me that he was never quite sure if he belonged here. He was never certain about whether he was good enough. The shadow cast upon the veracity of his ability was in the name of an action intended to remedy the evils of the past. But that is a different issue, isn’t it?
My reply to him: simple. It is self-doubt that guided Miles Davis to shades of blue, and a kind of blue in particular. It was his self-doubt he played to when he became our Miles Davis. It was this apprehension that proved to be the rediscovery of cool, the only way Miles could.
Isn’t it self-doubt that led John Coltrane to the heights of love, and the blue that ensued afterward? Monk played those keys, my God — he bent those keys into sounds no one since duplicated since. He was a man tormented, chased even, by demons that only served to belie his talent. Wright created beautiful paragraph after beautiful paragraph despite being told he could not. On Baldwin’s pages bled the truth and passion that only genuine spirituality can bleed, and his supposed inability sprung from two tabooed sources. The list continues into perpetuity: the mesmerizing rhetoric of Cornel West, the grace and speed of Muhammed Ali, the elegance and strength of Marion Jones, the unwavering ambition and determination of the Williams sisters, the brilliance of mind and posture of Tiger Woods. I don’t know any of these people personally, but in my opinion, a little self-doubt went a long way on their paths to immortality.
Sometimes he is unsure whether he is smart enough to be here. So his hands stay down and his voice mute when the classroom debate ensues. He feels like he has an asterisk beside his name, wherever it is one might find such a register of names. If anyone were to look in this place, there it would be: a crude intersection of big, bold, black lines explaining everything. It is a loss because he is as smart as anyone else I’ve met here.
In the end, we must learn to find strength in the very circumstances others look to discover ineptitude. We must turn and face those things we consider secretly and adopt them as our demons. Perhaps they will taunt and chase us into provinces of genius and success. I refuse to be ashamed about my achievements, even if an institution that is intended to cure supposedly taints them. No matter how I arrived, I am here now. I will compete and I will succeed. I will speak my mind and share my experiences in the hopes that someone somewhere will discern wisdom in my words. Like you, I will say clever things and sometimes not-so-clever things. That unavoidable reality makes me no less qualified to be here. No matter how I arrived, I will stand there on that final day with you, dressed as you are in full graduation regalia and silliness. No matter how I arrived, someday I will be your governor, your president, your mayor, your Supreme Court Justice, your ambassador. Just like you.
This is my first call. There will be others. Rise up with me, our hands interlocked determinedly in solidarity. Fill your lungs with pride and scream out — as loud as you can — whatever you will. Let your voices bellow from deep within. Whatever it is you say, declare it with confidence. It matters not what you say because it is declared with pride. Oftentimes, that is enough.
This anonymous column was written in honor of Black History Month.