From proms to graduations, this time of the year is meant to be a celebratory period for high school and college students everywhere. But, when the valedictorian of Central High School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama posted her accomplishments on social media, she was met with both admiration and hatred. This is yet another example of the ways that Black women and girls are rarely praised for their outstanding accomplishments, making it almost impossible for them show even an ounce of pride for themselves in public spaces.
Mari Flier is a magical Black girl who is graduating at the top of her class with a 4.56 GPA and acceptances to at least three dozen colleges with almost $3 Mil in scholarship offers. She has every reason to be proud of herself. However, after she posted her accomplishments on social media, she was met with criticism from people who doubted that she was being truthful about her success. Some others thought she was just trying to floss on the Internet for her own vanity.
Graduated as valedictorian with a 4.56 GPA, over 24 college credits, and $2.8 million in scholarships! S/OtoGOD❤️ pic.twitter.com/f7Myk45Yhy
— mari. (@__simplyMari) May 18, 2016
Commenters on Flier’s post suggested that she was lying, that it was impossible for her to get a GPA that high, that she was only publishing her accomplishments to get attention, and even that she should be in the kitchen instead of getting an education. While Flier is taking the criticism in stride, this points to a larger issue with how, far too often, Black women and girls are denied celebration in their own accomplishments.
This story reminds me of how, when I was growing up, I often felt like I couldn’t share my own experiences and triumphs for fear that I would be called prideful or boastful. I would hide 4.0 report cards and keep important news about my college applications to myself because I was often told that expressing pride in myself was about vanity. At other times, I was told that I was flat-out lying. According to some people (usually men), it was not even possible for me to attain the successes I had accomplished. Meanwhile, I witnessed other young people, usually males, being showered with praise for even the smallest successes.
I remember when I got into the University of Southern California. I was so proud of myself. I began telling people I was moving to Los Angeles for college to study engineering. One man asked me which school I was going to attend. He laughed at me when I said USC. “UCLA?” he asked. I said, “No, USC.” Then he replied, “You so dumb, you don’t even know how to lie right. USC is the University of South Carolina. You’re probably going to Compton College and just don’t want to tell people.” Clearly, he had no idea what he was talking about. But, that didn’t keep him from attempting to diminish my accomplishments anyway.
At another instance, a girl in my senior English class also got into USC. She had been dreaming of attending the school for a while. She was so proud of herself and everyone congratulated her when she got her acceptance. A few weeks later, I was choosing between Northwestern and USC and finally told the rest of my class. She was in a state of disbelief. It wasn’t until she saw me on campus the following fall that she believed I had actually gotten in.
I remember normalizing these responses, never questioning where they came from. But, I know now that these criticisms of Black women and girls come from a long history of dehumanizing, objectifying, and repressing Black women as a central function of society. I know now that Black women in the United States are often not seen as valuable unless they are positioned in service to White people. And, many times, there are even people within our own communities who work tirelessly to reproduce systems of control like classism, misogyny, and colorism in order to maintain their own conditional status as (what they likely believe to be) better than Black women, especially darker skinned Black women.
I am proud of this young Black woman who is succeeding in reaching her educational goals despite a culture which seeks to socialize her out of being dope. I am proud of each of us Black women who move beyond the arbitrary strictures established by others to live more authentically.
In the end, we all we got. Thankfully, more and more of us are figuring that out.