Last week, I wore my best dress shirt and black pants. I also put on new shoes that I’d been saving for months. The drive to Philadelphia took only an hour and once I entered the convention center, I smiled at whoever made eye contact and did my best to seem happy and content.
Initially, I was very excited to be at my first political science convention. Since I’m a second year PhD student, it was important to gain first-hand knowledge of how social scientists present their research and what the atmosphere would be like when someday, it’d be my turn to go up on stage. However, on day one, I found myself standing in the hallway that connected the center to the Marriot, and after seeing the other attendees rushing past, I realized an obvious truth: that the higher one climbs, the lonelier it becomes.
“In order to assimilate the culture of the oppressor and venture into his fold, the colonized subject has had to pawn some of his own intellectual possessions.”
Fanon echoed within as I’d spend hours at panels, navigating the academic jargon. His words echoed as I’d check for creases on my shirt or for scuff marks on my shoes. Or when I’d head past security with my backpack slung over my shoulder.
Growing up, I was told to make a difference. Before joining the program at Rutgers, I became a journalist because I wanted to inform the public about what was happening around them. During interviews with residents, I connected through humor. In the newsroom, I would do the same, cracking jokes about sports and movies, and completing my articles before deadline. Yet, every so often, whenever it was quiet except for the sound of keyboards, I would look around from my desk and the questions swarmed.
What am I doing here? Do I belong? Am I doing this for those who matter or for myself? Am I selfish?
At the conference, the doubts clawed into my arms and legs, as I made small talk. I shook hands. I smiled. I laughed. Internally, I reminded myself of the grand plan: I earn my doctorate and can finally earn my seat at the table.
Then again, what if I am changed forever? What if by being in this type of world, dominated by them, do I begin to lose who I am and forget why I am here? At what point do I turn into another academic whose work is only read by certain professors and deans in love with their images in the mirror? What if it’s already too late?
My mind becomes clustered, and I needed to go outside and take a break. Their gaze was overwhelming and trailed after. Yet, I know you’re there too, and when I write, you’ll understand what I’ve expressed. You and I aren’t entirely the same but we share moments. We know they’re watching and pen in hand, I direct my thoughts and feelings for you.
On the final day, I reached the conference slightly ahead of schedule and I attended more panels. Afterwards, friends and I also went to receptions meant for grad students, where the open bar attracted attendees like mosquitoes to an open wound. Although I attempted to keep myself in the moment, my head was bloated as they gathered around and tried sparking conversations, about what university we’re from, what we’re studying and why. My back straightened, I cupped my hands around my glass of orange juice. Maintaining eye contact, I answered.
I smiled. I laughed. I write.