Insecure Academic: Being an Overlooked, Gifted, Black girl. (Part ONE)


The above tweet contains the thread that inspired this post and the call for submissions for this series (Click picture to read). The thread later goes on to explain that as a Black girl and Gifted student, I felt like I was expected to assume a certain humility. This obsession with being humble would soon evolve into blatant insecurities. I also feel that this was exacerbated by a lack of support I received as an assumption of being “good”.  I was a student in my school’s “Gifted and Talented” program starting in Kindergarten. For my next level of education, I only applied to schools I had to take tests to get into, and I got into all of them.  I did not know failure.

Until I started middle school.

I distinctly remembered having teachers in Elementary school tell my parents at parent-teacher conferences that I was at the top of my class. My reading and math scores were always among the highest. I no longer heard this in middle school yet I knew my efforts had not changed. Eventually, though, they did change. My parents were divorcing, I took on more responsibilities for my younger brother, and then there was that weight gain. 11 YEAR OLD GAINING WEIGHT and the people just thought I needed to do some more cardio.

My super white teachers in my super white school in a super white part of Brooklyn, NY pretty much ignored me. When my parents were going through a separation process and my world turned upside down, no one asked if I was okay. Ever. You’d think that missing a few school days to go talk to a judge would warrant a potential check-in, but what do I know? What they did do was remove me from the Gifted designated courses in 7th grade. I never asked why they did it. I just assumed that I had lost my edge. It wasn’t until my Black momma took her corporate tail up to the school, after realizing what they did, that I was placed back into the program.

In my middle school, the students in the gifted classes took high school math and science in 8th grade. After taking the culminating test we would receive advanced placement upon entering high school. Unfortunately, these were the courses I was barely passing. Midway through the year, my Dad shows up for parent-teacher conferences and my math teacher fixed her smug mouth to tell him that I hadn’t turned in homework for half the school year. When he inquired as to why he never heard about this before this point, all she could offer was that the number she had on file was not in service. That was it. No further attempt to reach out. No letters sent home. I was just going to continue to be the stupid black girl disrupting the class.

When the date of the state tests was approaching, something clicked and I was just like SIS YOU CANNOT FAIL THIS SHIT. I sat down with my math textbook and taught myself a whole school year worth of Algebra and Earth Science. The white male retired vet, Earth Science teacher was beaming at the 77 I received on the test. The disinterested Math teacher said this about my 79: “I don’t know how you did it”. I’m not sure if she was happy for me. I’m still not really convinced that she was. I internalized her condescending remark for a long time afterward. I was also personally unhappy as hell. These just weren’t grades I was used to.

For high school, I decided I no longer wanted to deal with the “gifted and talented”, I talked myself out of the New York City Specialized High School test. I told myself not to apply to any school with a screening process that included testing. During this time, I convinced myself that I was going to be a chef. I was scarred by school but I still had an appreciation for the concept of training and qualification. I thought that I had to show good faith by going to a school with a culinary program. Still, I aimed low. And there was no one around to tell me that I was.

As a disclaimer, this is no shade to my high school or the people who attended it. In many ways, the school community gave me my confidence back and I’m indebted to the teachers who paid attention to me to make sure that I was the student I was always destined to be. I went from bottom of my 8th math and science classes to the top of my high school math classes, with little contest, and taking Physics as an elective. I would later find out that many of my teachers graded me on a different scale than my peers. Some tried to give me work to do outside of standard classwork because I was so obviously bored. I quickly felt awkward.

I tried my hardest to downplay my academic success because I couldn’t stand the attention. I was so totally sure that someone would end up telling me I was looking down at them. But that never happened. Shout out to the black/brown space that allowed me to flourish and be great in my abilities. I’m grateful to my classmates who let that be a thing. But at the same time, the respect I received often made me quite uncomfortable.

I took all my NYS Regents tests by the end of my second year. When I walked into high school my 3rd year, 15 years old, it was just like, maam… you’re pretty much on track to graduate like right now. So I graduated at the end of that school year. I got offers from all the schools I applied to except Barnard. I was offered Honors programs and hefty scholarships from some, and all that jazz. I chose Stony Brook University.

But even with all this story yall, you couldn’t tell me that I didn’t just slip through the cracks.

I thought I was “lucky” that my mom got me back into gifted classes in middle school. I thought I had stellar scores in History simply because I had a good memory. I thought my performance on those tests in high school was me getting by with the skin of my teeth. I figured that if I went to a specialized high school, there’s no way I would have gotten out of there early. And when my GPA was a 1.68 at the end of my first semester of college, I just knew I was a fraud.

[Part Two.]

#TalesofAcademicInsecurity (1)

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12 thoughts on “Insecure Academic: Being an Overlooked, Gifted, Black girl. (Part ONE)

  1. Once again I can relate- it’s crazy.
    When I was much younger I was the ‘smart black girl’ and it caused me a lot of pain, hate, isolation growing up and so the older I got the more I would downplay my academic achievements. I’m not a genius by any means, but I was ‘smart for a black girl’ to put it plainly. Support was minimal bc everyone assumed I would have it all figured out. Even now, I doubt myself academically bc I spent so long being a fraud I guess and pretending to be less smart just to fit in and avoid being treated differently or judged. You can’t imagine how much I needed this post- writing this comment alone has forced me to reflect- THANK YOU!

  2. You are for sure not alone girl. I thank God every day that my parents were able to afford to send me to a private school that was founded with the expressed purpose of educating black children. The teachers were very involved and made sure to foster the self-esteem they knew we would need to face the world. It breaks my heart to hear how your teachers behaved especially as someone who dealt with their parents’ divorce in middle school as well. Thankfully you overcame that and that first semester GPA sis!

  3. As a Black woman if I meet a Black person that is Dr. Such and Such I break my neck to say doctor in every sentence. LOL! Nah but for real they have earned that and I celebrate saying it because I can imagine the hard work and other issues it took to overcome, to earn that title. I also liked how you meantioned feeling like you had to be humble. We can be humble and still confident and still speak up about our credentials. Don’t think they for a minute they ain’t dropping Dr. Whatever in every other sentence. Walk in your greatness! ❤

  4. Love your perspective. I can relate to your story in some respects. Many teachers expected me to be a below average student because I was black. Its unfortunate. The school system need to do better. Looking forward to reading more!

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