…..Or a nurse, or a lawyer, or an engineer, or a mad scientist, or anything of that sort. Stop asking.
But before I continue, let me note: There is NO, I repeat… zero, shade being thrown here.
When you’re raising children, let alone five like my parents did, it is obvious they will have a wide range of interests. Mine required that we put in our 100% effort into everything in our lives from housework to relationships, and of course academics and the related areas. As high schoolers, my siblings and I played multiple sports all four years, ended up in local newspapers after winning local and national accolades as individuals and teams, brought home honor-roll worthy grades, and good friends, all while avoiding ending up in any major trouble.
When senior year rolled around, naturally, we all knew that skipping college was not an option. However, what we chose to study, was. I can’t speak for my siblings or anyone else, but I knew in high school, by the end of sophomore year I wanted to study journalism. The chances of being persuaded in another direction was very slim. In school, I always loved writing and art classes that allowed me to be creative. I found this to be something I was good at, so why not? When my senior year approached, I told my parents that I was looking at schools with the best journalism programs, and they never protested. After rounds of SAT tests, acceptances, rejections, and wait lists, I decided on Howard University, whose journalism program had great reviews, even recently named a top school for Black media professionals in 2016.
In August 2011, I stepped foot on campus, excited for everything coming my way. At Howard, one of the first things you learn is the importance of the “Howard intro”- your name, where you are from, and your course of study. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, use it, loudly and proudly. I did, for the most part, until one day freshman year. I was getting something to eat. I handed the cashier my student ID, who after staring at it for a few moments, asks me for my intro, particularly curious about my name.
“I’m Nigerian, but I was born in Maryland. I’m studying journalism!” I say, smiling from ear to ear.
“You’re studying what?” the man asked.
“Do your parents know that?” He was laughing.
Stereotypes are REAL, and this was my first encounter with it. When many people envision the “average” African professional, they are most seen excelling in the STEM field, even from what I have seen before entering college. Reasons are plenty, whether it be for familial pride (or pressure), the desire for monetary success as these fields are known to always be an open door for new opportunities, or simply, it was always a subject area they excelled in, such as my sister who studied Kinesiology in college, and graduated from medical school, and began residency this year. I knew the man’s surprise came from me not pursuing what was “expected” and after fixing my face, I calmly said, “Yes sir, they do!” After a few exchanges about my family background, what brought me to Howard, and what I planned on doing with my degree, I waved goodbye and went to go eat, laughing about the conversation the entire time.
I won’t sit here and tell you about EVERY time that someone has had something negative to say about me being Nigerian and pursuing journalism, but as the saying goes, if I had a dollar for every time a STRANGER made an off-color comment about it…I’d be rich. You might think that I would get used to it considering it unfailingly happened multiple times each year, but no . I think I just started wiping the encounters after that from my brain. Another instance that sticks out to me is my first semester senior year and I was getting ready to take my graduation photos.
The photographer asks me to show him my name on the computer and I point to it, once again becoming the topic of conversation.
“ Oh, you’re Nigerian!” What are you studying? Pre-Med?” he said, while trying to guess what color stole I was getting.
Here we go.
The photographer rattled off “the list”- nursing, biology, engineering, psychology, education, etc and with each wrong guess, he was getting more confused, and I agitated.
“What are you studying then???” he said, defeated.
“…I’m a Journalism major, Graphic Design minor.”
“Are you being serious?” he said looking at me, over the bridge of his glasses.
I tried laughing it off as he handed me my cap, gown, and my School of Communications stole. I obviously didn’t hide my irritation well, as he continued talking trying to smooth over the mess he made, commenting on how Nigerian women are friendly, homely, and can cook, making them desirable wives.
Ignorant AND sexist? Fantastic.
I can take, and make jokes with the best of them but this is one joke that I never quite got the hang of. Sometimes I would wonder to myself if I was really was “disappointing” because of my chosen field of study. It was hurtful being laughed at by strangers for what I loved to do. But it was even more hurtful because every person who ever said anything negative looked like me. Even through the hurtful comments, stressful deadlines, tears, and hardcore professors acting as newsroom bosses, no other major would satisfy me.
Regardless of what other people say about your passions, it is important to be persistent in pursuing it. I am proud I was not deterred. Many people just want the money from their chosen field, but that is not how I feel. You will always be rich and successful if you are doing what you love and you give your best effort.
On May 6, 2016, I became Howard University alumna, complete with a B.A. in Print/Online Journalism, and a minor in Graphic Design.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.