Pretty Yende is a South African singer who is performing for the next few months at the Metropolitan Opera. She discovered opera at 16 while listening to a British commercial, and has travelled the world sharing her incredible talent. Her “home base” is Milan, Italy and she is fluent in South African, English, Italian, French (and is now learning German). While she is working on a different production now, in the next few months she will be playing Juliet in the “Romeo and Juliet” opera at the Met.
Pause. Rewind. She, a black woman from South Africa, will be playing Juliet in one of the most renowned art institutions in the world!!! In her interview with Wendy Williams (below) she says this:
I left “everything, everything I knew, who I was, my language, my people, my sunshine, the earth, everything I knew. I almost had to become someone else.” Yende goes on to state that she had to get “comfortable with being uncomfortable, being the only one in the place with people who look like you… You make dreams, but sometimes you have to grow to become the dream… I would not associate who I am now and who I was then.” The girl from South Africa who dreamt of singing opera had to transform into the opera singer she is today, and while remnants of her remain, she is different – unrecognizable, even – from the perspective of her earlier life.
I can relate to Yende’s feeling of being out of place in her profession. As a black, female, philosophy student I exist in spaces mostly occupied by white men. There are a few women sprinkled in here and there, and sometimes even people of colour, but for the most part… Sometimes I feel like the door was left open and I snuck in, uninvited. It can be awkward not only because I am hyper-aware of the history behind my social identities (I #StayWoke), but because of the way in which philosophers tend to express themselves.
As an example, in the first few years of university, I preferred the “ball of fury” method of communication (see left). I would sit quietly in class (I am naturally shy) until I really had something to say, and then boom! I would let ‘em have it. It got to the point where, at the end of certain rants, professors appeared shell-shocked by my verbiage (see image below).
It was never my intention to be abrasive, I was just passionate. Over the years, I have learned to be much less dramatic, and have tried my best to adopt philosopher-speak. Even when it comes to issues that I care deeply about, my volume has gotten significantly lower, my cadence even, and tone of voice less sharp (sometimes I slip up… but hey, no-one’s perfect). There are, of course, benefits to letting go of the “ball of fury” method. For one, it is much more conducive to the learning of students for their teachers to be measured in speech and appear neutral on a range of topics. But besides philosopher-speak’s usefulness as a pedagogical tool, people often feel more comfortable being around those who look and act like them. While I can’t do anything about my appearance (nor would I ever want to), I “fit in” better by adopting the norms of those around me. This sometimes results in a tension between authenticity and social acceptability that is difficult to reconcile, although I try my best to remain on the side of authenticity.
T. M. G.
P.S.: S/o to the people who remember Dragon Ball Z, one of my FAVOURITE cartoons growing up.
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