I stand out from the crowd because…I found that the crowd so often is full of followers and not free thinkers. To me, the fear of nonconformity keeps humans beings in their places, rendering us afraid to be different from others.
The fear of attack and rejection for being different has led us to stuff down our uniqueness and follow along to get along! I try every time I teach a college class to motivate students to be different from those around them, by celebrating the quirky ones, the ones that say what they really think about the subjects discussed.
I give them a platform to megaphone their beliefs, for their unique take on the world often beguiles me, even as sometimes they shock me. I had a student during my last Gender and Society class who spoke truth about how it felt to be female in a society in which girls are often silenced and expected to be small in weight and stature and take up less space.
She told me that her mother did not like how she dressed, because she brought too much attention to herself, something girls and women should not do. And, yes, some of her outfits were a bit much for a Baby Boomer like myself, but I told her how I loved her multicolored hair, her strange outfits, her piercings, and her raucous personality. I encouraged her to stay a rebel.
That young woman wrote such honest essays, sometimes disagreeing with me and the book. But as long as she used research and not hearsay and her own opinions, she received the A’s she deserved. I don’t like it when professors only award good grades to students who write what the professors believe and fail the students who think differently, even when they support their arguments.
I wanted to be a different kind of professor, to stand out from the rigid, one-way-of-thinking that permeates academia, which seems meant to construct “followers” for a society. Too often the “crowders” fear the outliers, the anarchists, and the shameless individualists who refuse to allow others to define them or shake their self-confidence to wear what they want, read what they love, and be the persons their God created them to be.
I, instead, salute them, envy them, and wish I were as brave. Too often, in my life away from the classroom, I get caught up in being a crowd follower, afraid as an older black woman to draw attention to my femaleness, my age, and my blackness.
No matter how funny something might be and my intense desire to throw my head back with a laugh that seems to start in my stomach and travel through my spirit and breast and out of my mouth in undulating waves of loud and boisterous fun, I don’t. The possibilities of proving the stereotype that black women are all loud, offensive, and unable to assimilate in America after 400 years stop me. I politely smile or laugh lightly, so I do not offend or affirm prejudice.
My late aunt told me on hearing that I had traveled through Europe, “Black people don’t go to Europe, but, then, you always was weird, sleeping with a Bible under your pillow.” So, I think that is why I root for the unique ones.
We need them to inspire us to reflect on what we think and how we came to believe what we do. They may make us uncomfortable, because they make us confront the person in the mirror and ask what they are really about away from the crowd.
Sometimes I push the boundaries in my life, but I can get caught up in just humming along with the rest of the crowd. As a Christian, it is hard not to sometimes, because our religions expect group thinking, excommunicating those who beg to differ on issues like sexuality and women’s rights.
I was always glad that none of my church members visited my classes, for they would have been appalled, and I would have been sent packing for not forcing the unique ones to conform and “repent.” But, they just might have also learned “the other side of the story.”