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"Well Meaning" White People & Their Response to my Success

"How'd you get that?" This is a question I've been asked one too many times by a few White individuals after I tell them about my most recent accomplishment. The first time I was asked the "million dollar question" was in college. My professor asked me about my summer plans and I told her, "I'll be doing research in the Biology department on heart regeneration in Zebrafish." She looked astonished, and in front of the whole class she asked, "Wow, how'd you get that?" Now, I know some people will run to her defense and say, "Maeva, maybe she was just really impressed by you." To that I respond: Then she could've simply said, "Wow, that's cool/impressive/dope"-- honestly, anything that wouldn't put the burden on me to essentially "prove" to her I deserved my accomplishment by answering her question.


What some White people fail to realize with their question, "How'd you get that" is they are making it clear that I, as a Black woman have claimed a space they were not expecting me to claim. Their bodily expressions are always the same. First, their eyes light up for a moment, then their heads tilt, they furrow their brows, and give me a look of confusion as they attempt make sense of my "unexpected" success.


To be fair, I tend to play into this. When I receive the "How'd you get that" question, I usually say, "Honestly, I have no idea. It just sort of happened." WRONG! I DO know how it happened... I did the work. I put in the hours, submitted the applications, endured grueling interviews, sat with the rejection letters, made connections, conducted research, and wrote too many papers to count. My success didn't just happen, I played a significant role.


As Black women, we are conditioned to believe that our success is "exceptional." That is to say, we are made to believe that our accomplishments are feats that seldom occur. This is a lie. Black women have been succeeding since the dawn of time. The problem is, we live in a society and culture that does everything in its power to relegate Black women to roles of submission and inadequacy. We have been conditioned to believe there are certain positions Black women should not hold.


If you are a "well meaning" White person who wants to know how I, as a Black woman have succeeded, ask me about my background-- the work I've done to get here. Because believe me, I've done the work and I deserve to be here. And yes, it's impressive, not just because I'm a Black girl in a space your mind didn't create for me, but because I am Maeva Veillard forcing you to reckon with the reality that Black women are dope and we're really good at what we do-- succeeding.

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