Lisa Hobdy ‘19
I’m uncomfortable. I’m always uncomfortable. Even when I’m doing something I love.
I walk out on Game Day. I’m pumped, ready to play, ready to have fun. I’m a middle hitter-- my job is to block and hit, but also, as one of our three team captains, I’m in charge of trying to meet the wants and needs of my teammates, as well as encouraging positivity. So, my leadership role is… feelings. That and snacks.
Another job I have whenever I walk into any gym is to observe those around me. That’s when I get uncomfortable.
Because I have to notice their race.
When I play volleyball, how well I play depends on my opponent and the crowd. I’m aware that if I play as aggressively as I can, they might think that reflects my behavior off the court. At a tournament this season, my coach pulled me aside. I figured it was because we were being negative (because, well, feelings). But, I was surprised when she asked me: “why are you holding back?”
At the time, I had no answer. I just got it together and went back to doing my job. When I walked into that gym, I read the room, and this was my analysis: the faces were black. And I was holding back because of it.
The opposing team was playing aggressively. Based on my past experiences with sports, I know that people assume that aggressive black athletes mean aggressive black kids. Black kids are never just skilled, and even if they are, it is often held against us.
I’m always conscious of the way I act at school because there’s an abundance of white people and a shortage of black people. Playing volleyball is only one time I have to moderate my performance. Another activity I love-- singing-- also makes me regulate myself and my skills. In my Contemporary Ensemble class, I sing many genres of music, but my white teacher has a tendency to select Rock songs. Every time we perform, my classmates are surprised to see me singing anything that’s not Mary J. Blige or Whitney Houston. But even though I appreciate these artists, they don’t speak to me and my emotional life.
This past performance, I sang lead on The Reason Why by Brand New Immortals. When I sing a Rock song, I never feel the lyrics or musicality like if I could lead our band in a rendition of Jorja Smith’s Goodbye, a Soul song. But I worry, even with a Rock song, that if I unleashed, they would make judgements on my emotional stability or my personal and home life, just because I was black. And this again, makes me uncomfortable.
I find myself performing all the time, having to choose what Lisa I need to be. I’m never in a situation in which I don’t. Even when I’m with my family, I feel as if I need to change myself. Because I go to a predominantly white school, my cousins say that I act “white.” Then I feel the need to try to salvage my image: lowering my voice, using different diction, changing my clothes. Another performance. My blackness discredited because I play volleyball instead of basketball, because I sing in a rock band.
I know it’s impossible not to alter how I act in different situations, but I hope next year, in college, I can find a place where I can be comfortable being Lisa-- not all the Lisas that I have had to be to get here. I want to be the most authentic version of myself, to learn who I am not as “the black girl from Alabama” or the “girl that went to the white school” but instead as the “freshman in college.” I want to develop the different aspects of myself that I was scared to notice before. I want to truly be Lisa.