Have you ever heard of the idiom, “mind over matter”?
According to the Oxford Languages Dictionary, “mind over matter” is defined as “the use of willpower to overcome physical problems.” We can infer that with willpower comes determination, and to have determination, your mental state has to be healthy.
I first heard this term during my elementary school football game when the weather was pouring rain. The temperature was so low that every time I was tackled in a puddle, while at the running back position, it would take the breath out of me.
Being so young, I did not fully comprehend the phrase, “mind over matter.” Nonetheless, I understood that my coaches wanted me to keep scoring touchdowns while the other players on the opposing team complained about the weather, begging to end the game and go home.
Through this analogy, the term always stuck with me as I grew older and began to truly push my mental limits. By using “mind over matter,” I was able to handle inadvertent and intentional racial slurs, being the voice for others, and being a popular loner.
Growing up in predominantly white private schools, my perspective, being a black man, was not always clear to my fellow classmates. Dealing with racial slurs, inadvertent and intentional, there were times where I had to bite my tongue, and there were times where I had to speak up, sometimes speaking alone to be the voice for the select few black classmates in the entire school.
From personal school experiences, I can say that I, along with my fellow black classmates, would be called the “N” word frequently to the point where, mentally, it would take a huge toll on my personal life. In addition, people I called friends, at the time, had racial slurs “slip out” when having a casual conversation. Something as ignorant as saying, “You stupid nigger,” would “slip out” of their mouths. Even my own teammates would proclaim intentional racial slurs during my participation in sports.
Due to my experiences and observing my fellow black classmates merely dealing with belittling language, I constantly had to put my own concept of “mind over matter” to use. Instead of reacting in such a way that would further a racist’s reasoning as to call me the “N” word and have it used against me, I would take the initiative to converse and explain the history of the “N” word and why their behavior and language is ironically hypocritical by definition. The “N” word can mean, regardless of skin color, an ignorant and disrespectful person.
Mentally, experiences like this in the school system affected me because I thought it was not possible to have any true friends who understood my perspective in a thorough manner. Instead I could only speak up and have awkward tension with my classmates.
Apart from this problem, I had to quickly learn to be the voice for others. Mentally, this was an exhausting task, in addition to playing sports, keeping up with homework assignments and maintaining a personal life. The feeling of being outnumbered and trying to transform minds for the majority to understand a minority’s perspective was exasperating.
While speaking up for others, I came across many different types of personalities. There was a portion of individuals who completely empathized with my struggle and understood a different perspective. The next group would try to understand your viewpoint, but simply could not grasp your perspective; therefore, they may or may not support your stance. Lastly, there were people who were completely conservative and would not budge on their pedestal of tradition.
Being aware of these types of people is crucial to be able to intellectualize your next move and reactive logically rather than emotionally. Being the student who dissects these kinds of problems in the school system, I became a popular loner.
Although I knew my classmates, of all races, had much respect for me personally, forming lasting and genuine bonds with people was nonexistent.
For individuals who had or have a similar story as I did, I want to leave you with this. Even though being the minority in the classroom has its mental challenges, it prepares you to develop your own voice for the future. Experiences like these mold you into a stronger personification of yourself.
Not only does this lesson apply for racism in schools, but it can be relevant to life in general. Constantly standing up for yourself and others, in and out of the classroom, molds you into a leader and a team player simultaneously. Being able to listen to other people’s stories and then become the voice for the oppressed is the social dynamic position that needs to constantly be filled.
Now that I think about it more, perhaps even the saying, “mind over matter,” does not rise to the moment of racial tension we are living through today. With the inhumane deaths of many black people, racism is a matter of life or death and extreme mental management. Despite your race, how will you handle racism?
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.