Black Women Thrive: Interview with Teacher and Freelance Writer Carla Bruce-Eddings

English teacher and freelance writer
Carla Bruce-Eddings.
According to the current social constructs of America, being an introverted Black woman is simply a contradiction. Silent introspection, social anxiety, and and general shyness are attributes not within the borders of the canvas which illustrates the average Black woman. Instead, many—including Black women and men—use images of the stereotypical Black female to gauge the "normalcy" of her realistic counterparts. 

As English teacher and freelance writer Carla Bruce-Eddings knows too well, the farther you are from the stereotype, the harder it is to connect with many of those in the Black community.

"I've definitely gotten the 'you're not like other [B]lack girls' thing multiple times. It was meant as a compliment, and I took it as one because that was the world I lived in...Respectability was the name of the game."

Bruce-Eddings' shyness manifested itself when she was a child. She was made to attend only private Christian schools until college although she pleaded with her parents to let her go to public schools; she was hyperaware of her presence as the one of the only Black students in many of her classes. Similarly, she found it difficult to connect with others in the majority-Black church her family regularly attended since she was used to being "in majority white settings" and found small talk to be not unlike a root canal.

"My parents would want to stay and chat it up with every...person in the building and it was the worst...it wouldn't have been as interminable if they had just let me sit in the car and read my book while they talked. But they dragged me from conversation to conversation so I could be asked the same questions, forced to smile and respond and be 'nice'."

Simply put, she found it hard to play the silent social games created to make conversations go smoothly, "For me, it was literally 'talk to people, and smile more often than you scowl'."

Her difficulties connecting with fellow members of the Black community continued when she entered college at Rutgers University. As a large, public university, Rutgers has several clubs and organizations geared toward the wide array of minority students. Nevertheless, due to her upbringing outside typical African American culture, Bruce-Eddings felt excluded from her Black peers. She didn't have the same mannerisms or points of reference as they did; she felt like an interloper. 

"I was distinctly aware that there was a coolness factor and sort of ease that I lacked...this feeling was compounded when I got to college...and tried to assimilate into various groups of [B]lack people. It just never really worked."

At Rutgers, Bruce-Eddings participated in the French Conversation Club, Greek Club, and Book Club, but found she didn't fit in the gospel choir. She'd participated in several choirs before, and as an introvert, the anonymity of singing in a large ensemble appealed to her, but she found it difficult to connect with the other singers.   

"Everyone was very welcoming, but....I was so afraid of exposing myself as the interloper I felt myself to be. I couldn't stand the thought of people thinking I was weird, so I barely spoke. Eventually I stopped going. It became exhausting to be the stranger within the crowd after a while."

Luckily, Bruce-Eddings had an opportunity to go abroad to Bristol, England during her college years, a time which she throughly enjoyed. 

"I made friends with [European Study Abroad] ERASMUS kids...and while I was the only [B]lack girl, and often the only American at their parties, I enjoyed the multiplicity of cultures and ethnicities so much. I wasn't being held to any sort of standard...I was so anonymous that I could be myself...and I didn't feel awkward for it."

After graduation, Bruce-Eddings returned to Europe to teach English in Paris, where she lived for seven months in the 12th arrondissement. She poetically reflects on her time in Paris in her blog piece "Fumeuse":
"I did not become a smoker in Paris. I fooled people with my accent, though, and ate a baguette every day. I also ate at McDonald’s. I paid my rent on time and got to work late. I got too drunk to go home and slept on a bench. I re-taught myself how to knit. I made friends. I made curry. I lay in bed on Christmas morning and wept, watching Friends on my laptop, for all of the miles and the streets and the beautiful men and women I half-loved and fully hated and could not be or have, for the gaping darkness within that cold, hard, girl. She ached, and I ached too."

"Fumeuse", Carlawaslike.com
Her K-5 students were mostly from the suburb Aulnay-sous-Bois. Unlike most American cities, the minority populations in Paris are concentrated in the suburbs rather than the city center; therefore, most of her students were minorities.

"My French was good enough to fool most people, and when it wasn't, people would say 'Ah! Americaine?' and seem proud. I got a lot of compliments on my looks, my accent. My kids stared at me like I had two heads, but it was obvious that I was one of the few...Americans they had ever met."

Though her interactions with all races of locals were positive, Bruce-Eddings was aware of the more covert style of racism in France.

"It was jarring to be treated so kindly by [W]hite French strangers, and then see them shoot dirty looks at an African family five minutes later...to compare one country's 'racism' to another's [is] such an impossible task...it's all bad and there is so much underlying history...how do you even begin to unpack what goes into the reasoning behind a [W]hite person's POV in Paris [versus]...in LA?"

Bruce-Eddings was well-acclimated to life in Paris, yet she returned stateside to join New York City Teaching Fellows, an accelerated Master's degree program with subsidized costs. These days, after four years as a special education English teacher, she admits her role has become "a means to an end." Teaching in America is not as rewarding as she'd hoped; nonetheless, the role offers some comforts.

"My students are often very low level readers, and as a public school teacher in 2015, 80% of our lesson planning, assessments, and daily classwork is in deference to the looming specter of state exams. When I imagined myself as a teacher...I taught out of books, held class discussions, assigned meaty papers...In reality...it's a complete soul suck. [But] for all my complaints, being a government employee offers amazing stability. I think that's why people get stuck in the system for such a long time."

Being an English teacher offers stability, something oftentimes more important than personal wants or desires, especially when you're a new mother like Bruce-Eddings. Earlier this year, she and her husband welcomed their first child, Eve, to the world. Although Eve hasn't even reached a year old, the BlackLivesMatter movements and realities of America today have her thinking about her child's future.

Bruce-Eddings' super-adorable daughter Eve, born July 5th, 2015.
"I want her to...know for a fact that she is a treasured individual with dreams worth having and a future...I don't want her to be afraid. I don't expect the racial disparities to drastically right themselves by the time she is old enough to be cognizant of such things[,] but...I would so rather her father and I have all the fear so she can just have the wonder."

Eve is undoubtably the apple of her eye, but Bruce-Eddings doesn't hesitate to share that food and sleep were at the fore of her mind during pregnancy and after her daughter's arrival. After Eve's birth, she kindly instructed her friends and family to bring her her favorite foods, which she was prohibited from eating during her pregnancy.

"My husband had me make a list of all the foods I was craving while pregnant...and our friends and family signed up in a [G]oogle doc to visit...and brought one of the items when they came."

Bruce-Eddings certainly loved receiving the food offerings, but advises new mothers to keep visits to a minimum.

"Stay hydrated. Accept help from more experienced mothers you know and trust, [and] don't have a ton of visitors in the beginning. The people who do visit, make them bring you food. Take showers when you can."

Aside from keeping herself well-fed and rested, Bruce-Eddings sees personal time for herself as an essential aspect of becoming a good mother. She loves to write, and selfishly fights for the time to put pen to paper or hands to keys so she can selflessly devote herself to Eve.

"Being a mom has really kicked my ass into gear regarding my writing. I don't have the time to not be serious about the career that I actually want, so it's become a priority that I have to make time for, when I'm already struggling to make time for everything else. It's the most self-sacrificing, yet selfish drive I've ever had."

In addition to writing, Bruce-Eddings loves a good book. "I just finished reading Saeed Jones' Prelude to Bruise. It had been a long time since I read poetry...Before that, Between the World and Me. I'm about to begin Angela Flournoy's The Turner House...I read a lot of articles too...I just finished one by Leslie Jamison [The Possibilities of the Personal] that's incredible. She is one of my writing heros; [I] just ordered her book, [The Empathy Exams], which is next on my list."

She also believes aspiring freelance writers would do well to consume more than they produce.

"Read more than you write. Have a system of support. And get enough sleep...I don't know, maybe that last one is for other aspiring freelance writers who also have small infants (laughs)."

Recently, some writers and other artists have spoken out about how working for free might cheapen the work of other creators. Being an artist is a job like any other, but undoubtably, it is more difficult to break into creative industries in comparison to other fields like the sciences. Bruce-Eddings understands both sides of working without compensation and for a paycheck.

"I think it's dangerous and myopic to talk in absolutes...I've happily written for publications for free because I want to get my name out there...on some level, I need to pay my dues to sing the blues.

"On the other hand, bills are real. Writing is not easy. Even if it is what you love, it is work. I think it depends on one's situation and experience...I don't really see how realistic it is to expect scores of people to adhere to a hard and fast rule when the world of online publication is democratized and widespread as it is. The gates have never been open wider than they are right now. Get in first, get a foothold, and then...you can start to climb."

Carla Bruce-Eddings received a BA in English from Rutgers University. She currently works as an special education English teacher in Brooklyn, New York where she resides with her husband and baby daughter. She has contributed to The Toast, McSweeney'sPotluck Mag, and Luna Luna Magazine. She also runs the blog Carlawaslike.com.

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