I feel like I always say this before every session but I am so excited for today’s interview for so many reasons. Now, us Black folks been knowing that Black people honestly are the smartest folks on earth. It was only a matter of time before the media started to have this representation out here- time long over due. From Hidden Figures to the recent Marvel, Black Panther- Black women have invested so much in global advancement. So now that we have established that not only is the richest person in the history of humankind is Black- Mansa Musa, but now the smartest person in Fiction is also Black and woman – Princess Shuri.
And today’s interview features a Black woman in STEM, a Shuri in real life. 26 year old, Stella Nshuti was born and raised in Kigali, Rwanda. Like many of us, she moved to the US 5 years ago to complete and boost her education in Software Engineering [BA and ongoing almost masters degree]. She has always been a math aficionado since she can remember, so that among other things brought her interest in the field. She is in her first professional year. On a different similar, she does say that nothing excites her more than good music, dancing, making people laugh, having productive and insightful conversations and doing other social activities that feed her adventurous and analytical personality.
Thank you Stella for being part of this project to unpack being a carefree Afrikan woman. What does this mean to you as an Afrikan woman?
Being a carefree Afrikan woman to me simply means listening to myself in an unapologetic way, loving myself, my growth journey and being free from the path that is expected of me.
Many ideologies that have been deeply rooted by patriarchy, colonialism and their effects stick with most of us and we start falling for these social expectations mistaking them from Afrikan culture and values. It is important to understand our history and develop a critical and questioning mindset that starts these conversations to bring awareness and truth in the front, instead of abusing our self development .
We are all here to figure life out and make it worth living, but how come there is somebody who knows what our roles, skills, interest, attitude, beliefs, values… I could go on, “should be” before we even figure it out ourselves? Almost like we have no right to our own minds. We need to let go of these man made concepts about our bodies, abilities and our worth to be our true selves.
That is very true. Overtime patriarchal and colonial culture has become difficult to differentiate from Afrikan culture. Most of what we know is really a result of a system that was and is violent to Afrikans. So challenging it is through a carefree lifestyle is revolutionary. In what ways do you practice being carefree?
The beauty of it all is to watch yourself and acknowledge your progress, I mean the realization itself is crazy because I keep remembering a time in my life where I would have underlooked a woman like me as well because society had taught me that lacking confidence and self-esteem is what was perceived as a real woman. It is always great to remind myself of who I am by looking back.
A misconception about carefree living is that we just shut down when other people’s opinions are brought up. Part of it all is knowing that it is not always about me. I am a very sensitive and expressive person. Therefore, I am not scared of bringing up stuff, defending and talking about my behaviour or choices when I’m approached. I go into detail and pinpoint the limitations I observe and request it back.
I often affirm my values and correct my thoughts during these conversations. I think that is how we all learn. Giving myself permission to have differing, and even contradicting opinions. and having a continuous growing mindset .
Being in my field I have learnt over the the time not to feel bad for negotiating my work and play time. I have to balance my life, so I value my downtime just as I value my work.
Tell us about the journey that led to having this mindset and ultimately continuously learning how to be carefree.
Many incidents and experiences have shaped me and my life so I would say my journey is an accumulation in many ways and is still going.
I lost my mother at a very young age and this made most of my extended family, and friends sort of play the mom role in my life. The back and forth parenting styles might have confused me alot as a child but I always leaned to my father more first because the void my mother left made space for us to bond. It felt like he always made sure I had choices and trained me to be my own person, question things internally and to top it all he taught me meditation.
As I changed scenes in my life and growing into being more self-aware, my interests spanned multiple areas so I started attracting information that was self reflecting. The more I discover about my history, upbringing and social structures and the degree that they have influenced my aspirations, the more I questioned a lot, the hungrier I got to be real and stopped being apologetic for it. I’m proud of all the learning and unlearning I am still doing done so far.
What would you tell the your younger self or any young person who might have not yet embarked on this journey?
Honestly, what would I tell/advise any other 13 year old girl that I care about? I believe we all grow up differently for a reason and each has their own unique path. I would not probably be on this journey if I had my life different. Sometimes it’s better not to know and just let life and experiences teach us. My advice right now might not suit my level of consciousness at the 13 .
I would tell a young girl like me at that age to go and expand your interests and start chasing, searching, pursuing and practising the things they enjoy because the sooner you go out there and try it all, the easier and faster you get closer discovering your true self.
In what ways is your career as an engineer, a platform for you to express your carefree Black girl magic? Is it easy? Is it hard?
Being in a male dominated field is tough! Women are widely under-represented in most STEM professions. We are oftenly underlooked or overpraised for doing what a man does. It is rare you see Education/Social systems empower women to discover their talent towards Engineering, The gender gap is misleading and has nothing to do with one’s skills and drives women away from taking interest.
We need let go of the a mentality that these are “tough careers”. When you have an interest in something, you take the measures it takes to do it. I do not think I can overcome the drawbacks if I wasn’t doing this for myself and listening to me. It’s giving me a platform to break these stereotypes and represent.
Software Engineering is all about problem solving and it’s almost impossible to get through a day without using those skills. Don’t be surprised how much connection there is between what being an engineer requires me psychologically and being carefree. Doing this on a daily basis provides me with the tools, knowledge of creating scenarios, critical thinking, and being resourceful and inquisitive to get to live carefree. Same applies to everything in life- what you practice or do daily plays a big role in your life.
Featured video for today’s session: Brenda Fassie with Party Time