By: Loni Matthew
“Do the nae-nae!” and “You speak like a white girl!” are some of the few overtly racially-charged microaggressions that are hurled at me from my non-black, but non-white colleagues. However, these locutions are amplified when I am in an almost entirely white environment.
Feeling as though the only black person around must be inherently representative of the entire black community, the somewhat offensive questions and remarks begin to flood: “Do you eat fried chicken for dinner everyday?” “What’s a ‘kitchen?” “At the end of the summer, I’m going to be as black as you!” (Yes, these are all ridiculous things that have actually been said to me/asked.)
These remarks get stale really quickly. Yet, with me automatically having stereotypes looming above my head, I must think before I choose to express some sentiments. Obviously, I wish not to fall under the stereotypical trope of being a sassy and vexed black girl, so I must swallow my raw emotions whole, as many of us contend to do.
With 87.8% of the entire United States population constituting to that of a non-black race, it’s quite probable that we will be alienated at least once in our entire lifetimes. Whether it be in a grocery store, a classroom, or your neighborhood, the laden weight of being the only one is an uncomfortable mass that is not easy nor pleasing to uphold.
If you’re like me, you usually find that a concoction of not-so-good emotions are avidly brewing in the pit of your stomach once you realize you are the only black person, or person of color amidst a large crowd, or in a certain environment.
It’s kind of the only thing you can focus on–how sporadically, people glance (or even stare) at you, how you cannot relate to them on any sort of level, or how alienated you ultimately feel. But as it is completely impossible to evade these types of circumstances, I, and many others, have reluctantly come to terms with them.
Being racially isolated in an academic environment has its ebbs and flows. Four of the six classes I was enrolled in last year had no black people other than myself. My attitude towards it was a lukewarm sense of contentedness, for my school happens to be greatly diverse with other people of color. Nonetheless, I still managed to receive my fair share of micro-aggressions and be butt-end of some very offensive racist jokes, to which I concealed my emotions.
Last year, my U.S History teacher, accompanied by a handful of students, would veer their heads or promptly shoot their eyes in my direction whenever the words “slavery”, “KKK”, or any other words pertaining to black people were uttered.
It could have been subconscious, but it was entirely nettlesome. In attempts to seem ultra-inclusive of my opinions (which I appreciate), he would yield to me and allow me to say what I felt on certain topics.
I didn’t necessarily enjoy being the “representative” of all black people when asked to speak on times of great moral injustice, especially when he expected me to explain as to why people looted stores during the Baltimore Uprisings. Perhaps a lack of comprehension is what drove his decision in asking me this.
In that class, I had to encounter a racist person everyday who deliberately tried to diminish the importance of anything that attended to black folk. And because I was the only one, it was especially easy for this individual to do so. Whenever I corrected my instructor about a false piece of information concerning slavery, a loud sigh would always escape this person’s mouth.
My attempts to provide my somewhat mal-informed teacher with some insight would result in him blurting phrases similar to “Get over it.” Although it seems like a case of some good old-fashioned racism combined with the suppressed cries of an mutinous and angsty teenager, I can confidently assure that many of the angering statements he proudly announced would’ve not escaped his mouth, had there been more people looking like me in it. With my life beginning to unfold, I know I will have to face another individual in my future whom emulates that of my bovine classmate, unfortunately.
For people who must trudge through their days receiving glares, remarks or have their comments shot down by condescending individuals: Your voice and opinions matter. Your history matters. You matter. Do not allow yourself to be undermined simply because you are outnumbered. These types of opportunities allow you to shine; to stand out against everyone else.