I didn’t think I’d have this issue when I got older. I’ve always been the token (or one of few), after all. I grew up in a Minnesota suburb, I attended private school, I studied engineering at a PWI… I should be used to it by now, right?
I was always able to create my own community within another. Although I may have attended Georgia Tech, my friend group didn’t exactly resemble the demographics of the school. However, as a traveling consultant, I no longer have the privilege to ignore my “token-ness”. I’m reminded daily of that fact that I’ve been at my company over two years, and I’ve only been staffed on a project with another black person once. To make the gravity of this a bit more clear, that means that the majority of my interactions with an employee that looks like me have been virtual… So, maybe you can begin to sense why I might be in need of some community.
And, no, it’s not that I can’t have friends of other races, but you need to understand that there are just some things that come with being a black woman (or a person of color, but I will only speak on my experiences) in a space dominated by the opposite that others just won’t experience. There are some conversations that begin to add up after a while. Some comments that really start to get under your skin… And, it would feel amazing to be able to look into someone’s eyes and receive immediate understanding in those moments rather than awkwardly smiling and searching the floor for a way out.
There’s a constant explanation that I didn’t cut my hair, but that it can be a million different lengths and textures depending on something as minor as humidity.
A feeling of frustration from seeing half of my life screaming the names of black men turned hashtags, while the other half goes about its normal Tuesday routine.
The constant assumption that I know the latest dance craze (and the joke’s actually on you because I can’t dance).
Subjugation to the blatant use of “nigga” (and other words like “ghetto”) by people who have apparently deemed me “less black” and therefore a safe place…
And then, of course, the responsibility to explain why that word is like a punch in the gut when it’s used by a someone who isn’t black.
Fear of gaining the “angry black woman” label, even when I know that those same words would sound completely different coming from a man of another race.
Constant wonder around if receiving comments about how articulate I am come purely from the fact that I actually speak well, or because you might not expect me to.
Witnessing the fetishing of black men (especially mixed-race men, because… well, you know… that’s more acceptable).
Fighting back the urge to scream every time someone mentions that they “don’t see color”, because they have the privilege to live in a colorless world while I’m constantly being reminded of mine.
Knowing that the higher I climb, the darker my rose-colored shades will need to be just to cope.
And, an understanding that it’s just not good enough to be great at my job (My Dad taught us this before we were even old enough to have jobs). I also need to possess armor for skin, incredible poise, and expert word choice to navigate each day.
Before you ask, yes, I love my job. No, everyone I’ve encountered at work has not made me feel this way. But, yes, every single one of those scenarios has happened to me countless times. And, no, I’m not angry… I’m just cluing you in to my daily reality. Why is it that you expect me (or anyone) to be OK with ignorance just because it’s not racism?