I was born in Brooklyn, NY in a time when Brooklyn was seemingly 100% Black American. I, honestly don’t remember seeing anyone that didn’t have brown skin. I was young, so I didn’t see it as a “thing.” To me that was normative. I, of course, recall seeing other faces from time to time whether in person or on my television screen; but again it wasn’t a “thing.”
It was pretty normative.
When you are a part of a majority, your mind doesn’t have to process rationally or emotionally, what it means to be the “other.” That’s the other reason why it wasn’t a “thing”: it didn’t have to be. When my family moved to the suburbs of New Jersey, I was only in the 2nd grade. I was fascinated with the grandness of the suburbs. Everything seemed so big. My new school was also very big. I remember being nervous and excited to start. I don’t have too many childhood memories, but that first day of school has always stuck with me. It seemed like there were hundreds and hundreds of students.
These students looked nothing like me.
I honestly felt like I was in a sea of White faces. I was confused and overwhelmed and I could not find one person who looked like me. I was lost. My young mind couldn’t process what was happening, therefore the only emotion I could process was confusion. I remember feeling very different. Being in that space, I tried to make connections with the people around me. We tried to identify with one another and in that I got asked questions about why my skin turned an ash white color that was stated “Why does your skin get like that?” Was I at 8 years old, having to carry the weight of being a teachable moment? In that I tried to join in playing with two White boys on the playground and while one was happy to hang out with me, the other protested, “We don’t play with niggers.” Was he at his young age already conditioned to use such weighty terminology? I went from a care free childhood experience being a majority, to a confusing, pressure filled, self-doubting childhood being “The Only Black Girl.” The only one in my classes, the only one on my team, the only one in class pictures.
People don’t understand how being the only one can affect a person psychologically. They expect it not to be a big deal. I remember an instance where I was having a conversation with a friend about certain minority student frustrations in regards to not seeing themselves represented in leadership on their campus. My friend said to me that he didn’t understand why people couldn’t just look past all of that and feel comfortable being human beings. Although he meant well, I pointed out that this was easy for him to say as a White male in an institution that was on paper only 51% White, but seemingly 90% White when you walk through campus. I remember what it felt like to be the majority as a child. It makes sense why those that are in spaces where they are the majority don’t have to think twice about their personhood- they don’t have to. Therefore anyone else who points it out probably seems like an inconvenience.
Since that first day of school in the 2nd grade, I have many times, been the only Black girl; schools, jobs, clubs, living communities. I am still, in many spaces, the only Black girl. I’ve grown up a lot, so how I navigate these spaces has changed over time and every challenge has only made me better. I could write so much more about the complexities of “the only (insert designation)” because there are many. But the video below done by a group of students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School called “I, Too, Am B-CC” highlights just a few more that I would argue, is worth paying attention to.