However, sometimes you’re different by default, even when you’re not trying to be. Sometimes, most of the times, especially through history, the colour of your skin was enough to make others fear, to make others different.
On that note, the following are some of the things I think people, who has been in the black person in the room (probably more than once), will understand.
1. Knowing you stand out even if you try not to
This is an obvious one. However, being the only black person in the room will mean that you look different, and probably act different to 99% of the people in the room.
If this is at work, and the culture is homogeneous, then you will probably experience the indifferent stares coming your way. They will quickly look away when you look back or force a smile.
2. Make an awkward joke relating to your race
To fit in, or to be more adaptable to your surroundings, I’ve seen/heard certain individuals will make an uncomfortable joke in relating to their skin colour (not just black people). Heck, I’ve done the same thing, but only to make sure that my colleagues know that I had no intention to hide my blackness.
3. People get uncomfortable when the subject of race comes up
This has happened more often than I’m willing to explain. This has happened when I was on my placement year, when there was only two black people in the entire head office of a massive company. This has also been the case in my new role.
In a group of ‘young people’ there is one other person of colour – a west Asian dude, who is funny, and often does No.3 as he’s grown up in a predominately white environment. Therefore, when I joined, I think he was happy or more comfortable and we start topics about race in general or in the workplace (which I often say that the workplace isn’t the right environment for such discussions, because they can get passionate and deep). When these topics come up, we notice and laugh about the fact that everyone around, who happens to be white, tend to go quiet and avoid eye contact or awkwardly laugh.
4. You have to remind others that doing other’s accent in a comedic way is offensive
It’s as simple as that. Because your white colleagues have gotten used to the idea that being white is ‘the norm’, saying certain things that may be offensive to none-white people, is also part of the norm.
You have shock them into reality to the fact that doing a comedic impression of someone else’s accent, is offensive.
5. You know that they’ll understand your internal struggles
When you are the only black person, it is not the same as being the only white person, because certain things are just harder. It’s fact. You know that they’ll never truly understand.
6. You struggle between being extra ‘black’ just for the sake of it, or toning it downFinding that line can be difficult, especially if you do not act the stereotypical ‘black’ way.
Therefore, you want to be extra black just so that you can metaphorically say ‘I’m black and proud’, or tone it down to ease your blackness on them so that they can handle it all.
7. You’ve experienced a situation where you’ve been told that you’re not ‘black enough’ or whatever, because you don’t speak or act the way they expect
Relating to No.6, this happens.
8. You’ve been told that you’ll make a great couple with one of your colleagues’ friend (who is also black).
Yep. This happens. However, for some reason, they find it offensive if you said the same thing to them for one of your friends who is also white.
9. Certain conversations are whispered when you’re around
For more reason than one, this will happen. It’s simply that.
10. There’s always that insecurity about whether you were hired to fit a quota or you actually are amazing – I was amazing
This one is the most painful, for more reason than one. Firstly because I know that I felt this both when I started my placement year in a very well-known energy company, and when I started my current jobs (not anymore).This will eat at you; it will dig itself deep into both your conscious and subconscious mind. This was the thought when you were one of 30 recent graduates and industrial placement students to be hired. Then you realised that you could count the total number of black people in the whole building on one hand( out of the odd 200 or 300 employees). It saddens you, and makes you questions yourself again, repeatedly until there is no more questions to ask.
You question your ability, your integrity, and if you are capable of making a good impression for all other, young black men out there – because in essence, you are a representation.
Mere exposure effect
This should probably be a bonus, but what the hell; in addition to those above, you notice that your manager’s critics is harsher towards you than your none-black counterparts are. Your manager is not necessarily racist or discriminative, but because it is instinct. This is a topic which many social psychologists have touched in many forms. This includes; reciprocal liking, social comparison theory, but the most accurate is mere exposure effect (also know as familiarity effect), where individuals exude positive behaviour toward things and people in which they are familiar.