These Stories About Being The "Only Black Person" At Work/School Will Open Your Eyes To A New Perspective

·8 min read

Being the only Black person in a space can be an alienating experience that's hard to overcome. To shed light on the experience, and to show anyone who's "been there" that they're very much not alone, we asked Black people in the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about their time as the "token" Black person at work or in school.

Cartoon saying, "Hello. My name is Token."
Comedy Central

1."I attended a high school where I was one of two Black students in the graduating class. We had to read Tom Sawyer. After the teacher read a passage aloud in heavy dialect and spoken by a slave...half the class turned to me and asked what he was saying. I had to remind them that I was not a southern 19th-century slave. I was struggling to understand just as much as they were.

A Black girl saying, "I'm from Michigan."

"Another time, a teacher kept referring to me by the only other Black student's name. Not only was she not even in that class, but her name also was not similar to mine, and we looked nothing alike. I finally got fed up and said we don’t all have the same name. He never called on me again."

bblackberri35

Paramount Pictures

2."I took a comparative literature class about fantasy/supernatural works my freshman year of college. One of the books we covered was Beloved by Toni Morrison. While reviewing the book, the TA turned to me, the only Black person in the room, and asked me to explain the effect slavery had on the story to the rest of the students in the class and what it meant to me personally. I was absolutely dumbfounded."

South Park classroom
Comedy Central

3."My dad is Black, but everyone else in my family is white, so my dad and I are the token Black people. When I was younger, my family used me as a get-out-of-jail card. If they were put in a situation where they were seen as racist, they would say, 'My family member is Black!'"

NBC / Via giphy.com

—anonymous

4."TBT to when I was 6 and at a dance camp. Here I was, minding my own damn dance moves. Then we start lining up. The dance teacher puts me at the back of the line and says, 'Since the lights are focused in the center when you come to the middle, they'll never see you coming!'

"When we were taking our 'dance team photo,' they put me right in front, and the heading on their next brochure was, 'As Dance Diversifies, Here Are Some Amazing Classes to Feel and Be Woke.'"

zas1

5."I was the only dark-skinned person in my class. No one wanted to be seated by me or take me with them during group meetings. Whenever any teacher encountered me, they looked at me with a kind of expression like, 'Eh, how did it get here?'"

"South Park" characters looking at a Black student in shock
Comedy Central

6."My family had been the only one of our race in every school district I ever attended."

Girl touches boy's afro

Pro: "After a lot of practice, I'm comfortable in situations that one or the other group isn't."

Con: "As a WOC, growing up around white girls in the '80s/'90s was brutal. I didn't start to develop self-esteem until after I began reconnecting with my culture in my 20s."

tharris296

Lionsgate

7."I work at two universities as an adjunct professor, and I'm the only woman of color. Every day, I feel tremendous pressure to be overly competent. A huge part of me fears my performance will make or break future opportunities for other women of color."

Black woman makes face in disgust

8."When a braid comes out and a random white person comes up to you, holding it like it's a used tissue, and says, 'Is this yours?' Sometimes, they even ask to keep the braid!"

White woman high-fives Black woman
HBO

9."I was elected president of the junior beta club in eighth grade. During our field trips, I heard the other elected officers (who were all white) talk about how I only got elected to make the school look more diverse. I was treated like an outsider even though I was the president. I resigned after the last field trip."

Black man glares at white man
Disney / ABC

10."My first year of college, I was the only Black girl in my dorm, and my roommate was one of those 'woke' people who tried to make me comfortable. We were in TJ Maxx, and she saw this brown bra she liked, and I told her to buy it. She said, 'No, because brown is the nude color for your people.' I was speechless."

Angela in "Boy Meets World" making a very confused face
Buena Vista Television

11."I grew up the only Black kid in all-white neighborhoods and private schools in Orlando, Florida. Things didn’t get weird until they found out my family was wealthier than theirs. Then, you could see the jealousy, and some people would start treating me differently. My teachers always seemed relaxed and surprised that I was a well-adjusted and 'well-spoken' kid.

Three women, two white and one Black

"Things changed so much during puberty though. Suddenly, everyone at my private school expected me to be a thug/baller overnight as if I had some gene in me that would activate that upon turning 12. I also had to put up with hearing race jokes that my friends had been told by their older brothers."

novasky

Lionsgate

12."I hated the two weeks devoted to slavery in US History class. I swear, every year from 6th-12th grade, we watched Roots. From the beginning until he gets whipped and named “Toby.” EVERY YEAR WE WATCHED THE EXACT SAME PART OF ROOTS. Oh, and it gets better — guess who was awkwardly stared at the entire time we were watching this in class? The one and only Black girl in the whole room. The worst times were when I’d glance back at them and they actually looked scared of me."

South Park classroom
Comedy Central

13."On my high school travel volleyball team, I was the only Black girl, and my coach was also Black. I can't count how many times people would say, 'OMG! It must be so fun having your mom as your coach.' I got so tired of correcting people. I just used to smile and nod."

A man making a face like he wants to cry

—anonymous

Sony Pictures

14."A co-worker asked me if I felt embarrassed when walking down the street with my hair natural. I answered, 'No, why should I?'

Someone touches young man's afro

"At the same job, another co-worker asked me if I had been eating 'a lot of ribs' when I started gaining pregnancy weight."

—anonymous

Lionsgate

15."I am one of a few Black men on my job in a predominantly white male atmosphere. There are lots of conversations about the women they hooked up with. My white male coworkers will feel the desire to tell me about the time they hooked up with a Black chick. If they married a Black woman, I get the ole 'you know how it is' line thrown my way."

Company boardroom with mostly White employees

—anonymous

Disney / ABC, ABC/Disney

16."I was a machine operator from a red state. I managed double productivity and broke the mold on good production. Yet, I found myself being drug tested 3x more than my other co-workers. I'm not sure anyone was drug tested other than the Black people. On top of that, I was forced to befriend coworkers who made it clear they didn't like me. I should’ve known to leave, but I needed the job, and it paid better than most, so I stayed.

Screen shot from "The Office"

"The better I did at work, the worse I was treated. As a Black person, I feel like it's my job to be twice as good and far more pleasant. Why can't my hard work speak for itself?

"Try living in my skin; everyday problems can be amplified in the wrong environment, especially when the wrong environment is the RIGHT environment for everyone else."

—anonymous

NBCUniversal

17."I was living with a group of white Americans in Southeast Asia in the summer of 2020. Most ex-pats in our neighborhood were young white people. After George Floyd was murdered, a lot of the 'I’m not racist. I support Black people' posts went up. There were many calls to check in on your Black friends, which I absolutely needed, but my white roommates didn't check in. It wasn't until a month later, that I finally get a message from a girl who lived with me. 'Hey, just realized I should check in on you! How are you holding up?'

Screen shot from "Get Out"

"The next day, three other white women checked in, too. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Did they forget I was Black? Was it the absence of a strong Black presence in a predominantly white ex-pat community? It straight up made these girls forget I’m Black. They erased my existence while we shared a home together."

—anonymous

Universal Pictures

Do you have an experience being the only Black person at work or school you want to share? Leave it in the comments below.