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.
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.
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."
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!'"
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.'"
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?'"
6."My family had been the only one of our race in every school district I ever attended."
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."
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!"
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."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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?'
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."
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.
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?'
Do you have an experience being the only Black person at work or school you want to share? Leave it in the comments below.