A great majority of my friends are not black. This is the sum of many different factors such as the area that I live in, the school that I went to, the organizations I joined and so forth. I’m not complaining, my friends are pretty fantastic and wonderfully accepting of me and all my quirky ways. Some parts of why I don’t have a lot of black friends is because for a long time, I didn’t want to associate myself with “ghetto culture” (which you can read more about here). Anyway what I’m trying to get to is that sometimes I find myself in the position where I become the unofficial spokeswoman for my entire race, and that’s not very fair to me or to the other members of my race.
As a first generation American whose parents immigrated here from Nigeria, there are distinct culture differences between me and someone whose ancestors lived in the United States during the Jim Crow era. While on the outside it might be hard to distinguish the difference between us, those differences are what makes our culture and history so rich. Imagine being in an orchestra and asking a violin about what the hardest part of a piece was. Their answer would be completely different from the answer a cello would give or the bass or the viola. The answer would even vary from individual violin to violin depending on what part they are playing. Even though all of the instruments are part of one string family, each instrument is an individual and has a different tune. But once you bring them all together, you get a symphony. The same goes for people and race.
Now you may be asking, what is so wrong about asking my black friend about other black people? The answer is: nothing really. The problem comes when you ask that one friend to generalize their entire race into a compact statement and then use that statement as a blanket to apply to all others of that race. That’s like me assuming all Caucasians lived on a farm just because one of my friends says that she did.
You see how that can cause problems?
I sometimes find myself as the only person of color in the room and while this shouldn’t be the case, I have to make sure I present myself in such a way that I am not perpetuating any stereotypes because for the most part I don’t fit into the typical “angry black woman” or the “hyper-sexualized Jezebel” box that others like me are put in. Frequently I am reminded of my non-whiteness and I have to try an navigate in a society where snap judgements are placed on me based on only one factor of my identity.
Being the minority in the room while discussing issues such as race or gender inequality kind be rough. Especially when the people in the room are not only part of the dominant culture, but are also your friends. The other day in my Student Leadership class we were talking about stereotypes as well as race issues in American and how we can be aware of them. The class was small, maybe 10 people tops and surprise surprise, guess who was the only black person in the room.
So when we began talking about racial issues I tried make sure my inputs represented as much as the black community as possible. It’s unrealistic to assume that someone like me can speak for a whole population of people, but sometimes that is what’s expected of me. If I didn’t try to put in my perceptive in the conversation, then who would? This year I am striving to be more comfortable in my race, so when the opportunity presents itself, I try to learn more about things that are going on in society that may or may not affect me directly, and I also strive to be a part of conversations about unpopular topics.
Next to me was one of my good friends who is the stereotypical dominant member of society, at least on the outside he is. He’s a blonde haired, blue eyed, heterosexual Christian male and in our society, he’s basically won the gene pool lottery. But those are just one part of his identity. He’s funny, considerate, and isn’t afraid to admit that he’s been living with white privilege . It was interesting to see his take on the readings and to listen to his input looking at race from a white point of view, especially when he said that he didn’t realize the privilege he had. Just as my friend wasn’t aware of his privilege didn’t equate to him not having it, me being the only person of color in the room doesn’t make me an expert on all the people in the race.
That’s all for now. I guess if I had to sum everything up into a nutshell, I would say don’t be afraid to ask question, just make sure I’m not the single source of information because I can’t speak for everyone.