Sometimes as black people our individual experiences tend to be similar to each other.
A lot of black people might be able to relate to this topic which is being the only black person in a particular setting, whether it be professional or social. As 20-year-old black woman I’m finding that this pattern occurs somewhat frequently in my life. After taking some time to think about it, I realized where it started.
I grew up in a predominately white upper-middle class town. My family has lived in the same neighborhood for close to 20 years and it was only up until the last couple of years that another black family had moved in. When my brother and I were younger, we played with white kids in the neighborhood. For the most part I didn’t feel like an outlier because as children we’re not able to fully grasp to the concept of race and its significance.
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However, there was an instance where it was made clear how a couple of the neighbors really felt about us. I was about six or seven and my brother was 11. I invited a couple of girls that lived in the house across from mine for a playdate. While we were all playing outside, my mom was in the kitchen watching to make sure we were safe. Randomly one of the girls says, “My parents use a word that I can’t say around you or John [my brother].” My brother and I then try to get her to say whatever it is she’s not allowed say because now we’re curious. So she says “Nigg…” with the last part trailing off without an ending of “er” or “a”. My mom heard the entire conversation and let’s just say that was the last time they came to our house.
Now that I’m older and think about that situation, I question whether we were truly accepted as being part of the neighborhood or if we were just tolerated when we first moved there. If you’re smiling in my face but then using the N-word to describe me behind closed doors, what kind of neighbor are you?
I think growing up in my neighborhood and in my town prepared me for the unfortunate reality that black people are not always present in every single space, whether by chance or on purpose. Even now being a young journalism student, I’m seeing firsthand how limiting my field can be for black people. I’m currently wrapping up an internship at a local publication where I’m the only black person in the office. And although everyone in the office is super nice and helpful, it makes me a little sad that various perspectives and experiences aren’t being represented.
But there’s definitely a shift occurring where black people, especially black creatives, are creating their own platforms and their own spaces to be themselves. My experiences growing up have made me appreciative of spaces like this where I’m not the only one in the room. I can give my perspective on issues and topics without feeling like I’m representing the views of my entire race. It’s a beautiful, freeing feeling that I will replicate one day on my own platform.
Written By Ashanti Lee
Ashanti Lee is a recent college graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She enjoys writing poetry and believes in the power of community.