Five tips to help you deal with being the only Black woman in the room.
Ever been to an event and it turned out you were the only or one of the few Black people in the room. Let alone a Black woman. It has happened to me. I received awkward stares, pity from those who didn’t know if they should approach me or not and sometimes I was flat out ignored.
When I was young, the first thing I did was try to find another Black person. If that didn’t work I would look for another person of color. People of color unite, right. (Throws the fist up.) If they weren’t friendly, which has happened, I would talk to the wait staff. They were there to work and not carry on a conversation with my butt so I would head straight for the walls. Yeah, that was me. I was the Black woman in the corner with a drink in her hand who was ready to go home as soon as I got there.
All of these were coping mechanisms I used because quite frankly because I did not have the tools to deal with this kind of situation. I grew up in New York City. I attended predominately Black and Brown schools and my social circle was Black and Brown. Why was I uncomfortable? I didn’t want to deal with the micro-aggressions of racism or having to be a representative of my race. Those are two pretty heavy and unfair burdens that Black professionals have to carry and endure. Regardless of how unfair it is and as much you try to avoid it, it comes with the territory. Here is how I deal with it now:
When I walk into a room and I own that son of a gun. All 63 inches of me is holding my head up with my back straight. Think of it like this, no one there knew me so what they thought about me was what I allowed them to see or they were just foolish enough to project their stereotypes on me. First impressions matter so project confidence. Before going to an event I put on some kick ass music that makes me feel good. If you have poor posture put on a bustier. That will force you walk or sit up straight. Oh the torture devices we women must endure but for me it was worth it.
I realized I had something to offer. In politics the room was usually White and/or male so if I wanted to be heard I needed to speak. I could not complain about not being involved if I willfully took myself out of the game. I decided that I was smart, competent and knew my stuff. So if you want to win you have to play the game. Yes, that means introducing yourself to people.
I had to get over the situations of being the Black race representative. I’ll let my sister,explain. I was in class world history class in college and the teacher turned around and asked me, “what was the Black perspective of Russian history?” I said, “I can’t give the Black perspective of Russian history. We are not a monolith.” Recognize that this comes from a place of privilege. Next time they ask, give them a teachable moment. Let them know Black people are not a monolith. We come in different shape, sizes, and colors and have different philosophies. And of course, that you do not represent the Black race. Politely shut them down.
I used my uniqueness as an advantage and a brought a different prospective. For example, when I was lobbying someone we were discussing the impact of climate change. While the men were using feelings and emotions to explain how climate change would impact the environment I brought facts. There I go defying stereotypes again. They weren’t dull or dry facts. They were relevant to the conversation and had peaked their interests. I brought up green jobs. I did this on purpose. I talked about how green jobs cannot be outsourced. I explained how southern cities had a trained manufacturing workforce to do so since southern textile jobs were being sent overseas. That instantly changed my position in the conversation. I commanded the room because I knew my audience and where his interests lie. I also relied on my background in economic development. The politician didn’t care about endangered animals or rising tides. Neither did his constituents. It wasn’t a coastal community He cared about jobs. Bringing jobs to any community will get you elected or in this case reelected.
I made a racist look like a fool and of course I did it with a smile on my face. When dealing with racists, because you will encounter them, remember they always feign innocence and claim that they didn’t know what they said was offensive. I was having a conversation about politics with a group of people and a White man rudely interrupted me. From what I initially sensed, he seemed pretty annoyed that I was there. He was amazed that I knew about international politics. After all, we were at a political convention. Then he asked me, “How do you know that? I politely said, “Bless your heart. We can read.” Everyone laughed and he turned red. I ignored him for the rest of the evening. When dealing with racist comments my first instinct is to call them everything but the child of god. Luckily, mom didn’t raise a fool. I knew that even if he was in the wrong they’d empathize with him. He would claim his question was harmless and I would look like the bad person for not “understanding” or explaining his mistake to him. Endless eye roll. So I flipped it on him using a velvet glove with an iron fist. Since he would more than likely claim ignorance I made him look ignorant and so can you.
These are some tips that I came up with through trial by fire and error. I hope they help you. Plan, act and dominate. You are only limited by the expectations you have set for yourself. Remember, the only limit you have is the one you have placed on yourself. So think and be limitless.