Career and Business

Five tips to help you deal with being the only Black woman in the room.

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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, La Femme Negrita 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.

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13 comments

  1. Lorissa 17 July, 2014 at 18:36 Reply

    I love this ! It was incredibly informative and empowering! I will definitely hold these tips near and dear as I continue to pursue my professional endeavors.

  2. Chocolate Vent 18 July, 2014 at 14:06 Reply

    “I said, “I can’t give the Black perspective of Black history. We are not a monolith.”

    Yet you also say “I realized I had something to offer”. Presumably because you’re the only African American.

    I think when people make statements like this it is very contradictory. No, you don’t own all “Black perspectives” but you also can’t say in the same breath that you have something to offer because you bring the Black perspective.

  3. 18AMK 19 July, 2014 at 09:44 Reply

    Great post. I am used to being the only Black woman or person in the room because I grew up around White people. My company of friends are a mixture of all races and cultures. However as I grew up and realized, I must represent and be myself not my race. Racism will always be a problem and an obstacle but we must rise and be strong!

  4. Yolanda 19 July, 2014 at 21:19 Reply

    Did I say that I just love your blog? This is such a helpful article. At times I avoid these types of conferences because it feels like such a battle to deal with the subtle racism. I am an introvert too and it is downright exhausting. Thanks for the tips, sis!

  5. MixedUpInVegas 20 July, 2014 at 13:18 Reply

    Like 18AMK I was raised around white people. I’m also married to a WM and long ago became accustomed to being the only BW at any gathering. I think we make it harder for ourselves than it needs to be; we often ASSUME we know what people are thinking or feeling about us, and it is often incorrect. I like your advice to stand up straight, smile and look confident. If you aren’t feeling confident, pretend that you are. In little while, your confidence will become genuine. You are as good as the rest of those folks in the room–believe it, and carry yourself that way.

  6. reese 20 July, 2014 at 14:54 Reply

    I love this article. Black women too often take themselves out of the game. And it hurts us with opportunities for advancing. Be convertible in your own skin and know you have something to offer and you are comfortable in the environment.

  7. tonitoni 21 July, 2014 at 19:20 Reply

    I can’t stand being the only light skinned black person. Once when i met my white husband’s parents, they said, “Oh you’re not EVEN that dark” with a smile. As for me, I don’t pay attention to white people, I often end up approaching them like I’m white, it’s quite shocking to them. There is always that ONE white guy who wants to “try me out”

  8. Chels 11 August, 2014 at 09:40 Reply

    omg “Bless your heart. we can read” I love it! hahaaa! I love how we as black women have this power and can take charge, even when we are a minority in the office! I had no idea I had this much clout until I read this article and saw I’ve been doing these EXACT things!

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