The Only [____] In the Room
On the first day of school in fifth grade, I looked around and realized I was the only black person in the room. I had a scholarship to go to an expensive private school, and there just weren’t many people at the school that looked like me. I later learned that not only was I the only black person, I was also the only person whose family didn’t go on lavish vacations, and the only person that commuted an hour and a half by my own version of a BMW (Bus/Metro/Walk.)
Knowing it was a privilege to be at this school, I had to focus on getting good grades to prove to them I was worth the investment. There was no time or space to acknowledge any feelings around the social dynamics. My parents quickly shot down the beginnings of any complaints. I kept my head down and did my work; but, I can’t say it wasn’t lonely. I can’t say that it was all roses. I felt it, and I ignored it.
I quickly came to accept that being the “only” was going to be my norm for years to come. From my math classes in high school, to violin rehearsals, to the school newspaper, I was often the only black person in the room. As an adult, I have had similar experiences in the workplace and in my explorations into things like yoga, meditation, and rock climbing. Last year I went to a hot springs resort and when I looked around, I wondered, “What am I doing here? I’m the only one….again.”
I have had a wide rollercoaster of emotions during these experiences. Imposter syndrome is real. It’s also not helpful when some folks say directly to your face that you are a product of affirmative action, and that you don’t really deserve to be there. I wish I could say this was a rare thing, but it’s happened too many times to count.
Self doubt has been constantly lurking in the background when I’m in these situations. Do I belong here? Am I good enough to be here? Are people staring at me? Am I being paranoid? Last month on a trip to a rural part of the country, the stares were so blatant, and when someone took a photo of me at the hardware store without my consent, I really felt it.
Should I just make a decision not to go to a place because I know I’ll be the only black person there?
Sometimes I think about whether I should even put myself in these situations at all. Should I just make a decision not to go to a place because I know I’ll be the only black person there? This judgement call gets really difficult when it’s an experience I know will be beneficial to me, whether it’s something I could learn, or seeing something truly amazing and beautiful.
There are times when I wonder what those around me are thinking about me. There are other times when they ask me questions as if my answers represent the opinion of all African Americans — as if the entire race is a monolith, as if one person’s opinions are sufficient due diligence and research. Failing to consider the diversity among black people in this country, they don’t realize that my parents weren’t born in The United States and that my perspective might be a unique one. During these moments, I look around the room yearning to see another black face, just so we can make eye contact, and silently communicate a sense of understanding around how ridiculous these assumptions are. There are many times when I have felt lonely looking around for this sense of solidarity, to find no one else there to silently nod and have a quick eye roll for comfort. “Are they serious? Can you believe they just said that?” I want to tell my imaginary black friend; but instead, I am left with a feeling of longing: longing for community, longing to connect with people who have some understanding of my experience.
“Are they serious? Can you believe they just said that?” I want to tell my imaginary black friend.
Sometimes I need to remind myself why I’m there, what brought me there, what I can gain from the experience, and what I can contribute to this particular place, these particular people, at this particular time.
Meditation has been a powerful tool for me as I face these experiences. I was searching for a guided meditation that was created for people like me, that have had similar experiences, and I couldn’t find anything that was directly related. So, I created one and I wanted to share it with you. Have you ever looked around the room and realized that you were the only woman, the only queer person, the only person with your skin color? Maybe you’re so used to it that it doesn’t phase you. Maybe you’re used to it, but you’ve suppressed any emotions that do come up. Or, maybe it does affect you, and you could benefit from a safe space to feel the feelings, process them, and release them, so you can allow your light to truly shine in this world. Regardless of where you are, if you’ve ever had this experience of looking around the room and realizing you are the “only,” I invite you to join me in this guided meditation to find healing and peace from these experiences.
You can find more guided meditations and information on Luna Vibrations events here and on instagram @luna.vibrations.