Someone recently told me I will never know what it is like to be in the minority. I agreed with them that I wouldn’t know what it was like to be Black (or any other racial minority group) in America, and I certainly don’t know what it is like to be them, but I do know something about being in the minority. I have been in the minority as a woman many times, and believe it or not, I have been part of a white minority several times in my life too.
I was inspired to write this post after my husband wrote this on his Facebook wall in response to the comment I received regarding me not knowing what it is like to be in the minority: “…She has a black husband and a biracial daughter so for all intents and purposes she’s a minority now. She has to deal with discrimination and racist comments that most people of both races black or white don’t have to deal with. I’m no stranger to discrimination but I haven’t had to deal with some of the ignorance that my wife has, no one ever tells me I don’t look like my daughter. That’s painful no matter what color you are. People just shouldn’t assume they know anything about what someone else feels…”
I couldn’t agree with him more.
As a child, I can remember several instances in which I was the only girl in the group. I am close in age to my brother and we shared many of the same friends growing up. For whatever reason, his friends always seemed to be at our house so we would all play together. I can remember a few of them teasing me for being a girl, and telling me I wasn’t as fast as them or as strong as them. It was kids stuff, but it stuck with me that I was different then them.
My soccer coach once said “nice shot, for a girl” after I scored a goal for the team. I remember being so mad because it wasn’t just a “nice shot for a girl” it was a great shot for anyone, and it helped us to win an important game! I think discrimination against girls and women is often overlooked and people do not think it is as harmful as racial discrimination. In my opinion, being told you cannot do something because you are a girl can have very powerful and long lasting effects, particularly on a child’s self esteem. Later in life these remarks can even impact their abilities if girls start to believe what they have been told about not being able to do something because of their sex.
My first experience as a racial minority took place in 2010 when I took a trip to South Africa with my family for the World Cup. While we were in Africa, my dad and I decided to spend a few days in Zimbabwe. Upon arrival, I quickly realized that there were no white people. Anywhere. Even at our hotel, where there were plenty of tourists, we did not see any other white people. We were there about 5 days, and I think we may have seen about 2 or 3 other white tourists the whole time we were there. There just wasn’t anyone who wasn’t black. It was an eye-opening experience to be in the minority and to stick out so much because of my appearance. I felt very out of place the entire trip. My hair and skin color made me stand out. A few men followed my dad and I back from Victoria Falls and kept saying my hair was so pretty. I appreciated the compliment, but it made me uneasy because they wouldn’t stop commenting about our skin and hair. This was my first experience as a racial minority, and it was not a good feeling to be gawked at, pointed towards, and followed just because I looked different. This was probably the most powerful illustration to me of how being discriminated against can make someone feel.
One of my first professional jobs was as the Indian Education Specialist for a fairly large school district in Washington State. I worked with Native American students helping them overcome cultural, academic, and social barriers to their academic success. When I would tell the families I worked with that I was not Native American I would get funny looks, and asked why I was working for the program if I wasn’t Native. I would simply reply that I enjoyed helping students overcome obstacles to success and that I attended professional development events to help me learn more about specific ways to help Natives in a culturally sensitive manner. I did not like my professional abilities being called into question because of my race.
One time at a Native American Educators Conference, someone told me I shouldn’t be there because I am not Native. I replied that I worked with Native American students in a educational setting (so I am a Native American Educator, which was the title of the conference), and wanted to learn more about the ways in which I could help my students. It did feel awkward to be surrounded by so many people who had such strong cultural ties to their heritage when I do not, and it also isolated me because I had a hard time relating to some of the struggles that both my colleagues and my students faced as a racial group. However, I did my job well, and in my opinion my racial background should matter in my workplace so long as I can perform my job duties successfully.
As a minority in these and other settings, I have felt lonely, isolated, and irritated. I have been singled out because of my gender, the color of my skin, and my family’s background. Furthermore, as the fair skinned mother of a darker skinned child, I have faced countless questions and comments in regards to my baby (many of these stories have appeared in previous blog posts), which in some cases may be racist or discriminatory. Although I will never know what it is like to be in the racial minority in this country, I do have an idea of how it feels to look different. I do know what it is like to experience something uncomfortable, and to look around and wonder if people are taking about me because of my skin color. I don’t pretend that I have experienced some of the blatant racism that my husband and black friends have experienced here in America, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about being in the minority. I do not pretend that my experiences are the same as anyone else’s, and I am not trying to discount the racism that others most certainly feel on a daily basis. I am simply pointing out that unless you know me and have lived and breathed my experiences, you cannot say that I do not know anything about racism, discrimination, or what it is like to be in the minority.