Token Black Girl

Friday, September 25, 2009

The token black girl


I am in a highly reputable teacher credentialing program at an excellent private university. While I love the program that I am in, it is in dire need of some diversity. I've experienced this before, and its no big deal. I attended a predominately white private Christian college for my undergrad studies and I loved it there. However I keep having similarly uncomfortable situations. In the track that I enrolled in, I am the only black student. That’s not a huge problem for me. I get along with my classmates, and my learning experience has been a positive one.



The only time I feel any discomfort is when issues of culture come into play. In the educational field race and culture are impossible to avoid. Now generally I am perfectly okay with discussing racial issues. However when I am the only black student in a class of 20 students I turn into the "token black student" who is expected to answer and speak for the entire black community. I hate that expectation. Even if my name is not called to speak when the subjects are mentioned (and it usually is) classmates redirect their line of sight at me, the teacher looks in my direction and makes eye contact, and often someone will say "What do you think?” I have to keep my eyes glued to my sneakers if I don't want to be asked about very personal experiences to help my classmates better understand their ethnic students or the point of view of an African American writer / reader. Crazy right? You would think people would know how uncomfortable they are making you, but apparently they don’t.

When I finally break down and share, really open up, then I end up spending the rest of the semester being treated like some fragile tragic hero. How infuriating! Being overly sensitive to my culture and background is almost as annoying as being insensitive. I would really love to be treated like everyone else. That would be great. I am me, not 'the black girl' or ' the girl with the rough youth'. I wouldn't mind sharing so much if it wasn’t for the fact that when the truth gets told there is always some consequence.

Even better is what happens when I don’t speak up and have to listen to the diluted opinions of my non black, upper-middle class teachers and classmates. Sometimes they are so far off base that it’s funny. In fact this week I actually burst into laughter. A professor and my classmates got into a discussion regarding the "n" word in class. I focused really hard on my pedicure. When the conversation progressed about how no one should use that word and how very offended my non black counter parts were at its very existence in modern culture, I peeled into laughter. You’re offended? Give me a break! In my humble, not that important opinion, this is not a discussion for you to be having. I feel that the appropriateness of the use of the “N” word is a discussion reserved for the black community and the black community alone. Of course our children should not use it in school (or anywhere else for that matter, they’re children), nor should it be used in professional endeavors, but the use of that word in social situations amongst peers is none of anybody else’s business.

As a community, many of us have adopted that word; it is ours to use or to revile. As a community we alone suffered the humiliations of being referred to by its sister term, no one else. As a community we chose to use it in our vernacular to take away its strength and remove its sting. Thus, as a community we may discuss within ourselves whether or not the word is appropriate for use in a social context. We can make those choices, no one else can and it is downright insulting when anyone else assumes they have a say in the matter. At least in my humble, not that important opinion. But what do I know, I’m just the token black girl.

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