Color on Campus: What It Really Feels Like to Be the Only Black Girl

January 16, 2012  |  

 

As an African-American woman, I’ve always been aware of racism and prejudice, small instances as opposed to disheartening big ones. From a young age you know how it feels to be treated differently because of the color of your skin. Luckily, I lived in neighborhoods where my neighbors were of all different cultures, so I never experienced outright racism. So when it was time for me to go to college, I was excited to move out of my house and be on my own. I was ready to take on the world and be enlightened as college was supposed to be full of liberal and open-minded people. I was ready to be around people who I could learn from and share experiences with.

When I got to college, like many who go to a majority of large or public universities, I was the only black girl in almost all of my classes. This never bothered me because I’m really not the kind of person who needs to be around black people to feel comfortable. To my surprise, my being black seemed to make my classmates somewhat uncomfortable and shut off. I came into all my classes with a smile on my face, ready to make friends. What I found was that my smiles were not returned and instead, I was given the cold shoulder. I was pretty much invisible. Most students in my classes never talked to me, and when we were forced to have interactions, you could tell that it was just that, forced. I always had to make the first move and speak to them first.

My classmates were always surprised by my responses in class. They were always shocked when they saw that my grades on tests were higher than theirs. It was clear that they made assumptions about me based on the color of my skin. I’m not sure exactly what these assumptions were based on though. Maybe they were used to seeing black women in a non-academic setting. Maybe they thought that as a black woman I was supposed to fit the stereotype they saw on TV. Maybe they assumed that I wasn’t smart enough to be where they were.  Because I never spoke to them about their qualms, this question remains unanswered.

The eyes of disapproval never changed how I felt about myself though.  Throughout college I had numerous friends of different races and continued to say open-minded. My experiences in class did not dictate the rest of my college experience, and I was not jaded by the fact that people who were not black may have looked at me differently because I knew who I was as a person. I refused to walk around with a chip on my shoulder because I knew what I represented. I can’t be the spokesperson for the entire race and do the absolute most to get any and everyone’s approval and admiration, but instead, I can only be me. I just wish that I could have educated or enlightened some of my classmates who preferred to stay with their own people and who went out of their way to NOT give me a chance.

College was a great experience for me altogether. One lesson that I took away from it is that in this world, whether I am in school or at work, the color of my skin will always precede me. People will automatically judge me in some way because I’m black, including other black people. I know now that it’s not my job to fight the stereotype. The best way to negate a stereotype is to just be you. No matter what stereotype people think I am, I know that once they get to know me they will see that they are wrong, which brings me all the satisfaction I need.

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  • Guest

    I’m not sure if this is because of the curriculum I decided to study, or because I was a military bratt and I was used to being moved to different neighborhoods all my life, but, my PWI experience was awesome. I studied communication studies which often made forced us to evaluate race, gender, culture, religion and other traditions across the world. If anything I felt as though my classes served as a platform for me to voice the concerns I had as the only Black person in my classes. They all embraced me, openly and happily. For most of them, I was labeled the “cool” girl and they all wanted to be a part of my circle. This is not to say that I didn’t experience my own identity issues and questions about racism (as some racist acts were actually committed on my campus) but, overall, my classroom was my safe haven. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about my undergrad experience as my real-job experience has me in the same exact (PW) environment. Because I attended a PWI I know how to handle the feeling of being a minority in my office environment very comfortably so I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything in the world. While I admire HBCUs a great deal,  I often find that students who choose to graduate from these institutions are often more likely to remain uncomfortable in environments that don’t resemble their undergrad living situations, something that can hinder productivity and upward mobility in the professional world. But, that’s just my personal opinion.  Ironically, the most racism I’ve ever experienced was amongst people of my own race rather it was from the darkness of my skin or my socioeconomic status which wasn’t a big factor until I moved to Chicago as, up there, the educated young Blacks don’t party/hang out with the non-educated young Blacks. That to me, is more of a tragedy than some pesky 4 years at a PWI university.

  • Imena Johnson

    I am currently studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I attend HowardUniversity in the states so I am proud of being black but now that I am here its awkward. I remember being in London for a trip and going to the postmodern museum and there was no section with African Art and all the girls in my program were talking about how great this people are and I’m just like what about the talented tenth? I also visited the Alhambra and they dont say that the Moors are black or people of color they refer to them as Islamic and that they learned from the Romans..but didnt the Romans go to Egypt for school??? And in Spain people stare at me or try to touch my natural hair(I am like the only black girl in the program and it seems like I am the only african american in spain) and they say oh I like your hair it has soo much volume i wish my hair did that.. and I’m just like really -__-  I also have people from Africa make huge scenes about me being in Spain(positive stuff but its just too much) In class when i say examples like Ive been natural since 2006 the teacher didnt think my spanish phrase was even possible…and in work groups people dont know how to approach me and its just weird..its really hard to relate..(syntax diction hobbies interest i.e popular black actresses and singers are only Beyonce Nicki Minaj and maybe Halle Berry.. people dont know who I know)… I am very open to all different types of people its just that maybe they are uncomfortable but I am still going to keep my head up and live in Spain for another 4 months and teach them about my rich culture and not just let them think they RUN the world..I Love my HBCU and I am going to continue to go off in the world teaching others about my culture as well as me learning about theres.. 

  • monniiee

    Wow this is a really good representation of my college experience.  I was brought up in a military househould so I was used to being one of few blacks.  Then my parents sent me to an HBCU, it was overload for me so I transferred to a regular public university and I was shocked by how differently I was treated.  Not necessarily bad, but my peers made it known that they saw me as different.  Now they know me so it’s nothing odd, but at first it was uncomfortable.

  • reese

    I quess it depends on where you are.  I am in Washington.  I went to UW and had alot of friends from different races.  But Seattle is really intergrated, although not very many blacks on campus.

  • Candacey Doris

    I went to a school with minorities (about 10% black) but my majors still let me as either the only blac person in class or one of too. Apparently wearing glasses and being an obvious nerd helps though. My lenses are so think they expected me to be smarter than them, lol. But one girl once told me, “it’s not like you’re really black, you’re smart!” Two seconds later she realized what she said and left the classroom. Yeah. Needless to say, going to uni down south was an experience.

  • Tmercedes89

    I go to a PW public university in Montana, and pretty much every class im the only black girl. But I have built a close friendship with friends through the years and so it doesnt really matter. It does feel weird to have a whole room turn to look at you when u walk in to it, and either talk to you because your black and thats cool or dont because they are uncomfortable, but im ok. An interesting phenomenon has occured with a total class system of black students. their are the ones with money from california who all hang together (mostly consisting of athletes and cheerleaders) and then there are the students who are non traditional just there for their academics.

  • Guest

    I attend a predominately white university in the South. In my science major, there are only 3 blacks, with me being the only black girl. When I started the major, I was the ONLY black person there. Being a double minority, I felt out of place because no one tried to engage in conversation with me, even if I smiled at them. The only few that would speak to me were a few white guys. None of the white girls would speak unless I spoke first.

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  • MixedUpInVegas

    My college experience was different, probably because Southern Nevada is so ethnically diverse.  While most of my classmates were white, everyone seemed to relate reasonably well to one another.  I felt more resentment from the men in business school, because at that time there were so few women enrolled.  The men seemed to feel that women needed to be in nursing school or studying to be teachers–the future captains of industry were all supposed to be men.  Yeah, well, screw them!  I graduated ahead of most of them.

    Never let other people define you. 

  • Amiyah

    I can relate to this. I went to a predominantly white college in the south. Only I was from a pretty much all black area. There were times where I was looked at like the plauge for being the only black girl. Or uncomfortable moments where race is brought up and suddenly I was the spokesperson for all black people ::eye roll:: I never let that define me.

  • letmethinkonthis

    I went to a HBCU for undergraduate, and now I am at a TW college.  The difference is mind-blowing.  At the HBCU, you learned everything filter through the lens of professors who expect you to achieve, to up-lift the race, and to life passing what you learned onto the next generation. There were differences of opinion – some blacks were more conservative, and aimed at working for big-businesses or government.  Other blacks were more liberal, more into liberation theology and choice careers in education, social work or the arts. We argued over politics, religion, economics, and color (yes it still exist in the community, and mulatto or really dark-skinned people suffered), but all in all, it was positive because the expectation was success.  It was a safe environemnt.
    Not so at my traditonal white graduate school.  My presence is treated with a range of hostility to apathy.  My thoughts are constantly being questioned as if I am intellectually deficient, and when I prove superior or able to handle complex issues, the response is shunning.  The black students who do succeed here, are the ones who deny their blackness, say nothing in class, live off campus, smile in people faces during the day and never engage socially outside of school.  And maybe they are smart. But I would give up this experience, because HBCU gave me the confidence, but TW is teaching me reality and what it looks like to navigate in society as it really is.  So I am grateful to both environments. As I told my sister – Go to a HBCU for undergraduate for your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual foundation – you have your whole life to be around white people – and you need your strength.
     

    • LotusLeader

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    • Furaha

      This summed up my story. HBCU made, PWI paid (graduate funding). I left the HBCU with a desire for collective progression. I got to the PWI and saw how ugly WE can really treat eachother, as well as how ignorant/oblivious other races can be. I wanted to quit, but the HBCU gave me strength and a sense of entitlement to pursue this degree. I graduate in June. So, stay strong everybody!

  • IF YALL LEARN TO SAY AT HOME AND COOK AND CLEAN FOR A MAN YOU WILL NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT RACISM ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES!
    THAT IS JUST MY PERSONAL OPINION ABOUT IT! 

    • Guest

      With that ideology, I am sure that you are a lonely and sad individual or either you have a woman that is so submissive, she has to have your permission to use the bathroom…

      • HEY, DON’T GET MAD AT ME FOR SPEAKING THE TRUTH!

        • Naim Brixx

          U only speak the truth when u have taken your meds bro… I would not take anything you say seriously… 

      • Naim Brixx

        Yes he is lonely….. He actually has Down Syndrome…

    • reese

      Does that go for the black man too.  You do know that he will face it at schools, work and even in housing.  Hiding at home is not the answer.  Getting your degree and not worrying about racism is what we have to do. 

      • THE POINT I AM TRYING TO MAKE IS I AM AGAINST WOMEN WORKING, SO I AM AGAINST WOMEN GOING TO SCHOOL. I LIVE IN ATLANTA, GEORGIA IS SEE ALL TYPES OF RACIST AGAINST BLACK PEOPLE AND HISPANIC PEOPLE! RACIST IS APART OF LIFE THAT WE HAVE GOT TO LIVE WITH BECAUSE IT WILL NEVER DIE!

        • Toria

          I spend most of my time in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, which as you should already know is a very affluent area inhabited by some of the wealthiest White people in GA. I have NEVER once encountered racism there. White people always strike up a conversation with me wherever I go and will often ask for my contact information in order to further socialize with me. So if you find yourself constantly being confronted by what you perceive as racism, maybe part of the problem could be YOU. Based on the ignorant comment you made about women not getting an education, maybe your experiences have less to do with with the color of your skin and more to do with your ignorant mentality. Just a thought. 

          • WOW, ONLY LESBIANS AND FAGS HANG OUT IN THE MIDTOWN OR BUCKHEAD SECTION OF ATLANTA! BASED OWN YOUR REPLY TO MY COMMENT I CAN TELL THAT YOU ARE ONE!

            • Guest

              And based on your reply you are a very ignorant person who is out of touch with reality.  You are obviously projecting your own insecurities onto other women.  Get a life.  No need to be intimidated by women who choose to be educated and pursue a career path.  Newsflash: we can do ALL of those things: get an education, work, and raise a family. All while putting up with losers like you.

              • THIS IS JUST MY PERSONAL OPINION, BUT I BELIEVE WOMEN SHOULD JUST STAY AT HOME AND COOK, CLEAN, AND TAKE CARE OF HOME! I HONESTLY DESPISE WOMEN WHO GET EDUCATED, WORK, AND RAISE A FAMILY!

                • Naim Brixx

                  If that is the case then why your babe moms step out of your silly ass? U can’t handle business bro. Get out of the Lame Lane!

                • Naim Brixx

                  If that is the case, then why did your babe moms step out on you? Stay of of the Lame Lane… U silly duck!

  • A.J.

    I go to a large university where there aren’t that many Black people.  In most of my classes, I’ve been the only Black person there, with the exception of classes that focus specifically on race in society.  For the most part, I didn’t care, partly because I’ve always had a very high opinion of myself and my academic abilities 🙂  But I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t get lonely sometimes.  Additionally, there have been times when I had to be “that” person, the one who speaks up and remarks when someone makes an off-color comment, or is blatantly racist. 

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  • Studious

    I personally never ever had a problem with my skin color preceding me. I attended Ball State which is definitely a PW college, but I loved it. Prior to attending that school I went to a historically black college, but I felt more ” judged” at that school than I ever did at my second. To each their own I guess…I always say to myself that I will never think of my skin as an obstacle!