[At least that’s what I decided. Are you still imagining what it would’ve been like to be in my shoes? If so how did it make you feel? What would you have done? Thanks for considering and contemplating one of my memories of an experience I had as the “token black guy”.]
Imagine visiting a place where you are “the only one”. Being “the only one” is not out of the ordinary for you, because it is largely your daily experience. This is your daily experience and so reading certain non-verbal and social cues has become second nature. You have become very adept at reading a room when you are “the only one” because you’ve been doing it since before you could remember. Your intuition in these settings has been finely tuned over years of occupying spaces as “the only one”. You know when your presence is wanted or unwanted, noticed or unnoticed, familiar or a mystery, welcome or suspicious. This time is different though. It’s different because you can tell through the series of non-verbal cues, the hesitation of what to say, how to engage you, that for most in the majority you are “the first one”. The first one they are seeing, meeting, greeting, and engaging in the flesh.
Prior to you all of their interactions with people “like you” were limited to crossing paths. Some even admit to this. Perhaps a sporting event, a concert, or some other activity that involves going to “the city” where all kinds of people live and intersect. In the absence of proximity there has not been the opportunity to form relationship with someone “like you”. Therefore what most of those here from the majority know about people “like you” is limited to television, movies, music, history text books, and what they’ve been told by family and the community they’re from about people “like you”. You are familiar with what those sources often display and portray. You know the limitations and narrowness of those sources all too well. Those sources can often be a source of contention with your soul, your being, and the community of those “like you”. They are too often the bane of your existence, because they put people “like you” in a box. The box is too often toxic.
You are the first “them” or “they” that they are meeting in a space where you and them are also the same. You have both come for the same reason. So though you are “the only one”, you are also one of many. You knew this going in and you had hoped that what you had in common with everyone else would overshadow what singularly set you apart as “the only one”.
For some they are completely unfazed by you being “the only one” or perhaps even “the first one”. For some the fact that you are there for the same reason as them supersedes you being one of “them”. They interact engage and inquire of you the same as they do with everyone else. However, for many… for most in fact… they struggle awkwardly with the most basic of things. How to greet you. How to talk to you. What to say. Your presence as “the only one” overshadows that you are the same because amongst other things you are there for the same reason. You are a mystery that evokes an awkwardness that is not easily veiled. It’s not that they don’t like the “they” or “them” they’ve only ever watched on tv, heard on the radio or read about in history textbooks.
It’s as simple as they have never met one of “them” or “they” tclose enough to shake hands, and have a conversation further than ordering food from MacDonalds or paying for gas inside, because in that one city, that one time, where everyone had to prepay, because well it’s not as safe where a lot of “them” live. The fact that you aren’t from one of those places where a lot of “them” live comes as a surprise to the point that you have to keep reiterating that you aren’t from “there”. They’ve been hardwired to assume that everyone like you is from that one city, so you have to keep correcting them and reminding them that you are from somewhere else. Somewhere where you aren’t necessarily “the only one”, but you are in the minority. What makes it even more noticeable is that you have come to this place with two others who are not “one of them”, but are from where you’re from. In fact the three of you have all come together, even though you’re “the only one”. Yet invariably people you meet together, who aren’t use to seeing people “like you”, assume that you must be from that one city that has a lot of “them”, and not from the same place as the other two people you came with. Lastly there are those, just a few but enough to make an impression, that aren’t making the effort (reciprocate) to get to know you, because they already know everything they need to know about people “like you”. They have always been fine with being separate from people “like you”.
Your weekend at this place is mostly exhausting and draining. You imagine yourself potentially choosing to be there and how your existence in that space will just been a extension of that weekend visit. If you should choose to do life there, even for a time, you imagine you would perpetually feel exhausted and drained simply for being “the only one” and for many there you would be “the first one”. You are a month from being eighteen. Choosing here would be choosing the first place to be independent you, away from your parents and the support system you’ve had growing up. In that moment you become keenly aware that you are not ready to be, you do not want to be “the only one” here.