A few days ago, I was with friends when someone noticed that I wasn’t laughing at the Donald Trump jokes being told. While some of my friends made light of his racist statements and tried to keep things funny, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly uncomfortable. It’s worth noting that I was the only person there who wasn’t white. When my friend asked me what was wrong, I said, “His policies make me afraid for my life and the life of my family, and I can’t make a joke about it right now.” Cue everyone justifying themselves with a “But…” statement.
This is only one of the many awkward moments I have had as the only person of color in a room. Being the only POC happens to me most of the time, although not necessarily all of the time. I’m aware that the above circumstance sounds dramatic, but in all truth, being the only POC present in any given situation is more often awkward than it is serious. I’m fully aware that this rationalization may be a coping mechanism for this very situation being the majority of my life (yes, even at family gatherings), but I have a feeling this happens to more people than just me.
For however much dialogue there is about race, racial tensions, and what it means to be a POC, there’s an equal amount of thought on white people and how they should behave and talk about race themselves. I know that race is everyone’s favorite low-stakes small talk conversation topic (kidding), so this might feel weird to talk about, but bear with me. The frustrations my white friends feel is that they can’t have an opinion about race because one of us POC is always there to “get angry.” Ahem, no. For me, the key to being a good ally is staying open, validating the other person’s experience without attempting to correct or diagnose it, listening, and then amending your behavior if it needs amending.
So, whether you’re white and you don’t know what it is that people of color go through all the time, or you, like me, are frequently the only POC in the room, these 19 awkward AF things probably happen all the time. If you relate, I feel you. If you don’t, be aware that many of us are not having the same experience that you are.
1) When you realize you’re the only POC, your body braces for impact.
Oh my god, let no one bring up race. Please please please please please…
2) You wonder how exactly you wound up being the only POC.
I know I’m not a token, but do my friends see me as the ‘token’? How did this lecture hall get so white, I thought this was an environmental science class? It truly can’t be just *me*.
3) After a quick interaction, you can tell if someone’s going to be okay with being called out.
You’ve developed a radar for people who are aware that the human experience isn’t singular and those who are so self-involved that they aren’t open to discussion. The middle aged man who refused to acknowledge that Native Americans and Sheikhs weren’t appropriate mascots then accused me of being – no joke – “species-ist” when it came to having animals as mascots? Not game for intelligent conversation.
4) People try to be ethnically sensitive when pronouncing your name.
I used to get “Ah-lee Chun” all the time. If you pronounce your name differently than how an American may say it, of course, speak up, but for the rest of us, backing away from a culturally specific pronunciation feels awkward af.
5) People always say, “You only like [something] because you’re [what you are].”
Clearly, the only reason Indian people like Mindy Kaling is because she’s also Indian, like us. Never mind the fact that she’s been ballin’ out of control for over ten years, casually killing it in the world of entertainment, nope… only because she’s Indian, people. Everyone’s always using your POC-ness to excuse regular things like eating rice (I’m. Not. Kidding. It happens.)
6) The same thing goes for people wondering why you have to bring up race “all the time.”
No one knows what the big deal is. If it’s being brought up, chances are, you’re missing it from the dialogue. Turns out, being colorblind (aka “I don’t see color”) is actually racist. Who knew?
7) When your class talks about colonialism, civil rights, slavery, you name it – literally everyone turns around to see your reaction.
Even if it has nothing to do with you! Anything happening to non-white people immediately becomes your issue and everyone around you automatically whips around to see how you feel about it.
8) Same thing goes for vaguely racist jokes.
9) You are everyone’s go-to for checking if something is racist.
Everything from non-Asians worried they’re enjoying Fresh Off The Boat too much to explaining why Stacey Dash is problematic.
10) In fact, a lot of people make assumptions on your interests and hobbies based on your race.
Wait, so you’re Asian, and you’re *not* caught up on Fresh Off The Boat?
11) You are everyone’s go-to for weighing in on current events pertaining to race.
Even if you don’t have a strong opinion, your point of view is asked for when it comes to #OscarsSoWhite, police brutality, cultural appropriation, everything.
12) You’re frequently the accidental ambassador, speaking on behalf of your race all of the time.
People ask you as a [what you are], how you feel about something. You know you can only speak to your experience of something, but people act as if you speak on behalf of everyone and that puts you in an awkward position.
13) You’re very careful when articulating your point.
Using the exact words, politically correct phrasing, trying not to alienate everyone in the room.
14) You’re very aware that you have to remain cheerful and non-threatening when making a point.
Or else you’re “angry” which leads people to believe your point is driven by emotions (which does not make your point invalid), not facts (even if you’re stating actual statistics). It’s a lot of smiling while pointing out how Islamophobia hurts all people of Middle Eastern descent, which itself, is awkward and troubling.
15) You feel obligated to read up on every piece of criticism and news item when it comes to race.
Just so no one sneak attacks you and shames you for being a bad “un-woke” POC.
16) You cringe when your teacher decides to classroom simulated discrimination.
Or debates! I used to hate those. Of course, it’s important for all to experience, but how do you tell the teacher that this isn’t news to you? How do you tell the authority figure who thought up this idea in the first place that giving your fellow classmates a forum to deny police brutality in a debate in the name of education is deeply troubling?
17) You have to loop in white feminists when discussing gender equality.
Race plays a big part in feminism. When Chris Rock was making jokes about there being no black people at the Oscars, my friends went “What about women!?” and I went “Not now. There’s also *women* of *color* who are dealing with both kinds of discrimination.”
18) You get really tense when someone gets critical of political correctness.
Like it’s a bad thing to respect people and you have to be “cool with it” to fit in with the non-POC in your life.
19) Your white friends will relate to you that one experience they had at an Asian grocery store and say things like, “I swear I was the only white person in there, it was so weird, I’ve never felt like that before.”
Yeah, weird. I don’t know what that’s like, but it sounds exhausting (sarcasm).
Have you ever been the only POC in a room? How did you deal with it? What did I forget to include? Let me know in the comments.