It happened again today. I was the only Black mom at the park. I watched my oldest roam freely around the equipment, doing my best to keep an eye on him while I stuck close by his younger sister. At times, I lost him in the sea of kids playing, but he always found his way back to me. I suppose that’s one benefit of my brown skin. I stand out. Yet, I also feel invisible.
It happened again today. I was the only Black mom in the mom group. I looked into the mom group at the beginning of the summer as I searched for activities that would allow my daughter the opportunity to be around other 2-year-olds. There was a waitlist. On a whim, I added my name, but I didn’t think much about it after that. I received an email a few weeks later. There was an open spot, and it was mine if I wanted it. Brand new to stay-at-home mom life and in search of community, I decided to go for it.
Curious to know more about the group, I explored the Facebook page and checked out the list of current members. As I scrolled through the profile pictures, I realized I was the only person of color in the group. I immediately felt out of place, but I fought through the discomfort and attended my first meeting. I thought perhaps the Facebook group might not be an accurate depiction of the group, but I was the only Black mom in the room. The other moms were nice and welcoming, but I couldn’t shake the uneasiness I felt from being the only person of color in the room.
It happened again today. I was the only Black mom in the library.
I take my kids to the library often. It is a safe haven for us on those days when we need a change of scenery—even if it’s just for a few moments. I love exploring the bookshelves with kids and finding new stories for us to enjoy together, but I’m always conscious of the fact there’s rarely anyone in that space that looks like us.
On most visits to the library, my kids see the open space and decide it’s time to run and use outside voices even though we always discuss my expectations for behavior in the library. Walking feet. Inside voices. That all goes out the window as soon as we cross the pavement and walk through the automatic doors. My children see other kids running and playing and want to do the same. As their mom, my mind always thinks about the implications of those actions because of the skin my children reside in.
It happened again today. I was the only Black mom at the indoor playground. The weather wasn’t conducive to outdoor play, so we went to the indoor playground at a local church. As we walked in and placed our belongings in the cubby, I noticed it again. I was the only Black mom. I watched as my daughter played alone and cautiously climbed the steps to slide. Other moms stood nearby, chatting with one another. One woman spoke to me, but only to ask how I got my daughter’s curly hair so defined. At the moment, I didn’t mind sharing, but afterward, I was frustrated. Hair advice, is that all I was good for at that moment?
These are the experiences I carry with me as a Black woman living in a mostly white community. While these are mine, they are not unique to me. Sit down in a room with other women of color and you will hear similar stories.
Being the one or one of a few in a majority white space has been a consistent part of my life.
When I was four, we moved to the northeast side of the city, to a neighborhood that was mostly White, to a street where we were the only Black family. This was a shift from what I previously knew. The first four years of my life had been spent in a predominantly Black neighborhood on the east side. I attended preschool and kindergarten at a school where the students looked like me, I memorized and sang the Black National Anthem, and the teachers and administrators were Black. At my new school, there were fewer students of color and I only remember one Black teacher. This dynamic continued to be my reality, in school, throughout college, in the workforce, and now as I engage in my community.
I love where we are choosing to raise our children. The community continues to diversify but not quickly enough. The racial tensions of the past few years have revealed there is still a long way to go. This summer was my first one as a stay-at-home mom. As my children and I enjoyed parks, events, and other places within our community, I realized my family is still an anomaly. I found myself scanning the crowds for other moms who looked like me. Most times, I came up short. On the rare occasion when I did see another mom of color, I silently wondered if she saw me, too. Was she thinking the same thing as me? Did she feel out of place, too?
When I encounter situations where I am the only person of color, and I start to feel uncomfortable, I think to myself, “Why are you feeling this way? You should be used to this by now.” That’s a sad and problematic reality. I shouldn’t have to be used to being the only person of color. I shouldn’t have to expect there won’t be anyone who looks like me when I show up.
I shouldn’t question if I belong.
As a Black woman raising two biracial children, I have questioned how I will help them navigate the challenges of growing up in today’s society. I wonder what they must feel. Do they notice what I notice? Do they feel out of place like me? Do they long to see people who look like them? From what I have observed, I suspect they do.
Oftentimes, they acknowledge when they see another child with brown skin like them. They gravitate toward and express affection for characters and dolls with more melanin. They admire and discuss their different shades of brown. When I look at their faces, more questions plague me. How will they choose to identify themselves? How will the world see them? Will they have the same experiences as me? Will they know what it’s like to be the only one in the room?
The answers to those questions are not so black and white, but I am committed to actions that will empower my children to embrace every part of who they are. I will teach them what I am learning myself. It’s OK to stand out. It’s OK to take up and own the spaces we occupy because we deserve to be where we are. We can show up as our authentic selves even when there’s no one else who looks like us. We are worthy of belonging.