Open Thread: So How Do You Do It?

A reader emailed me this:
Hi Ankhesen,

I am a 20 y.o. black female student who just got accepted in law school. I started my first class today and the number of white students in the class is...*sigh*. Basically, I am the only black person in the whole class, and I think there's 1-2 others POCs but they seem to have no interest in talking to me.

I find myself in a really uncomfortable position since I feel some disdain and even some kind of snobbish attitude toward me. I moved out from a big city to go live near the college. Since I'm new in town, I know no one. I tried to talk to a group of girl and see if I could have lunch with them (everyone is basically new and I thought I could make an effort to make new friends or at least acquaintances). They basically told me in a unsubtle way: no.

I'm here for my career and if I can't make friends before graduation, I will bear it. My question is: how do I keep myself for not going crazy for the next years because of these white kids (mostly the white girls) ?

I don't know if you could make a post asking the guests at the bar how did they manage to not feel constantly annoyed by white people and do their things ?

If you feel like it shouldn't be a post, I still thank you for the time you have take to read my message.
I really am interested to hear what our older, more seasoned bar patrons suggest. I too will be contributing; I grew in a state that's 96% white, so in many ways, I can relate.

Comments

  1. This was pretty much my high school years. In fact myself and another student were the first two black males to graduate from there.

    When I arrived many of the students were expecting me to be their form of ethnic entertainment or something they saw off of BET. When they realized that I was articulate and smarter than most of them, they didn't know what to do.

    I kept to myself and in my demeanor and mentality I made it clear I didn't need anyone of those bastards.

    And while they hated me, they also respected me. Eventually I made a couple of friends.

    But I say be prepared to not need anyone for anything and be ready to stand alone. You're in a den of vipers.

    Sadly I had to have that mentality. Keep your eye on the prize and stay true to your goal. Good luck.

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    1. But I say be prepared to not need anyone for anything and be ready to stand alone.

      My sentiments exactly. Never forget who you are or what you want. And never get too comfortable. Always be vigilant.

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  2. It's disappointing to hear that our future lawyers are so full of shit. I can't say that I have any advice for you, except maybe to make some decent friends outside of school, whether they are black or not. They will keep you sane. It's fine not to socialize with the jerks at your law school, as long as you have some form of support elsewhere.

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    1. It's disappointing to hear that our future lawyers are so full of shit.

      *raises eyebrows* But are you surprised?

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  3. I can relate too because I grew up in a mostly White community.Oddly, I was never the initiator of any conversation. They came to me and spoke. It didn't mean that I called all of them amiga. As a former neighbor/family friend told me "I know a lot of people,but I don't have a lot of friends". It wasn't that he was anti-social or anything like that, quite the opposite,but he was one of those people who didn't call every person he knew as friends. I carry that same sentiment.

    If they do want to be your friends, that's ok, but if you happen to come across some people who may open up to you, keep those people on your possible friends list. Only you will know who your friends and true friends are.

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  4. I spent 3 years working an entry level position in middle of no where small town Missouri. Would have moved on sooner but the economy had other plans. During the work week I was fine but the weekends were hard. It was a very white, very conservative area and I am neither Republican nor Christian.

    Plan in advance to be alone. If you have to eat in public bring a book or ipad. Netflix/cable/internet plus the gym were my only guaranteed activities. Keep in touch with your real friends/family by calling and visiting when you can.

    Practice your neutral expression, this will be useful when ignorant things are over heard.

    I was working for a university and look young enough to pass for a student. The instigators were either white female college students or wives of international faculty. Got a lot of what is she doing here looks in exercise classes. Occasionally they'd try to start something by taking my spot then staring me down when I walked in the room. I just ignored them and picked another spot up front/ near the fan. I stopped being friendly to the faculty wives cause most of them were scared of black people and would recoil in horror if I came near them.

    related:
    http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/08/were-the-only-black-people-here-reflections-on-living-in-places-sans-black-faces/

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    1. I'm so glad you got out of there.

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  5. I went to a small, catholic liberal arts college where over 98% of the student body was white, catholic and often ignorant/disrespectful of my South Asian, Hindu background. So, I can definitely relate. If you have any international students at your university (not necessarily in the law school), there is a good chance that there is an International Students' Organization or something similar on campus. They generally have pretty interesting events and gatherings with diverse groups of students.

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  6. Oops..meant to put not between do and want in the second paragraph,first sentence.

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  7. All of these are wonderful suggestions, I can't really add too much to the pot. The key thing is to think out of the box. Going for those international student activities is a great way to do just that. Look on your school's website and see if they don't have other club/activities listings - in my damn near all white university we had a Black Student Union, a well filled out Black Greek presence for all we were less than 5% of the student body. So you never know.

    By the time I was getting my Bachelor's Degree in dance, I had already been used to being the only Black person in my ballet and modern dance classes, and that didn't change much at college.

    I looked outside of my classes: roommates and their friends, meeting people at my job(s), finding my local religious chapter, and doing crazy things like driving around the (oh so very white) town with my BFF trying to find "the Black section" lol. We never did find one, but we found some places where Folks DID hang out so things turned out ok in the end.

    You might try again to talk to those POCs who are in your class, and see if they are going through what you are at least. And maybe they also might have some ideas on how you all can make the best of an uncomfortable situation. The good thing is that you ARE indeed young and have the energy to make it through just like I managed to do back then.

    If I had to do all that NOW I don't think I would make it very far! But I do remember I was very unapologetic about who I was and where I was going, and if people didn't like it, they could lump it. By trying out some of the things I (and others) suggested, you to will find some peeps to hang with. It may take some time, and you will go a little crazy, but getting that education will make it all well worth it.

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  8. To the young woman:

    I'm a black female medical professional. Since the moment I decided that I would break the mold and venture into a white man's field, the cards would be stacked up against me.

    My preceptor tried ever so diligently to get me kicked out of my medical program. She failed.

    My trainers tried ever so diligently to get me fired.
    She failed.

    My boss tried ever so diligently to bring up charges of malpractice against me.
    She failed.

    This white female patient who "wondered" how I got this job, complained about my conduct to get me in trouble.
    She failed.

    Everyone ostracize me so I would quit.
    They failed.

    From the moment you decide that you are not going to fall victim to white terrorism, you'll be in for the ultimate fight of your life.

    Some suggestions, my dear?

    Call home frequently. Call girlfriends, boyfriends, aunties...anyone that will allow you to keep your focus and sanity. Stock up on books, music, artwork; I discovered my love of painting while I was shunned by the illustrious white females on campus. I discovered my love of bike riding, novels by the author Donald Goines (gritty street novels) that kept my attention and took away the loneliness.

    Me and Sam Cooke, BB King and Otis Redding have spent many many nights together as well as Etta James and Nina Simone. Keep busy...Join a local food kitchen, YMCA, volunteer your time to keep sane.

    This perhaps will be your true testament of faith in God and in yourself. I wanted give up many, many times but stubbornness will not permit. As for the white woman?

    My dear, please forgive my bluntness, but white females are perhaps the most racist, underhanded, unscrupulous beings on earth. Unlike a man who will just say exactly what they want to your face, the white female will smile to your face and stab you in the back with a poison-tipped knife. Because she is revered and coddled, she never needs to be held accountable for her mental and verbal attacks. Therefore her actions and thoughts go unchallenged and JUSTIFIED as "female cattiness".

    Please be very careful of WHAT you say and to WHOM you say it to. The last thing you need is your administrator calling you in his office. Never leave your food and drink unattended and never go anywhere by yourself after dark.
    Take care and good luck.

    Truthbetold.

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    1. Definitely a good time to take up new solo hobbies. I took a sewing class and learned to make quilts. Maybe art classes or music lessons? A small town library may not be well stocked but your university can borrow any book you want from another library.

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  9. Thank you everyone for the advices, I think this is what I am going to do. I'll try to not associate with them when it has nothing to do with school. And I never though about the fact that they could somewhat become suddenly nice to me. I would be the type of person who would be totally smitten since I would want a friendship. Yes, vigilant, I need to start being like that.

    There's actually a group of girls who seem quite cool living in my apartment and there's other pocs doing other degrees in the college but I never get to see these kids since I'm always in the law department. I don't even know how I should approach them since I basically have nothing to introduce myself (having the same classes as someone else kind of help building a friendship...I think so ?)

    Right now, it doesn't bother me that much, but I think the constent stupid questions(done intentionally), the jokes about stereotypes and etc., could drive me crazy. Is there a smart way to make them understand that I'm not playing with their game without having to yell at someone or punch someone ? It's 3 years with the same people haha.

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    1. You could always watch some old episodes of "The Jeffersons" or "All in the Family" and act a bit like George Jefferson or Archie Bunker whenever they say something racist. Flipping the script is always a good way to combat ignorance. You can even watch some Paul Mooney and get some tips. *wickedly laughs* When it comes to racism, nothing has changed but the weather.

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    2. Try to find an extracurricular activity on campus to join and meet non law students. Black student association, international student associations, intramural sports (even if you've never played before some teams are desperate and will teach you how to play), choirs, religious groups. There should be some sort of directory or web site that list all the student groups on campus. Pick some, show up to a meeting and see what kind of crowd is there.

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    3. I've heard pretending you don't understand the racist joke and asking them to explain works. Never tried it myself. Usually just practice selective hearing. If you have to see these people everyday sometimes it is not worth the confrontation.

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    4. When it comes to racism, nothing has changed but the weather.

      @ Mickey,

      You really said that.

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    5. Looking at the many student groups seem like a really good idea. And for the hobbies, I've made over the years a list of books that I would like to read. I never really had the time to read all of them, but I guess I have it now.

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    6. Mickey-- thanks for the suggestion of the shows, I'll give them a try :) !

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    7. Co-sign on modest goddess' comment. I spent 7 out of 10 years of my military career in almost all-white areas. Asking white people to *explain* the negativity behind their racist comments with a straight face is the best way to go. Lord, if you have a noticeably non-American accent, it works even better. Sample dialogue:

      Ignorant white guy: I bet you can take off condoms with your feet, amirite?
      Me: Well, my legs won't bend that far...
      IWG: No, I mean you stand up and...*does weird foot shuffle*
      Me: What? No one's d*ck is that long
      IWG: But its close, right?
      Me: Where would it even *fit* if it was that long?
      IWG: No no, I mean all of you black guys are big, like in porn
      Me: Then are all white guys as big as in porn, or do they only choose the biggest white guys for porn, then grab random black guys off the street?
      IWG:...I, I need to go pray now...
      Me: Have fun with that

      Believe me, nothing is funnier. Works just as well for women.
      IWG: Like, wouldn't it be funny if black chicks' breast milk was chocolate?
      You: As funny as if white chicks' breast milk was vanilla, or yogurt flavored, I guess...

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  10. I was in a situation similar to yours, only it was somewhat of a reverse culture shock because my high school/home town was extremely diverse. I moved 30 minutes away to go to college and suddenly it's vanilla city. I was lucky enough to have a very close friend (who happened to be white) end up at the same college, so we latched onto each other 75% of the time. It took a good 2.5 years of trusting in people and being betrayed/trashed behind my back for me to realize those people were NOT going to be my friends- in fact, graduated with pretty much none save for my high school buddy.

    Light at the end of that 4 year tunnel: I had ample time to spend on me. Aside from getting together with friends and family back home (I was lucky enough to live close), I wrote, read, got great grades, graduated with honors, and got to know myself better than I did went I arrived.

    As far as dealing with their smart alecky comments, I know ignoring them is a cliched response, but trust me, it works!

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  11. Oh goodness, this brings back so, so, so many unpleasant memories. I'm going to take a stab at this though:

    20 y.o Law Student, get ready for more of that. They've just shown you a glimpse of how your future may stretch out in front of you. Keep your eye out for those same group of ladies, and everyone who associates with their likeness. Treat them with a smile if you must, but resist the desire to try and befriend them on a personal level. This is going to sound like I'm jumping the gun here, but make sure that when you have any collaborative work with any of them, that you electronically confirm for record keeping, should it ever come up, that you contributed in each group meeting, even if they try to ignore you during the project. It's common for "under the table" conversations to happen without your knowledge, so make sure you cover yourself for all the things that are "above board". I have a sibling in med school right now who is learning some hard truths about this, and navigating it from hindsight due to lack of emotional preparedness is taking an incredible toll on her mental health. I don't wish this for you.

    It's the lowest common denominator of snobbery. The more elite they perceive themselves/their school/their discipline/their social status/etc. to be, the more feelings they're going to catch when someone (you) come along to breach that little bubble. Insecure and self-preserving PoC in that place may take cues from the other white folks and behave as if you're social poison because they've drunken the koolaid of hierarchy. They don't want to be reminded that they would be in your position if you weren't there.

    With all that being said, it is entirely possible and probable that you can have one or two really good acquaintances there. Since it's still kinda the beginning of the term, people are still trying to find their way. You'll have to make connections based upon your values and special interests, and of course, don't discount other white folks who seem to stand apart from the little groups and larger cliques because they're not one of the cool kids either.

    Above all... Re. Fuse. REFUSE to just roll over and let the isolation and racism move you from your path. You'll have voices of doubt telling you lies about yourself and your worth. Don't listen to it, and have people from home reinforce your self-esteem periodically. Mainstream media makes fun of the "Strong Black Women" types all the time, but this crucible is what we shuffle through, and it's no joke. You are going to need every fortification, mind body and soul that you can call upon. And do take the many bits of wise advice dispense here in the comment section. Everyone here wants you to get through your days there the best way possible.

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    1. I Am The Crafts Lady----- thank you for the wise advices. I would have never have thought of all the things you mentionned above. I come from a very diverse area and if I have confronted racism before, I have never confronted a persistant, subtle and contstant one. It can be quite tiring and soul crashing, mostly when you are alone, but I thing your smart suggestions will help me survive the next difficult years.

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  12. I would like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who gave me advice. You ladies (and mister Neo-prodigy) don't understand how much it means to me to get those encouragements. Beside my family, nobody understand what I'm going through, and knowing that there's people out there who had the same experience as me and who even shared it with me, is incredibly valuable. So again, thank you.

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