It wasn't happening directly to my face, but I knew racism fluently. So much so that I found myself desensitized to the movement. A bit removed from the emotional trauma I was suffering everyday. Because how could I not see that being the only Black girl in the room is a form of racism?
My brown skin has acted as some sort of force field around me that activates when racist rhetoric, people and things creep my way. But in all that's going on right now, I'm realizing more and more that being the token Black girl isn't something to necessarily celebrate, but it is something to accept and build on. It's mislabeled as "special" or "chosen," or something of the sort. And maybe those things are true of us, but not because we're the only Black woman or man in the room.
Being the only Black person doesn't equate to being accepted, as so many argue. It more so means being tolerated. We're more than qualified to be in that room, and it shouldn't mean more or less because it's filled with white people.
But it does.
We should feel like we belong based on qualifications, or don't belong for that matter. Not because I'm a Black woman and should therefore feel "honored" to be in a room full of people who deemed themselves superior to me because they weren't blessed to be baked five times over before coming out of the womb with glistening chocolate skin.
This "token" thing is vile. Because every day you feel — no, you know — that when they hired you at least one person said, "If we're going to give a Black person a chance, might as well be her."
It's sad that we can't truly feel we've achieved something in a room full of white people because the decision to have us is usually tainted with hesitancy based on a component we truly had nothing to do with: the color of our skin.
But a lot of us do get to those tables with a hope to shake things up. To make a true difference. To introduce some color into this whitewashed world. But how painful it is to find out that they just wanted our face, not our voice.
Under the tokenism, I'm a Black woman. And it's getting harder to hide that under empathy and genuinely seeing the good in people, even when I have to look past the ignorance, willful blindness, and choice to continue swimming in the benefits of systemic racism.
It's getting harder to hide that being Black comes first. It's getting harder to accept the decent money, weekends off, health insurance and good treatment in places we otherwise wouldn't be treated well.
It's getting harder to put the constant hunger and hunt to bring each of my brothers and sisters up with me in second place. It's getting harder to not walk in complete solidarity with what keeps me thriving — my blackness.
These companies may not know, or may not want to know, that our blackness is what fuels the undeniable skill and talent they overlooked our Black skin for. But we do.
My blackness isn't the color in an all-white company photo. Nor is it for sale to the highest bidder with false promises of benefits and erasures of systemic racial structures that birthed the company. The token Black girl can be looked at as a walking billboard for the beginning of something. Because there will be no end until those company photos become colorful. Not on our watch.
It is the message that Black people can be loved, accepted, honored, simply liked and needed. It is a constant reminder that you will no longer have the luxury of being conveniently blind and consistently silent, not as long as we're here. And when we leave, we'll leave a stain everywhere we go.