White Face in a Black Space? Being the “Only White Girl”

Has a friend’s comment ever caught you off guard?
Have you wondered whether the sentiments expressed by this friend also recurs with your other friends but in secret?

These thoughts and feelings were in my head a few days after I had joint-hosted a party. I invited a bunch of lovely people who I knew would get on well despite them not knowing each other beforehand. I felt  it was nice to bring new friends and old friends together, especially as it was coming to the end of our first year in University. Now, this party turned out to be predominately black… As in the majority of guests who showed up were black. I’m a black girl. I have black friends (surprise, surprise) and the other hosts apart from one were also black. On the night I was oblivious but the following morning I woke up.

To my surprise, (perhaps naivety) two of my non-black friends let’s call them A and B, had shared how happy they were to find each other because they didn’t want to be

“the only white girl”.

When I heard of this from A I was confused. I didn’t understand why race, such a non-factor in a room full of super pretty, fun girls mattered. She defended the comment saying, usually, she feels comfortable dancing at a party but last night she did not as “they were all so good”… After this revelation I began to replay the night’s events.

  1. I remember introducing both to the other hosts and other guests.
  2. I remember bringing the two together.
  3. I remember seeing them together for the duration of the party.
  4. I remember them then conversing with another White attendee and an Asian girl.

There were no black girls in this newly formed group. Hmm…

I told myself that it was just an observation, a joke, even a way to break the ice between the two – but then why did A tell me about a private joke? Why did she continue to elaborate?

I started to think about when she may have been in a similar situation or if I had put her in a situation like this before.

  • We went to a predominantly white school and her fair mixed skin means she passed for white easily.
  • Our school friends were all of different races. We actually had one of the most ethnically diverse friendship groups in that school.

The more I tried to understand, the worse I began to feel. I wondered if I could have done more to encourage conversation between the groups. Everyone was getting along so well that I did not think angst may be present and it definitely wasn’t expressed at a time where it could have been rectified. I decided to put myself in their shoes. That’s when I realised that I had been in this situation a hundred times before.

  • I went to a predominantly white school. The number of black students in our year group dwindled year by year.
  • My university course is swamped with white peers.
  • I’m from London the most ethnically diverse region of the UK but people from my background still only make up around 4.2% of its population according to the 2011 census.

When I mentioned to B what A had told me of their conversation I reminded her how easy it was to focus on anything else other than race. Some of the options were: being the only girl in a dress; the only girl who didn’t know a song; the only girl without false lashes on! These things are trivial.

She assured me that the next party I hosted she would be there and how she honestly wasn’t uncomfortable because “all your friends are lovely”.

Looking back at the event, perhaps my surprise is caused by the fact that what is a daily occurrence for me is a rarity to others. At the same time however, I wish this discomfort had been shared at a time where I could have fixed it. I became frustrated that it was unresolved and these two friends of mine separated themselves completely. You could argue the foursome that was created was merely due to clicking instantly and thus sticking together but my friend’s elaboration states otherwise. To me it reads, intimidation. An intimidation that shouldn’t exist in the presence of your good friend.

Artwork by Laurie Cooper
3fittingwords for this post: friendship, confusion, honesty

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