Timia Cobb stands in front of Texas State University UAC arch , wearing glasses, an ash wash grey jean jacket and grey shirt while students walk in the background.

No Space: Being Black in White Spaces

By Timia Cobb
Web Content Contributor

Texas State is a major minority university. However, looking at the demographics from 2018, out of 38,000 students only 11% identify as African American. Although this doesn’t make me feel any different, there’s a comfort in knowing that Texas State can be a place for me to finally not be labeled as one of the few black faces in the crowd.

Despite knowing that I’m apart of that small percentage, I don’t feel like the token black girl in my classes. We do have safe places we’ve made were the pigmentation of our skin means nothing and the constant reminder of racial differences no longer exist. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean the color of our skin isn’t reminded in other places. Not only at this university but in the world, being black in white spaces can be uncomfortable and can become taxing.

When you aren’t the majority every space you occupy isn’t truly yours, because white people make up the majority, white spaces are everywhere. It can be a Starbucks, a classroom, a store and even your workplace. As long as you are surrounded by white people and are aware that you are not white, you are in a white space.Yes, it could be easy to remove ourselves from these spaces but when we’re the minority we either have the choice of conforming to white spaces and developing an inferior mindset or unapologetically expressing our blackness while knowing it’s unwanted.

Media, false stereotypes and prejudices have made it hard to just be black. We have our persona already assumed before people get to know us. Simply being black in predominantly white spaces can have you labeled as a threat. There are many examples of this such as the police being called on two black men for just sitting in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. The men were waiting on a friend and because of this a Starbucks worker felt them to be suspicious enough to have the police called on them.

There was even an incident of a man having a police officer point a gun at him for cleaning up trash around his apartment. The police officer was suspicious if the man was allowed to be on the property, even though he told him multiple times he lived there, and pulled a gun on him when he didn’t put his trash picker down saying it was a weapon.

If you start to look at the news in the past couple of years, there has been a sickening pattern of Caucaisans getting police involved in issues that could’ve been easily settled by talking to the African American they deemed as “suspicious” or “threatening.” This is proving just how hard it is for a black person to navigate through spaces that white people don’t feel safe with us being in. This is not only racist but xenophobic because our blackness can make people feel so offended that they are scared, bias and quick to think we are a danger to the space they occupy.

In order to not be considered as “menacing,” we conform ourselves to white spaces and don’t even realize it. We don’t allow ourselves to be who we really are because our blackness might be too much for others to handle. Our blackness isn’t always seen as threatening but can easily be tagged as ghetto, aggressive or unprofessional just because of our skin color.

An example of this is Brittany Noble a former news anchor who had to straighten her hair for her job. When she decided to wear her hair naturally she was fired due to her boss claiming her natural hair to be unprofessional and looked best straightened.

Black people know that a non-black person can act a certain way and never be judged but the second we do the same thing we are labeled as a stereotype for no reason. That’s why we have to tiptoe our way through white spaces and when we don’t we become a Rashida.

Rashida is a short term character from the HBO show “Insecure” who didn’t quite understand how drastic code switching is. Code switching is the act of switching between dialects, body language etc. to fit the group of people you’re around. It can also become a tiresome job of not being your true unapologetic self because if you do, you could become too ‘ethnic’ or intruding for your white counterparts. This sadly is a thing that becomes imperative for black people working in an environment that lacks others of their racial background.

As a country, we are so used to the racism, the code switching and that we don’t even realize when it’s happening anymore. A bar has been set and if black people aren’t above that bar than we’re told we are doing something wrong. We have to shuck and jive for others to feel comfortable in spaces that their entitlement has made them claim as their own. They want to feel comfortable in these spaces but what about the millions of other people who don’t feel safe being themselves?

Our society doesn’t consider their concerns but will quickly consider how they could be a problem in drastically dramatic ways. White people aren’t the problem and neither are black people but our world has succumbed to putting the needs of the majority first and this leaves the rest of us to be seen as rebels who have nowhere to be ourselves.

Colleges like Texas State give black students the chance to make safe spaces. We have organizations where we can speak up about how we feel and not have to think about color. There’s Black Women United , Black Art Association, The Black Student Alliance, The Pan African Action Comity and even more organizations on campus that allow us to have a space we can call our own. Maybe someday we can not only have that in our student organizations but everywhere.

Featured image by Timia Cobb.

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