STUCK V... The Minority of the Minority

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

As you may have already picked up from my previous article, I have been “one of the few” in several settings. I have been “the only one” in other settings. But I have been graced to be in what I like to think are “high” places, and there I have been “one of the few” among the few. Other times, I have been “the only one” of the few. This is where I have been the minority of the minority: the paradox of being mighty but small among the small but mighty.


To be a minority of the minority is even more challenging to navigate because it adds new layers of pressure. The negative pressure worsens. “Why am I [really] here?” “Am I supposed to say something?” “Am I enough?” “Am I being tokenized?” “Will I be seen in this group photo?” (True sentiment!). I would find myself bombarded with all these questions in my mind. And the interesting thing is that amidst all this questioning, a part of me knows the answer— I earned it. I will work it. And I will leave making an impact. Having that reassurance addresses the double negative pressure I face as a minority of the minority.


Positive pressure starts to look murky in this scenario, and overcoming it becomes a struggle. I will use this experience to explain what I mean.


One time, I worked with an amazing group of young black students, who were doing action research as part of their summer experience. There was a discussion on the importance of descriptive (having people who share similar demographic characteristics with you in power) and substantive (having someone who represents your thoughts and ideas in power). This was tied to why it was important for their young, powerful voices to be heard, especially when there were some people making decisions about their lives and communities who also shared similar experiences. As the discussion prevailed, one of the participants expressed, “We can’t trust those black folks up there! They begin to think like the white folks when they get up there”. He was an eighth grader, who did not believe in the system nor the people who looked like him there. His remark stuck with me.

I would find myself bombarded with all these questions in my mind. And the interesting thing is that amidst all this questioning, a part of me knows the answer— I earned it. I will work it. And I will leave making an impact. Having that reassurance addresses the double negative pressure I face as a minority of the minority.

It stuck with me because he was speaking to a part of my experience. He was expressing a sentiment that I had heard before—several times actually—some that had been expressed humorously among family and seriously by friends and colleagues. It was this sense that you will lose a part (or all) of who you are when you get to a certain point of your life as a minority. That looking back to pull others up will be difficult. That coming back to your roots will be unbearable. That whatever you will have to offer after “moving up” will be questionable, suspicious or arouse skepticism.


It was strange to me because my efforts thus far had been guided strongly by the Sankofa (literal translation: return and go back to take it) principle. My motivation and perseverance to take the next class, apply for the next scholarship, participate in the next fellowship was because I wanted to return to my community with resources and tools for positive change. I had never thought about how my community will respond to that negatively or as a threat.

It was this sense that you will lose a part (or all) of who you are when you get to a certain point of your life as a minority. That looking back to pull others up will be difficult. That coming back to your roots will be unbearable. That whatever you will have to offer after “moving up” will be questionable, suspicious or arouse skepticism.

And the point is I get that sentiment. There are many times I came back home, and I would notice I sounded different. My language had changed. Some of my interests had changed. Some of my approach to situations had changed. On one hand, that change was evidence of transformation for me. For my folks, that was a sign of transition. And there lied the dilemma… How could I embrace this change without making me look or sound like an “other”?

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