The only one in the room

Imagine going to an event, where you’re excited to share your ideas about X/X/Z. You arrive, and realise that you’re the only person who looks like you in the room. Maybe it’s the first time it has happened to you, maybe it’s something you are already used to.

What does that feel like?

Gene Demby reflected on this while discussing an interesting interview on NPR. Your first tasks are to listen to the interview, and read the post.



Comedian Wyatt Cenac performs onstage at the Vulture Festival Presents: Comedy Night at The Bell House on May 31 in Brooklyn, New York. Image credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images [Header image from Death to the Stock Photo]

Demby writes:

The Stewart-Cenac exchange illustrates what those of us who are often The Only One In The Room tend to know: It sucks. But besides being personally burdensome and annoying, there’s social science that suggests that when people feel isolated as the outlier in a larger group because of their race or gender, it counteracts the benefits their “diversity” was supposed to help achieve in the first place.

While folks are (generally?) more attuned to the idea of tokenism, and building diverse groups of people in an authentic way, but often the goal to make a group more diverse (which is, let’s face it, also more focused on the group itself and its needs and success) comes at the cost of alienating the very same minority people bringing with them the cookie of diversity.

Today, reflect on what that might actually feel like. If you were ‘the only one in the room’

  • what would make your transition into the space more comfortable.
  • What would you look for in a group welcoming you in?
  • What would you look for to stay in such a group?

Write some notes based on your own feelings and imagining yourself in the group, and then try to take that knowledge into the spaces you inhabit where you aren’t the only one in the room. Are there things you can do right now to implement these changes?

2 thoughts on “The only one in the room

  1. I’m an adoptive White mom of an African-American girl, and have tried very consciously to immerse my daughter in Black culture in Chicago. In doing so, I’m often the only person who looks like me in the room/building/neighborhood. It’s important for me to remember what that feels like. And I have always been welcomed.


  2. There first time I experienced this as a white person was attending class at a community college in Santa Ana, Ca. after being raised in a nearly all white community in Illinois. To say it was hard is an understatement, but I had to continue as I needed that class. That experience was the trigger for an eye opening journey of empathy and clearly stuck with me as it was over 30 years ago. Now as a white Mom to the black children, I always keep with me that experience as I look around or community and see who in it looks like my children. I keep trying and will never quit. That one experience changed me in ways I wasnt already ready for, but I know it was either stay and learn or leave and keep my head in the sand. However, in all that I also recognize I had the safety net to return to my cultural group after class should I want it.


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