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The struggles of being the only black person in the room

By HILARY KIMUYU September 2nd, 2015 2 min read

Traveling, as they say, brings out the best in you.

You get to interact with different cultures and see things you have only seen in the movies. Snow, leaves turning from green to orange, the weather dipping to minus 30 degrees or during summer the scotching heat wave.

So if you thought Garissa or Mombasa was humid think again.

Apart from all that, one of the inner struggles I had to undergo in my travels was the awkwardness of being the only black person in the room.

Here are 6 things I had to go through by just being the only black person in a group of Caucasians.

1. Being expected to speak for black people on a any racist issue

While working in South Korea, a young white co-worker from Massachusetts asked me; “As a black man, how do you feel about the police killing black people in the US?”

First of all I am from Kenya and what happens in the US…well, I just read it or watch it on the news.


It’s a seemingly innocuous question and I know for a fact that he meant no ill-will. He was genuinely curious and the subsequent conversation was really productive.

But there are times when people ask such questions to figure out what kind of black person you are.

After telling him my views, he said, “Oh, you’re one of those radical black people.”

2. When rap/hip-hop music comes on and you’re expected to know all the words

Honestly, my knowledge of most music is pretty passive. Things are brought to me or I stumble on stuff.


There are people that voraciously seek new music. I am not one of those people.

So, when it comes on at parties, white people sort of eye you expectantly. It’s usually here that I mysteriously have to use the bathroom. Or,

3. When “California Love” comes on and everybody gets way too excited

It’s a cool song, don’t get me wrong, but white people really take it to another level. It’s almost cultish.

They throw up the west side “W” with their hands and act all… you know what I mean.

When “Sweet Caroline” comes on, I don’t start putting mayonnaise on everything.



4. Fitting a stereotype

I can’t swim. Straight up. Like, I can barely tread water. So, if ever there’s a pool, I avoid it and tell people so.

Half the time people are amazed that I can’t swim (a reasonable reaction). To be clear: It is just a stereotype. I’m not the only Kenyan or black person who can’t swim.

5. Not fitting a stereotype

It’s almost worse than fitting a stereotype because all of a sudden you’re not black but African.

For some white people, after learning I was from Africa, they expected me to mostly wear African attire every time we went out… yeah I have a Maasai shuka but you don’t expect me to be wrapping it all the time.

6. Wondering if you should mention that something is actually super racist.

It doesn’t even have to be about black people necessarily, but bringing up race as the only black person in the room can exasperate white folks.

“Here we go again,” their body language seems to say.

If it’s in the workplace, it can be a tense moment. Do you call your colleagues out or even your boss and put yourself at risk?