When You’re a Minority in a Majority World

 Woman Looking ThoughtfulI was getting my morning cup of coffee, and while waiting to pay I saw others hand their money to the clerk and leave. When I attempted to do the same, another clerk rudely stated to me that she was helping someone. So I waited in line, watching others who came in after me be served before me. As I walked back to my office, a wave of emotions ran through me. Initially I was fuming. Why should I have to wait when others didn’t? Is it because I’m black? Was she being discriminatory? I thought to myself.

This is a place that I frequent with regularity, even going out of my way to get my coffee there because the staff is usually very friendly. So I began to doubt myself. The clerk who was rude was a different clerk than the one who took the people’s money. Was she a new employee? Did she not know that she could just take my money? Or maybe she was just having a bad day? My mind was racing with questions.

There I was, vacillating between anger and doubt and confusion from a seemingly simple interaction. This swirl of emotions is par for the course when you’re a minority or part of an oppressed group. We encounter these thoughts and questions and anxieties and doubts about the meaning or intent of others’ actions on a regular basis.

This is not to say others are always being racist/sexist/heterosexist/fill-in-the-blank. On the contrary, many times they aren’t. But this process of questioning and wondering is what we go through on a daily basis. We have to feel, review, and process these little interactions all the time, and it is an incredible weight to carry.

“Samantha,” who works at a law firm, is often asked if she’s bringing a date to social functions. Initially her coworkers asked her occasionally, but now it seems like multiple people, including her boss, are hounding her every time there’s a function. She isn’t out as a lesbian at work and wonders why her colleagues keep asking her about her private life. Are they trying to find out if she’s gay? If they do find out, will she lose her job? Or do they just want to know her personally? Samantha doesn’t know, but the thoughts and questions are a constant presence for her.

Whenever you are part of a minority that regularly interacts with the majority, there are additional layers of thought and emotional processing that occurs. There is so much unconscious and invisible energy that goes toward deciphering the intent and motives of others. And then there are our own emotions while we consider what, if any, action to take. As we consider our options, we also consider any possible consequences or retribution. If Samantha brings a female date to the next happy hour, will people treat her differently? Will work become uncomfortable and unpleasant? Will it affect her boss’ perception and perhaps review of her? All of this requires a significant amount of emotional and even physical energy that can be exhausting.

So what can you do about it? As overwhelming as this is, there are ways to move through it. The first step is to acknowledge the burdens that you carry. Acknowledge that there are times when being a woman or gay or Muslim or Latino (or part of any minority group) is challenging. Acknowledge that being part of a minority means constantly attempting to discern people and situations that are discriminating against you from those who are not. There are times when it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine, while at other times it can be crystal clear. Acknowledge that this continuous questioning in your mind exists.

The next important step is to manage and cope with these emotions and experiences. Find friends and family members to talk to. Determine who will be supportive and understanding of you and your experiences and talk with them. Writing is another excellent way to cope with your emotions. It allows you to express your emotions without holding them inside and gives you a much-needed release. Exercise is another great coping mechanism. It is a physical way to expel your anger, sadness, and frustration. Go for a run, speed walk around the block, or do push-ups in your office to release the emotions.

Letting go is the final and most important step. This is an acquired skill and something that takes practice. Acknowledging and coping with the challenges are useful in managing your day-to-day life. But the ability to let go of the pain, anger, and confusion allows to you be more joyful and not hold onto the painful experiences that may occur throughout your day. Some people use prayer or meditation to let go. Others can let go after they exercise and feel the release in their body. Talking to someone who understands and has similar experiences helps me to let go. I also find that practicing gratitude and appreciation for what is good in my life helps me to let go.

What works for you? How do you manage the thoughts, emotions, and anxieties that come from being a minority?

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  • Anita

    Anita

    September 25th, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    I have never experienced this as I am Caucasian and I even work in a field that is predominantly female oriented. With that being said while I don’t know how it feels I do have friends who have relayed these same kinds of stories and it breaks my heart for them to think that even today with all of the advances that have been made that this is something that this country still struggles with. For some it really it is a battle that they face and for some I find that it is more just on a personal level, but no matter how you exeprince it it doesn;t make it any less than what it is and I would only hope that one day evryone can see past the color of one’s skin to the real person inside, that the outside will no longer matter so much.

  • miranda r

    miranda r

    September 26th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    You have to know that once you have experienced this over so many years you will feel beaten down and defeated, even before you sometimes begin.

    That, along with the discrimination that in reality you actually could be dealing with, could be a real hindrance in getting ahead for most people.

  • ToRi

    ToRi

    September 27th, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    I don’t wish to stir the pot here because I do know that there are times when those of color face blatant discriomination because of their race and that is altogether WRONG. But I also think that there are times when maybe this is used as an excuse too, maybe they didn’t do their best and someone somewhere could use this as their crutch? I would hate to even think that this would happen because I think that this diminishes the legitimate cause but I am sure that somewhere along the way it has and I think that that aspect of this has to stop. It has to feel like a challenge to get people to look beyond the color of your skin, to always feel like you have to be more and be better to succeed, and I can see getting very worn out very easily from having to constantly run that kind of race.

  • D'avon

    D'avon

    September 29th, 2013 at 9:10 AM

    Sometimes you get kind of immune to it all. You just have to try to rise above it and make people forget about the outside package, see beyond that to the real you.

    It takes some work on your part, but if you can get them to open their eyes, think about the world of possibilities that you could be opening up for them and for yourself, so all that hard work might actually be worth it and worth something bigger.

  • loren

    loren

    September 30th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    It all depends on what you choose to be sensitive about. If it is about my cup of coffee, not so much. But if it is about me not getting a job because of something like that, then that becomes a problem. Not really sure what I would do if I was confronted with that.

  • Joe J

    Joe J

    June 28th, 2017 at 4:42 AM

    “majority world” Whites are a minority in this world and shrinking as a proportion of it, while the black population is booming. Why do whites need to pay for your self-inflicted Malthusian crisis while you go on about perceived “micro aggressions” at coffee shops…

  • F.

    F.

    July 10th, 2017 at 12:04 PM

    Joe J screw your entitled white supremacist attitude. Soon one day whites will be 2nd class and you will know the feeling of being treated second class.

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