Black Sheep

Wow. I really am the only black girl here … I actually think I’m the only black person here.

Coming to ANU has forced me to reflect on the realities of attending a predominately white (or rather, predominantly non-black) institution. The first time at ANU I really noticed this was during my first law lecture. I scanned the room, as I always do, looking for someone else who looks like me. I saw one other African boy; that pleased me. I instantly felt more comfortable. I felt that we should stick together.

Oftentimes I feel like an outsider at university. I feel alienated. I feel isolated. I feel like the black sheep. (Yes, pun intended.)

Moving to Canberra and being so far away from my support networks was a struggle in itself – this is something I think most people can relate to, but I think few understand how it feels to be the only one who looks like you almost wherever you go. Oftentimes I feel like an outsider at university. I feel alienated. I feel isolated. I feel like the black sheep. (Yes, pun intended.) There are times when I go to university, walk around all day and do not see a single other black person. Hell, I could go days without seeing another black person! It’s so disheartening. I chose to come to ANU because I wanted to have the best education that I could get – I didn’t, however, realise that the cost would be feeling like this.

These feelings are not exactly a foreign phenomenon for me. During primary school, apart from my siblings, there were no other black children at the school that I attended. It was a similar situation in high school, so I’ve learned how to navigate spaces where I am the only black girl. But I really thought it would be different at university. It’s not like I researched ANU’s ethnic and racial demographics before deciding to make the move, but I didn’t think that I needed to. I was eager to join the African Students’ Association and meet more people like me, but a year on this hasn’t really happened. This is primarily because the African Students’ Association predominantly comprises of postgraduate students who are significantly older than me, and being only 18 years old, I would prefer to be around people closer to my own age. Perhaps I should try and mobilise the African Students’ Association here at ANU and make it known that it’s actually a group on campus. Maybe then there could be a place where I could find and connect with other black students.

To me, it is so important to be around people who look like me. Quite frankly, it’s not easy being different. I want that sense of camaraderie. I want to find solidarity. It’s only human nature to want to be around people like you. I want people I can talk to about Africa, and being African. I want someone who can point me to places where I can get my hair braided. I see other cultural groups which are more active on campus and get really jealous – they have balls, parties and other events. I want to have all of that with other black students here at ANU.

I’ve also felt left out in spaces in which you would think I’d belong: The Women’s Department, Ethnocultural Department and Women of Colour Collective. There is definitely a lack of diversity in these groups which I have found quite vexatious. I wanted to get more involved with these groups, but the Women’s Department is dominated by white women, and the Ethnocultural Department and Women of Colour Collective are dominated by Asian people. There are times when I’ve felt like I don’t fit into their discussions and can’t contribute as much as I would like to. Some of the discussions that take place in these spaces are really nuanced and esoteric, and I find that I can’t relate to them; this has prevented me from being more active in these groups. Because these people are the majority, they dominate discourse, and I get scared to join in. It has been really difficult for me to find solidarity in these spaces.

I remember when the Ethnocultural Department held a panel event on cultural appropriation last year, and not a single black panel member was invited to speak. Things like that are so frustrating. I hate not seeing much representation of people who look like me in forums like these. I feel like it lends to the risk of black cultural erasure and that should definitely not be happening in a forum dedicated to people of colour. It’s really problematic when spaces which are supposed to be diverse, aren’t really that diverse at all.

On one side, we have white people, and on the other, people of colour. There are, however, so many variations of people of colour.

With this, I’ve realised just how dangerous it is to group people using the current dichotomy that we seem to have: On one side, we have white people, and on the other, people of colour. There are, however, so many variations of people of colour. I am a woman of colour, but before that, I am a black woman. And I will always be a black woman. Groups like the Ethnocultural Department and the Women of Colour Collective are great for facilitating solidarity among us people of colour, but it also runs the risk of treating us all like a monolith. This doesn’t do much to acknowledge our differences and our diversity. It lumps us all together and I feel as if it almost fosters the erasure of our individual struggles. Indeed, I experience racism differently than an Indian woman does – it’s important to acknowledge this.

Obviously, one of the main reasons for the lack of representation of black students in these spaces is simply because there aren’t that many black students at ANU. I’m not really sure what can be done to alter ANU’s demographic makeup in the short term. We can’t magically bring more black people to the university so that I can feel more comfortable.

Ultimately though, I’m tired of being the only black face in the room. I am really tired of it. More can and should be done to foster additional inclusiveness and solidarity with the few of us that are here. More can be done to make us feel more welcome. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way.