The Price of Growing Up ‘The Only’ Black
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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(Image: Paul Farber)

Lee also shared that spending beyond his means became the norm in order to simply  live and integrate into the environments where he was getting an education and forming social bonds.

He says even the people who are closest to him do not understand the “disconnect” between how he seems and how he feels…a gap that is reflected in his financial choices.

“On the surface it looks like I’m doing very well. People see that I travel and that I have an exciting life, but I have low savings. When I look at my financial profile, it reflects, sadly. It’s said that your bank account reflects how you feel about yourself, and if that’s the case, I might not feel very good about myself…I can deliver the message so well, but to internalize it and practice it, that’s a moment when I get caught,” says Lee.

“By acknowledging the uncomfortable truths and accepting the complicated history we can begin to move forward and take steps to financial stability and control. I have already seen a change in my behavior since first accepting what I call my poverty consciousness. It’s not easy to admit and be so direct, but there is great benefit to acknowledging the truth and taking steps to turn it around,” he adds.

The Tools to Transcend

If you have children, get real with the fact that being “the only” is having an effect on their self-image. No matter what you tell them, it is human nature to compare ourselves to those around us. The brain uses these comparisons to help us define ourselves in ways that will last a lifetime. You really need to understand this because chances are your child is not going to realize the ways in which growing up isolated is or has affected him/her until adulthood. Also, take a compassionate look inside if you grew up in this situation.

Here are some tips that will help you and your child manage racial isolation:

– Speak about this often: Let your child know that you understand that they feel different. Experts point out that they may say “everything is fine” because they’ve had to bury these feelings in order to go into these environments each day. In addition, they don’t want to disappoint you. Discuss that it’s okay to have hard feelings and that the sensations can also serve as a reminder that being different is their greatest strength — growing pains mean something is getting bigger.

–  Focus your child’s (and your) attention on where they really come from: It too often feels like our history starts with slavery. Africans were chosen to build this country because they have so many amazing skills and are among the best nation builders on the planet. We’re kings, queens, merchants, etc. Immerse your child in their history. Only the truth of who they really are can fill the very image gap we strive so hard to prevent in the first place. Set them free.

– Get help: One of the most important things we can do as parents is to know when our children are in situations we do not have the tools to deal with. The Independent School Diversity Network is a wonderful resource.

– Don’t ‘tragedy’ compare: Responses like “You don’t know what racism is,” or “You don’t know what tough times are,” belittle your child’s experience. Pain and rejection feel the same for all of us. We just have different story lines to get us there. Your child’s hurt doesn’t feel any less than hurt you’ve felt. Three great rules of listening:

1. If you are thinking of your own experience
2. If you are judging what someone says as “good,” “bad,” or “not valid”
3. If you are thinking of your response, you are not listening.

Step away from these tendencies and just listen. There will be time for us to all share our stories.

Share your thoughts with me on Twitter: @stisdale1

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