A few weeks ago, Ralph Luker at Cliopatria noted that my blog was the only one by an African American historian they'd found. I vacillate between amazement (where are we!) and the resignation that has come from a lifetime of being "the only." I also feel a little bit red-cheeked--I'm not sure how well I'm representing black historians the way this blog veers from here to there with much-too-long stops in the world of the trivial. But I digress (Again. As usual.).
Many people write about their experiences of being the only within the context of the larger group. I've gotten somewhat used to that. Those stories don't focus on the fact that being the only can isolate you within the group with which you identify, too. And, no, I'm not going to get into the "smart-black-girl-ostracized-by-same-race-peers-for-acting-white" dynamic. My onliness is shaped not solely by my blackness, but by the fact that I am a woman and from a less-than-wealthy background. I have felt disconnected from black men in higher education/this field for various reasons, including an initial wariness of being "cliquish," a sort of gentle embarrassment that I cannot explain or even adequately express, and, unfortunately, by issues of competitiveness. It's a zero-sum game, many of us are thinking, and if the department faculty are in love with this one black student, there won't be much room for them to help the rest of us.
I suppose, in a sense, some "onlies" can be proud of where they are going, of being a trailblazer, even if it is for a group as small as a family or a neighborhood. I don't have such illusions of my own grandeur. But what I do have is a keen knowledge that even when you are used to that, when you know that there are just not many people like you, doing what you do, where you do it, onliness can still become loneliness.