“Can you think of an experience when you felt unwelcome, or that you didn’t belong? What was the situation? What did you perceive the signals to be? How did that make you feel?”
This is a storytelling prompt we use at Share More Stories to understand how and why people can feel excluded, unwelcome or that they don’t belong — and give leaders insight into what it takes to create truly inclusive brands, experiences and communities.
It’s not hard for me to come up with a number of memories. But the one that comes to mind is the time when I walked into an amazing brewery in Scott’s Addition in Richmond, Virginia. A cool place, AMAZING beers, and I was the only Black person, in fact the only person of color for at least a while, and I felt like I stuck out. Now I had been here before, and while I was often the only Black person those times as well, I didn’t necessarily feel unwelcome those times. Maybe a little “other,” but not necessarily that I didn’t belong. But this time, it was a Saturday afternoon. The place was packed. There were so many people in the place, there was a distinct style of dress that was commonplace, and I was definitely the “only one.” So why did I feel like I stuck out? Because I watched people watch me as I walked through the place. They didn’t look at other people the same way. I always try to smile and make eye contact, especially when I’m the only one, and when people look away or don’t smile back, that says something. Especially when I see them give friendly looks to other people who don’t look like me, and whom they don’t appear to know personally (I’m observant). So I drank my beer and played with my phone and waited for my friend to come. Eventually she showed up and I was able to relax and take my attention off of feeling like I didn’t belong and just enjoy time with my friend.
If you’ve ever had an experience like this — for any number of reasons — you know it’s not fun. And if you’ve never had an experience like this, it’s an opportunity for you to examine your privilege and also seek out experiences and places you aren’t totally familiar with or comfortable in. It can help you understand what it feels like, and perhaps inspire you to work harder to create inclusive spaces.
So that’s my story. I’d love to hear yours. Nothing is too heavy or too insignificant. The point is to understand one another’s experiences, and I’m here to listen. What say you?