I excel at making people uncomfortable.
Early on at boarding school, I'd had enough of my roommate. She didn't like that I woke up at 5 a.m. for ice-skating lessons. I didn't like that she listened to Hall and Oates. She claimed that figure skating wasn't a real sport, thus not worth disturbing her sleep for. I retorted by saying it was more of a sport than her beloved field hockey, which isn't even in the Olympics, and that Hall and Oates would make shitty long-program music. (Forget everything you've seen on the CW, this is how privileged teens argue.)
Her complaints about sleep were more valid than mine until things escalated and she added that being black was not an excuse for also getting up earlier on weekends to do my hair. Which, she added, never looked "right" anyway. At that point, I decided that it was time for her to leave and made fast work of planning her exit from my life. I won't incriminate myself with details, but it's fair to say that by Christmas she had decided that a roommate who'd suddenly started practicing an invented amalgamation of Wiccan and Yoruba worship that involved fire and chanting in tongues was not ideal.
I excel at making people uncomfortable, both because I can reach Drake-versus-Meek levels of petty (see above) and because I exist every day as a black woman.
Earlier this year, Wyatt Cenac spoke candidly on the WTF Podcast about a fight over a racial joke he had with The Daily Show host Jon Stewart, his former boss. The argument escalated in part because Cenac was attempting to do his best to represent his race while being the only black man in the room. Cenac's comments ripped the curtain away from the secret a lot of us live with. Being The Only One — the only black girl, the only Latina, the only Asian woman — in a room is a common reality but not one you're supposed to talk about.
The realization doesn't happen for us all at the same time; it can depend on the homogeneity of where you grow up, go to school, and eventually settle. But whether it's being The Only One in your Brownie troop, or The Only One in your first real job at a tech firm, it's an eventual American reality.
It hit me for the first time when I was still in school pondering the competition makeup my synchronized-skating team had purchased in bulk, in shades that flattered every girl on the team except the only black girl. In a way, I'd already known the truth of the world, but this was confirmation. My long relationships with geek culture and various suburban-white-kid hobbies (like figure skating) mean I've long been used to being The Only One in a room. I know that before I can really begin to enjoy myself in a space, I will have to colonize it and terraform it to accommodate me.
Sometimes it's challenging Western standards of professional beauty by showing up to a workplace with natural hair and shutting down awkward comments ("The city's so humid today, we both have afros!" says a blonde with a slight frizz to her beachy waves) until your hair becomes unremarkable. Colonizing can be a teenager challenging her English teacher to include nonwhite voices in the curriculum so that her classmates have to at least consider a point of view closer to her own. It can be a little black girl bringing hip-hop to the ice rink because that's the music she wants to perform to. For black women colonization is no more than making sure you can exist comfortably and feel acknowledged in a space — in other words, to feel no more and no less than just human. And yes, your humanity is going to make the status quo uncomfortable.