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The History of “Special Snowflake” Syndrome (And Why You Should Stop Using The Term)

The History of “Special Snowflake” Syndrome (And Why You Should Stop Using The Term)

People are quick to insinuate that a Black person who talks about being bullied or “othered” by another Black person for being different thinks they are a “special snowflake”.

I remember the first time I came across the term “special snowflake”. It was from a comment on Twitter (of course) about a tweet someone posted about self-acceptance. The OP posted that she was happy that liking anime and being scholarly were becoming more accepted in the Black community so that kids don’t feel the need to hide it like she felt the need to hide it growing up in the 80s/90s.

Someone then commented something along the lines of “Nobody bullied you because nobody cares. Stop with the special snowflake ish”.

Depending on where you grew up, this may have been true. If you grew up in a city like New York where it is very diverse in the classrooms and in the neighborhoods, your chances of being bullied specifically for liking something like anime or alternative rock music were probably minimal.

If you grew up in say, the south, or a city where the suburbs and the city were very distinct both geographically and demographically, you probably have more experience with having to defend your interest or just hiding them.

So let’s get back to the term: special snowflake.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, it basically is meant to refer to someone who thinks that their interests are rare compared to the mainstream societal expectations and that because they are not “typical” that they are better than others of their same community.

As someone who comes across a fair share of quirky, Black people, I’d say that it is rare to find someone who truly thinks that they are special because of what they like, so where is this misconception coming from?

A lot of this separation and misconception stems back to both the segregation of schools and neighborhoods throughout the south and midwest prior to the Civil Rights Movement and forced attempts at desegregation through busing and rezoning.

The idea behind busing was to allow some Black students the “opportunity” to get the same education of white people even though they didn’t live in the same affluent neighborhood. Ya know, instead of making all schools equally as resourceful…

Who were the few Black students that were bused away to these schools. The “gifted” or “special” students. 

I have a friend who is currently in her 20s and recalls experiencing busing. First she started in the accelerated classes at her majority Black school in a very rural town, but once she placed out academically, she was encouraged to attend a different school in which she was one of the only Black students. It would take her almost an hour to be driven to school, but her parents were willing to do it for her education.

After some time being in her school with only white people, she of course made white friends and became interested in some of their hobbies. But after a while, her friends from her previous school started to comment on how she “talks white” and how the things that she liked where “white people things”.

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Of course not every person who is called a “special snowflake” by their peers experienced busing, but a lot were one of the only Black people in their environments either due to the neighborhood that they grew up in or by how much scholarly “giftedness” their teachers believe they had. Many were in honors or AP (Advanced Placement) courses and therefore had different homerooms and different guidance counselors that put different pressures on them than other students because they are “gifted”.

In reality, most Black people don’t think of themselves a “special snowflakes”. It’s actually non-Black people trying to tell us that we are different.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard from a non-Black person, “you are not like most Black people.” Whether it be from a Black person liking anime, or dyeing their hair a pastel color, or talking a certain way or attending Warped Tour and listening to As I Lay Dying or any rock song (which we should all know that Black people invented rock n roll, but I digress), it seems that everyone not Black had a say during most of our childhood or what was and wasn’t Black.

So what happens when you are a Black person that grows up around a majority of non-Black people who have an undeniably narrow-minded stereotype of what it means to be Black?

Everything that you do or like that doesn’t fit this stereotype is seen as special.

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