It’s hard to be a member of a wide group of people and feel like you have to prove that you’re different from the “bad ones.” A white person may feel like it’s challenging to have to prove “I’m not racist” when the current social climate feels so charged because of what we see in the media. You may be wondering how to reassure your friends of color that you are a safe space for them. You don’t think the way the gun-toting Neo-Nazis think. You don’t behave like White Nationalists. You might even want to crawl into a hole when someone brings up the racist actions of the “Karens” because you’re afraid of being associated to that behavior. Guess what? That’s only a fraction of what your black friends feel every single day.
We live our entire lives being seen as individual representatives of an entire race of people that are just as varied as any other race. My actions and life is not a reflection of the actions and lives of every other black woman. Another black woman’s characteristics don’t necessarily tell you what to expect from me. We have shared experiences but we are not a monolith. While you will never be able to experience the world from a black person’s vantage point, start to recognize the uncomfortable feeling of being categorized based on your race, and instead of pushing against it in anger, use it to build empathy for what your black friends go through every day. Use that understanding to stop yourself and others from continuing to put us into the boxes that you have been taught we fit into. In every single race, there are wide ranges of personalities and actions, and yet for decades upon decades blacks have been constructed into narrow narratives in the media that have contributed to forming broad opinions about who we are. The limited representations sink into the psyche of non-blacks and people govern themselves accordingly.
It’s a piece if the gigantic puzzle of how we become targets of racist actions. It’s why we get followed in stores. It’s why we don’t get some jobs. It’s why we are confronted when in a neighborhood where others feel like we don’t belong. It’s sometimes pausing before getting angry because I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype of the “angry black female” even when I am in a situation where I have every right to be angry as a human being. It’s our men being seen as threatening and white folks lauding us for being “articulate” because they don’t expect us to be. Even our “friends” often try to squeeze us into those categories and that is infuriating.
It’s condescending when a white person thinks they can relate to us by quoting the lyrics to a popular rap song or changing your pattern of speech to try to prove that you’re down for the culture. On far more than one occasion, a white colleague has quoted a rap song to me and I have no idea what the hell they are talking about. More than one white person has had the nerve to say, “I’m blacker than you!” Because that’s what makes blackness??? Let me tell you something: my rap catalog hasn’t updated since the early 2000’s and I like it that way. If we’re not Backin’ Dat Ass Up, Big Pimpin’, or Dropping It Like It’s Hot, I don’t know what you’re talking about and that doesn’t make me any less black. It makes me old, but still black. And I will get down to some Three Doors Down, NSync, even Wham!… and everything in between.
Similarly, I had a white coworker who never once talked to me about movies or musical preferences until he learned that they were making a movie out of the NWA story. “Did you hear?! They’re making an NWA movie!” No, I hadn’t heard yet at the time. But because I’m black I should know that right??? (Insert sarcasm font here) While I didn’t allow these occurrences to destroy my relationships with these people, it absolutely impacted the what I perceived to be their thoughts of me and everyone that looks like me. I don’t need you to “black it up” to hang out with me. Don’t be a culture vulture. Be yourself and let who that is at it’s core shine through and either we’ll vibe with each other or we won’t, and that’s ok.
While we are talking about enjoying music and movies, let me go ahead and address this point… No, you are not allowed to use the N-word. Not even if you’re singing a song and it’s a part of the lyrics. Not even if you are quoting a Chris Rock joke. Don’t do it. Sure, you’ll get a differing opinion from a small handful of black people, but do you want to take that chance and get too comfortable and use it around someone like me who has a hard NO on the N-word? Do yourself a favor and don’t do it. The fact that some of you want to so badly is a problem. I don’t even say it. You don’t have a right to EVERYTHING.
No one likes to be put into boxes or pre-judged. Get to know your black friends for who they are, far outside of the context that you’ve been taught about what blackness is. Knowing one of us is not knowing all of us. Knowing one struggle doesn’t speak to them all. Having one black person’s opinion doesn’t mean you understand all of our experiences. We are as varied as anyone else. Understanding our struggle and being an ally is a lifetime commitment to learning about our lives and knowing you will never master it. Its not painting us with the broad strokes that come from a handful of movie and television characters. But there is something we would all agree on; DO NOT EVER TOUCH OUR DAMN HAIR! Don’t even ask.