And now you know. People who know better should do better.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Ten things you should never say to a Black man.
(Disclaimer: When I say Black, I mean those whose ancestors were brought to the USA to be slaves.)
You probably saw it coming since I declared my love and allegiance for my people. There are things I see on television or hear in mixed company that occasionally make me angry. I have especially heard some things during a time when I was the token or "good" Negro. There are some things that some people, not necessarily White, say that they don't know are offensive, but we brothers are offended by them all the same.
Here they are:
1. "Your mother is--"
Unless you are riding a person in the locker room, or on the front porch, or unless you are about to pay a complement, NEVER talk about a Black man's mother. His mother may be sweeter than peach cobbler, or maybe she always gave him the belt or even the 'stention cord, but no one gets a Black man's loyalty more than his mother. Insult her, and a civilized Black man will distance himself from you. A less civilized one will give you a new face, and the worst will bust a cap in your--
2. "Why can't you just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and make something of yourselves? We did, and we made it."
This statement usually comes from a person whose ancestors came from Southern, Central, or Eastern Europe. Some of these same people have a history of discrimination as well. Nevertheless, their oppression was nothing compared to what we experience. In fact, and I may be stepping on toes, but the discrimination these people faced can be equated to college hazing--some suffering a person must experience for a period before they can be accepted into the group. These individuals may have been dark, non-Protestant, and spoke a non-Teutonic language, but they were European and had a potential to become White or at least near-White. In fact, a few people of these groups have committed discrimination, and even hate crimes, to distance themselves from Blacks or to prove how White they are. No matter what a Black man does, he can never be considered anywhere close to White. Because of this, a Black man must work extra hard, be extra moral, and speak extra eloquently in order to get somewhere in America. Frederick O'Neal says it best in the movie Take a Giant Step: "A colored boy must be better than anyone else just to wind up as good as anyone else."
3. "What's up, nigga!"
Unless you are also a Black man, this statement will definitely offend a Black man. In fact, you may be darker than Wesley Snipes, and some Blacks will still be angered by this statement. The same with any comment pertaining to dark color. It does not matter if you end the word with an a; we will respond the same way as if it ended with an r. There is nothing positive about this word--no matter who says it and why. Just don't say it.
4. "It's okay--My best friend/spouse/neighbor is Black."
This is sometimes related to the third taboo. First, you might or might not be down, but you don't have it like that. Second, how would they feel about what you are saying? Unless they are spineless or content being tokens, they would be just offended as me. You don't have to be down for us to like you. In fact, when you try too hard, you come across as patronizing or even mocking. Just be yourself.
5. "He had to have done something."
This is typically said when a Black man has been beaten or shot by a cop or civilian, but it is very insensitive. Believe it or not, there are racist cops out there who will attack or murder a Black man with little thought, no matter how obliging he may be or how respected he is. Remember how Dr. Henry Louis Gates was arrested and accused of breaking into his own home? This is why all Black men become nervous, even scared, when they are pulled over by cops. They never know if they will be confronted by a good cop or a Klansman in blue. And let's not forget the cop who broke a window over children and tasered a Black man who was not even resisting.
6. "As a Black person, what do you think of…"
Oh, so since I am Black, I represent all of my people, and we all think the same? This is the no different than saying we look the same. Newsflash: we are individuals, and we have our own beliefs. Believe it or not, there are Black Republicans, Blacks who hate hip hop and soul music, and Blacks who thought Ojay Simpson was guilty. How would you feel if I said, "As a White person…" or "As an Asian person…"?
7. "That's so ghetto."
This comment is more elitist than it is racist. Ironically, celebrities have tried to snuff out the statement , "That's so gay," but "That's so ghetto" is untouched. What makes it so offensive is that it is often said by one who does not know what it is truly like to be so poor that you are forced to live in the slums. They have never been hassled by cops just for walking down the streets. They have never been humiliated enough to be forced to use food stamps. They never have been forced to choose between paying the light bill and paying the rent. They never found thrift store clothes to be a luxury. And, they can take evening walks without having to worry about being robbed, raped, or shot. Typically, they use this phrase to talk about things that are below their standards. The sad fact is, in the 21st Century, Blacks and Latinos are the people who are most likely to live in "ghettoes," so when you call something ghetto, you are latently, unintentional as it may be, stating that Blacks and Latinos are below your standards. So, you heard a Black person use the phrase too? Well, if they grew up in or around depressed urban areas, they have it like that. You don't.
8. "Why are you so sensitive? You are making something out of nothing."
It's nothing to you because you don't go through what we do. Maybe we are so sensitive because the rest of the world is so insensitive. What would happen to you if you sassed a cop? How many interviews does it take for you to get a job? When you do get the job, how confident are you that you had gotten it because of your potential and abilities and not the color of your skin? When do women hold onto their purses when you join them in the elevator? How much do people condemn your anger, as justified as it may be? I was warned once to never lose my temper in front of White people because even justified anger can be used against me in ludicrous ways. If I yell, I am considered a threat. Until you have lived a Black man's life for one week, you will never understand our fears and anxieties. A sociology professor of mine once took all of the White students in the hall and asked them how much money would it take for them to agree to become Black. While one person said, "I'll do it for free," others have asked for millions or billions of dollars, and there were those who said, "Not for all the money in the world." This should tell you something.
9. "You are a man; you have privilege over women."
Hello? Have you been freaking listening? Our being men almost never means anything, and to say this will really work a Black man up. Except for those who are rich, there is not one Black man who has privilege over women--even Black women. All women are more likely to be hired at a job than Black men. They are more likely to be respected, promoted, and supported. They are less likely to be shot by cops, and they can do the exact same crime as a Black man, but they will always get the lighter sentences. The only jobs Black men have privilege over women are those dealing with security or brawn. Besides, how many women, besides Black women, have been kidnapped and brought to this country as slaves or have been subjected to hate crimes? How many hate groups have been created to control and kill women? The fact is, all women have privilege over Black men in this country. Always have, and probably always will.
10. "Why don't you talk/act Black?"
This is often directed towards educated or affluent Black men. While the people who say these things usually don't mean any harm, it is an offensive stereotype that suggests that we are all the same, which brings us back to taboo six. It is very simple: a Black man who wants to get anywhere in America speaks proper English, dresses appropriately, and behaves with self-respect and common sense. While I often use Black expressions, I have no use for Ebonics and filthy language; these are for those who love being ignorant. Plus, it is those who behave the stereotypes who make things difficult for other Blacks. Attaching an ethnicity to a behavior puts everyone in corners, which kills chances for harmony and dialogue.