This weekend the satirical film, “Dear White People” will have a limited release in selected markets. The film based on a mythical college campus radio personality purports to instruct White people in ways that will help them not seem racist. I found this premise interesting enough to write my own list of things I wish White people would do, stop doing, or just flat out know.
1. Don’t tell another Black person that some of your best friends are Black. Your association with someone doesn’t give you special insight into their experiences. I’ve had close friends who are elderly, paralyzed from stroke, or suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I have no special insight into any of those conditions.
2. Don’t touch Black people’s (especially women’s) hair. I don’t care how interesting or exotic you find my hair, please keep your hands out of it unless I invite you to touch it. And, if you do slip up and touch it, please don’t exclaim, “Oh, it’s soft!”
3. Don’t tell Black people, “I’m not a racist!” Quite frankly, NO ONE except the most virulent race haters thinks s/he is racist. The society is rife with racism. How did you escape what has become a part of the DNA of America? The system of racism is so pervasive we all are infected by it. Even Black people suffer internalized racism–their own negative feelings about being Black and other Black people. However, whatever prejudice or bias we have toward White people is not racism and there is no such thing as “reverse racism.” The REVERSE of racism would be no racism–the very thing we are all striving for.
4. Don’t tell Black people that racism is over. What you are really saying is YOU are done with it. YOU don’t want to engage in anti-racist struggle. YOU are experiencing racial fatigue…just imagine how tired Black people are of it!
5. Don’t tell Black people how “good” they have it or, in fact, they have social advantages BECAUSE of their race. Not one White person I know would be willing to change places with a Black person who is at their same economic or class station–NOT ONE! Bill Gates doesn’t want to change places with Oprah; Taylor Swift doesn’t want to change places with Beyonce and my neighbor doesn’t want to change places with me!
6. Don’t call your neighborhood or work place “integrated” because there is ONE Black family or person there. Trust me, that Black family or person does not describe their neighborhood or workplace as integrated. They will tell you that their environment is White!
7. Don’t try proving your point in an argument by citing another Black person. We don’t all think alike. Telling me what Clarence Thomas said doesn’t prove anything to me.
8. Don’t confuse Black people’s economic situation with their culture. Poverty reflects the entire society’s social arrangements. Thus, Black people adapt to their circumstances just like everyone else. The culture upon which they draw transcends socioeconomic status. The sweet potato pie in the ‘hood and the one in the “moving on up deluxe apartment in the sky” both taste good. The difference is in how often the two households can afford to make it.
9. We don’t actually need your affirmation to determine who is beautiful or handsome. We know Lupita N’Yongo is stunning and Denzel is drop dead gorgeous…so are a lot of Black folks…ordinary, everyday Black folks that you likely will never know. Go ahead and appreciate their attractiveness–don’t say it as if we need you to.
10. We rarely see your cultural appropriation as flattery. Your wearing braids, dreads, and adopting African American vernacular English to seem hip or in solidarity with Black people is actually insulting. Like scholar Audrey Thompson says in her article “Tiffany, friend of Black people,” most Whites struggle to be what they think of as “good Whites.” Part of that “goodness” takes the form of cultural appropriation where you advertise to others that you are a White “insider” among Blacks.
I know I haven’t listed all of the things White people should know about their interactions and experiences with Black people. What are some of your do’s and don’ts?
Stay Black & Smart!