I was reading Robin Diangelo’s ‘White Fragility: Why is it so hard for White People to talk about Racism?’ where she succinctly explained that race was an evolving social idea created to legitimise and normalise racial inequality, and to ultimately protect white advantage. The term ‘white’ first appeared in colonial law in the late 1600s.
Robin compared prejudice to discrimination, and explained that whilst everyone is susceptible to prejudicial thoughts, people need at least be aware of their ‘White Fragility’ so they can start taking tangible steps towards clearing their biases. The distinction, she explained, is whilst prejudice is our prejudgments about another person’s social group, showing themselves as thoughts, feelings, stereotypes, attitudes, generalisations and belief systems, and which are – worst of all - not grounded on any logical or factual merit, discrimination is the next step up when we start acting upon this prejudice. Actions may include ignoring, excluding, threatening, ridiculing, slandering and committing acts of violence, and ultimately, render social interactions that are not founded on being equitable or colour blind. When prejudice and discrimination weave together in our lives, they create a series of microaggression, including but not limited to snarl and offensive comments made off the cuff.
So let’s just focus on these offensive comments for a moment and clear the air with what we need to avoid saying to the next black person we meet!
First off… the classic one.
1. Can you twerk?
Never ask a black woman this! Other than it being outright objectifying and ignorant, you’re quite frankly painting all black women with a broad brush - they're not all twerking from the bathroom to the grocery store. I mean sure, twerking originated in Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa when a similar dancing style called Mapouka came about. But this brings on stereotype number two, not all Black people are African!
The word was first used in the 1820s as ‘twirk’ which meant a twisting or jerking movement or twitch. Later, it was popularised by Cyrus’s raunchy dance move at the MTV Award show. The Oxford dictionary considers twerking to be ‘sexually provocative’, and to paint every black person as synonymous with this is simply demeaning to every black person you know or don’t know.
2. Can I touch your hair?
Women are not a showcase or a toy for you to play with. Sure, the curls may look ‘different’, but their curls are not an open door for you to touch or give your opinion on it. Your curiosity is probably best channelled elsewhere – like really.
3. You don’t even sound black!
There’s too many issues with this statement to even begin unpacking! To begin with, is black even an accent? And what does ‘black’ even sound like? Urban? We don’t comment on Margaret Thatcher’s accent.
4. I’m darker than you
Is that meant to make them feel better or make them sympathise with you? Whoever invited you to start playing the ‘victim card’? Let’s just stop reducing our conversations to the melanin in our skin. After all, there are far more pressing world issues that can be discussed, like climate change, surveillance, inequality or governmental corruption, right?
5. You are so aggressive!
“Serena Williams and the trope of angry black women”
Have we ever delved into the story behind a person’s “aggressive outcry”?
We don’t look at the destitute with no food, the homeless, country-less, and label them as aggressive. And that’s exactly what black people and every person from BAME communities have been fighting for years. So let’s stop analysing the ‘micro reaction’ and more on the ‘macro systems’ that’s provoking the response.
6. Wow. You are so articulate.
Do we assume black people are just into their hip hop, street lingo and can’t put together a clever sentence together? Get it together and go listen to Michele Obama’s speeches, Candace Owens and while you’re at it, also the US Rep, Ilhan Omar. We can most certainly take a leaf, or two out of their book.
7. You are pretty for a Black girl.
Standards of beauty have been widely problematic, widely warped by Eurocentric beauty standards and other troublesome, and racially discriminatory innuendos like the Cream’s Ad: “Fair & Lovely.”
8. “You’ll be fine, you are a strong black woman.”
Not all women are Oprah Winfrey or Maya Angelou and even they have their lows! Don’t start with your endearing sweeping statements when all you’re really doing is hurting people with your ignorance. Other problematic statements you want to avoid:
‘I love Stormzy too…’
‘Have you got any weed?’
‘The N Word’
‘Oi Blud Wagwan’
‘Oh, I’d love to go Africa’ – not all black people are from Africa!
‘I bet you love fried chicken’
‘Oh it feels so real’ [touching hair]
I’ve always wanted to try a black girl.
'You’re so exotic'
‘I love a chocolate girl’
‘You’re so urban’
'I hope things change soon'
'Look I got a tan and I’m almost as dark as you'
Collective change begins with one educated mind trickling down, and shedding the marks of systemic oppression and racism from the physicality’s of Edward Colston, Robert Milligan and soon, the loaded words we use that reflect our intolerance, narrow-mindedness and bigotry.
Black Lives Matter. Words Matter.
At Articulately [www.articulately.co.uk/], we give people the tools to reflect on their own biases and misconstrued or limited perceptions, whilst identifying these prejudicial innuendoes in every book, news outlet or article they consume.
For more on Robin Diangelo’s White Fragility, get in touch and I’ll send you the copy of the eBook. It’s a fascinating read!