Things not to say to a black man

There seems to be a lot of people speaking for others these days.

I really have tried to to abstain from talking about something like this, but this Instagram post recently came to my attention and of course as you can tell by the title it really spoke to me. Take a look at the post below from @chnge:

As you can see it’s a series of things you shouldn’t say to a black man. Now, me being a black man by definition I was really intrigued to see what things people shouldn’t say to me.

In a time when there should be a lot of listening happening, it seems as though people just want to talk because they believe they are doing something for the greater good, which is fine. If you witness an injustice then by all means speak out. But only because you perceive yourself to be doing the right thing it doesn’t mean that you are. And once you put yourself out there you’re going to have people who challenge you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Let me just start by saying. As with EVERY blog post I write, I only speak for myself. That is the only person I can speak for. Nothing I say is “right” or “fact” they are simply my opinions and you are free to disagree or agree as much as you like. It is okay to disagree, it is even okay to be offended sometimes. of course I have no intention of offending anyone but with any topic as sensitive as race that is the risk you run.

Speaking of speaking for myself, after I read the slides on the post I was really curious to know if it was made by a black man. It was not, which is probably its first mistake. I really do think it delegitimises it a bit but every body is free to have their own opinion. I believe it was written by a black woman but I will give her the benefit of the doubt and take it for what it is because I am certain that there are numerous black men out there that agree with everything in the post.

What I want to do is look at each slide individually and give my commentary on what has been said. I am not writing this to completely contest every point made, some things I agree with but there are also things that I personally take issue with. Seeing as this post was written for me I think I should be able to challenge it.

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So, I personally find it weird when anyone says that they only date people of a specific racial group. But that is only because that is not something I do. However, having said this, I also understand that people have their “preferences” and tastes. Who people want to date is up to them and they can have whatever reasons they like. Yes, some of those reasons may be due to the fetishisation of black men but could there be another reason? Maybe it is unexplained. When does an appearance preference become fetishisation? Or is a preference always because of fetishisation? To be honest I have never met someone so absolute about it but I know numerous people who say they tend to go for black guys. Again, I don’t know what their reasons or intentions are but they are allowed to have them whether we like it or not. Also, let’s not be blind to the fact that there are black men that play off these fetishises. Is this also a problem? For me, not really, but I can understand why it would be for some. I don’t outright disagree with this slide but I do think there is probably more at play than just fetishising. Jokes about jungle fever and loving the taste of chocolate, yes, is racially motivated but I don’t find it gross. Jokes like these can have their place in relationships but also people are well within their right to denounce them.

Let me just start by saying I don’t think using the term “Karen” is the best way to get your point across and for people to take you seriously. I don’t think it makes sense to use a stereotype in a post that is trying to end negative stereotypes. But that’s just me, I digress. Erm, yeah I am not on board with this one, especially the “400 years of systemic oppression” line. The average human of western society is aware of racism historically and I think we can all appreciate how disadvantaged black people have been in the past. What I don’t get is how people correlate being black today with those years of oppression. Yes, history of course has impacted the present. Generational wealth, redlining, racial stereotyping but I don’t feel as though I am carrying a heavy burden of historical racism with me today and I think it would be disingenuous of me to claim so. I can understand why this would not be something you’d say to a black person but I would think it would be more to do with colourism which is actually an issue amongst black people. We all know about the “lighty” trope and generally darker skin has been seen as less desirable. Of course the statement itself at face value is meant in jest and to me personally I would not take offense. I would’ve actually liked more clarity on what she meant by a “loaded comment” to better understand where she is coming from and I really don’t identify with the last line as if living in black skin is a struggle every single day. Again, I speak for myself because for me it isn’t.

This one is pretty straightforward and I absolutely agree with the sentiment of what is being said. Not every black person is the same, and it’s not our job to match some pre-conceived notion of what you think a “black man” is. So yeah, this one, definitely don’t say it.

Haha, sorry. Sometimes I just have to laugh. Because it is just so ridiculous. Going back to the first slide though, what is gross is the possibility that people do limit themselves to black men because of this stereotype. So I wholeheartedly agree, definitely stay away from this one.

Alright, this one is the one I probably had the biggest issue with and is probably worthy of a blog post all in itself. You might have to bare with me. I have a lot of thoughts. We all know the phrase “I don’t see colour” it’s people’s attempts to illustrate that their not racist which I believe is truly rooted in good intentions. I can also understand the point being made in the slide, that we should acknowledge people’s experiences and sometimes those experiences are because of race. Now, contrary to what has been written, if someone said this to me I would not find it harmful in the slightest and I’ll tell you why. I’ve thought about this a lot. One thing you need to understand is that racism also exists because people see colour. They notice you’re black then automatically make assumptions about you, right? Now, is that so different to the reasoning being made in this slide? For a lot of black people, being black is a huge part of their identity and heavily impacts the way they interact with the world. But also for a lot of black people, it isn’t. For me I actually rather you didn’t see colour because I don’t want you drawing your own conclusions about what you think my “experiences” are because of my skin colour. Just by talking to me you will know what my experiences are and if being black has had a significant affect on them. Seeing colour is also why affirmative action and diversity workplace schemes exist. Now I am not saying that these things are bad, but I know that I would prefer to be hired by a blind employer than someone who took my race into consideration. If you are able to be advantaged because you fall into an ethnic minority, at that same token you are able to be discriminated against. At least then I know that I wasn’t chosen to reach a diversity quota or because someone has perceived me to be disadvantaged. I can compete with anyone on an even playing field. I do not need a leg up. Did all that make sense? I think when people do say that they “don’t see colour” they’re not necessary saying that they are dismissing your experiences based on race. I always saw it as not treating or making assumptions about you because of your race and I would much rather that was the case.

I think this point is overly generalised. People can be aggressive, so yes black men can be aggressive. Now whether calling a black man aggressive is justified in a specific situation is up for debate but it doesn’t have to be rooted in this historic stereotype of how black men have been portrayed. As a black man, I have to be open to criticism without it being founded in a deeper racial context. I mean I’m not really an aggressive person anyway, so if someone did say it, maybe it is advocating a stereotype… OR maybe on this rare occasion I was being aggressive. And the term “aggressive” is so subjective anyway. How do we even define it? Like you can’t just say “Black men aren’t aggressive”. What do we say when a black man is actually being aggressive? As much as people need to take responsibility for what they say and who they say it to we also need to be accountable for our own actions and allow a space for people to openly critique without fear of a more sinister subterranean racial element.

This statement doesn’t even make sense and you should really take a long hard look at yourself if you’ve ever said this to someone. I won’t lie, there are times when you hear someones voice and you just know it’s a black person. No? Maybe that’s just me. But, to suggest that there is a way to sound black is quite frankly stupid. There is no one way to be black, no 1 way to sound black. One thing about these slides that I’m finding frustrating is that they makes these claims, such as “This comment highlights the subtle nuances of racism depicted in American media” I would have loved it if they gave a quick example but of course I understand why this wasn’t done. But anyway, this just goes back to completely obliterating that conceived idea of what a black man is in your head. Always check your biases, your thoughts rarely depict reality accurately. Also what does she mean by “Oppress black men at work”? Would love to hear more on this if anyone has any thoughts.

“Feeling a sense of belonging is already tricky for black folks”. This is an assumption made after they denounced making assumptions. Some black people have no issues finding a sense of belonging. There are numerous places where this can be found. A lot of church communities are predominantly black, especially in and around London there are whole towns that are populated by masses of black people. Not to suggest that you can only find a sense of belonging through people with the same skin colour as you but that is the argument I felt was being made. I could be wrong of course. It’s funny though because I look back on my life and everytime I used to travel within the UK with my family we always used to try and find other black people. Because once you get out of London, especially up north it’s usually predominantly white. But I mean this is okay. I think it’s almost innate for any ethnic minority to seek out people that look like them really. But speaking more on the point of belonging, I was one of very few black people that worked in my office in Liverpool but by the end of my time there I certainly felt a sense of belonging. It had nothing to do with my race it was because everyone I worked with shared the same love of travel and camp. This slide is similar to the last, just as there is no way to sound “black” there’s also no way to sound “white”. Let’s not forget that “black” and “white” are very broad terms and theres so many different ethnicities and cultures that make up these racial groups. None of them have a monopoly on what it means to be “black” or “white”.

Couldn’t disagree with this one more. Sometimes a compliment can just be a compliment. Like I said before with black men being able to take criticism without racial undertones, we should also be able to do the same with compliments. As someone who has always had problems with articulation, someone saying this would honestly make my day. Being articulate is a compliment I believe any one would gladly welcome so why shouldn’t black men? I have conducted a lot of interviews, articulation is one of the strengths I look for. Being able to speak concisely and coherently serves you well in numerous aspects of your life. So I’m going to have to heavily challenge this one and say if you want to call me articulate, go right ahead, this slide does not speak for me personally.

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“Being black is what I am, not what I am trying to be”
– Carlton Banks
(or something to that affect)

The main reason why people are advocates for the racial equality movement happening right now is because they say it’s allowing for conversations to be happening. But often it’s these same people that are quick to shut down the other side of the discussion.

Nothing good has ever come from only hearing one side of a story and if you are advocating for something and making your voice heard then you need to be open to opposing voices. The talking points surrounding the current racial climate are not one sided and just because you think you are doing your bit to help fight it just know there are also probably people out there saying you are harming it. But look, neither one is right.

This Instagram post stood out to me for a lot of reasons. There was a key emphasis on our inherent biases but the post itself was also written with it. And because of that it should only be used as a starting block for a wider conversation. What is written here is merely someone’s opinion and I have demonstrated that there are a lot of things a black man would disagree with. Just because a black person is saying that this is how you should treat black people doesn’t make it so. As the post so rightly put it, we are all different. There is no one way to treat a black person and there isn’t a definitive list of things you shouldn’t say to a black man.

And I think what is happening right now, and the way people are talking, it’s as if all black people feel the same or know what’s best for black people. I think that’s what this post falls victim to, and the fact that it was written by a black woman only heightens that. But just think, how can a movement that is fighting for racial equality for black people also have so many black people opposing it? Of course because they’re “coons” and “uncle toms” or pandering to white people but I thought we already established there’s no way to be white or black? It is a complicated issue and the only way we can navigate it is if we truly listen to everyone’s voice without judgement. Say it with me “No racial group is a monolith”. If you want to advocate for BLM and protest, then amazing, go for it. As I said at the start if you see an injustice you have the power to fight it. But at the same time, if you have issues with the movement and disagree with some of what’s happening then great also. You can have that opinion and not be racist just like you can support BLM and be racist. But I am not an advocate for either side. I am just a nobody with a crazy imagination.

I also understand that this Instagram post was written from the perspective of an American. So i can appreciate that as a black man from the UK I have a slightly different outlook. But that just comes back to my point about the different subcultures amongst black people. We should still be able to have open and honest discussions about how issues of race affect us though.

Does that make things confusing? Haha. All you need to do is, don’t assume anything about anyone. You will know all you need to know about someone just by talking to them. From my perspective I wouldn’t want you to treat your interactions a certain way just because I am black. I don’t want you to walk on egg shells afraid you’re going to offend me. I always try my best to assume that people have the best intentions which has always benefitted me in terms of my interactions. People generally know if your heart is in the right place, and if it is then they should happily and openly correct you if you misstep.

To reiterate, I only wrote this to give you another standpoint. I know a lot of people will take this Instagram post at face value and then never ever say these things again to a black man. It is always good to be educated and know that there are things that may offend someone but this is not gospel. You don’t want to get to a stage where you’re over-analysing everything you say to the point where you can’t say anything.

Anyway, what do you think? Would love to hear from other black men or just anyone? Would actually be interesting to see what non-black men thought. It’s okay to disagree with the original post or with me, even if you’re not black. If you can be non-black and agree with something a black person says, you should then be able to disagree with something else they say. Everything I have said is based on my own “lived experience” and isn’t an argument for anyone who isn’t me. I am who I am, I think what I think and believe what I believe. No apologies.

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