I’ve been thinking about writing a guidebook to educate white people on what they cannot say or do to black people. Many white people don’t think that some of the comments they make are disparagingly racist, harmful, and hurtful. It’s about time that changed. With access to lots of antiracism material online, in bookstores, and in libraries, white people can no longer say, “I didn’t know that comment, gesture or action was racist”, or claim ignorance. Please educate yourself and learn how to discern racist comments and actions.
Below are some examples of comments and behaviors that you should not do when you are interacting with a black person. And for those who still may not understand why these issues are problematic, I’m also providing an explanation as to why they are racist.
- Commenting on how frequently I change my hair or even touching my hair. Asking questions about whether I’m wearing hair extensions. Asking me if dreadlocks are clean and how I wash my hair when I wear braids.
Why is this racist? Why are you so concerned about what I do with my hair? Do you feel the need to control black bodies? Are you judging me based on the number of times I change my hair or the style it’s in? On many occasions, white people have told me that braids are not professional and shouldn’t be worn to work. For me, braids are a form of beauty and adornment, they can be worn to work, to school, to church, anywhere.
Do I go sniffing around your hair to see if you are wearing extensions? Why do you assume you can do that to a black person? It’s rude and disrespectful. Accept us as we are, stop asking questions. Most importantly, don’t assume that white hairstyles are the reference and that every black and brown person should style their hair like a white person for you to feel comfortable. That’s centering everything and everyone around whiteness. Doing that is one of the ways in which you have been socialized to subconsciously uphold white supremacy which is by its very nature racist. Resist the urge to center the whole world around whiteness.
2. Shoving the microphone in my face any time there’s karaoke.
Why is this racist? Because not all black people know how to sing. If you assume we all know how to, you are putting us into a category based on a stereotype. What’s to stop you from then assuming that all black people are thugs or untrustworthy — another stereotype?
How would you feel if in people’s minds you were only ever allowed to be certain things i.e. a singer, dancer, sprint runner, basketball player, but not allowed to be others i.e. a CEO, an astronaut, a cardiologist, or an astrophysicist? It’s racist to assume that black people were only put on earth to do things to entertain you as a white person.
Also, always thrusting the microphone in my face when the singing begins makes me feel uneasy. How would it make you feel if I consistently did that to you? And finally, if I wanted to sing, I would pick up the microphone myself.
3. Assuming that I am strong and that I can take any hardship, injustice, or fix the situation.
Why is this racist? Because I am not superhuman. Like you, I have moments when I am strong, but also moments when I am vulnerable and weak. Assuming I am strong all the time dehumanizes me. And when you dehumanize us, like George Floyd, we end up with knees on our necks because, for many, we are not human.
4. Targeting me on the dance floor and trying to dance with me.
Why is this racist? Because again, it is based on a stereotype. Not all black people know how to dance or want to dance. Don’t put us into a category for this, it’s racist.
5. You and/or your children staring at me.
Why is this racist? Because let’s face it, you are staring at me because I am different. You are studying me like an animal in a zoo because you have some type of fascination or discomfort with my blackness. Either way, this is racist. And don’t tell me you are admiring my skin because “It is so beautiful”. That’s just weird and creepy, especially if you don’t even know me. Don’t do it.
6. Expressing surprise that I know how to swim.
Why is this racist? Because you have listened to stupid comments saying that black people can’t swim and you actually believed them. What other things have you heard about black people that you believe? That we don’t ski? That we don’t like to travel, that we don’t care about our health? Again, if you believe one stereotype, what’s to stop you from believing others?
7. Asking where I’m really from.
Why is this racist? Because you automatically assume I can’t be from a country like Switzerland because I am black. In your mind, Switzerland can only be populated with white people. Understand that if I tell you I’m from here, this is where I identify myself as being from and don’t keep on digging until I give you the name of a black or brown country. Keep in mind that like white people, black people can be from anywhere and everywhere: Sweden, Russia, Iceland, Norway, or what have you. We live in the world, we can be from anywhere in the world.
8. Assuming I can’t afford luxury items.
Why is this racist? Because you assume that black people can only be poor. This again is based on a stereotype and explains why when Oprah tried to buy a Hermès bag in Zurich, the store assistant refused to hand her the bag for her to take a look at it. The assumption that we can only ever be poor is racist.
I could go on, there are a lot more comments and actions that need to stop. Black and brown people have centered their lives around whiteness for centuries. In many instances, we’ve built everything around white references — from our political regimes to our economic and social structures — to stuff as innocuous as our hairstyles, beauty, and fashion. We have believed for too long that nothing is good enough or beautiful enough unless it is white adjacent and white resembling, and this is wrong.
The world is moving on to a place where many realize that white is not necessarily always best. Diversity in all its different facets is what is best. As human beings, we should leverage this diversity to jointly face and resolve the pressing challenges we have in the world: poverty, climate change, global health security, and many others. But most importantly, we’ll only ever be able to make progress when we see each other as equals — so let’s continue to dismantle racism in order to get to this.
Thank you for reading my perspective.
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