by guest contributor Philip Arthur Moore, originally published at TheThink
Before taking my first ever study abroad trip, I was told that there would be certain social and cultural norms that I would have to adapt to without pressing the issue too much. I knew that as a visitor into the Vietnamese community, no matter how odd, foreign, hypocritical, or just plain weird the people seemed, it wasn’t my place to call them out on it. To be sure, I found myself frustrated at times that I was unable to cause some sort of communal change in areas that I found a bit off, but that was the price I paid to study abroad. I knew that no matter how close I got to the community, through my acquisition of the Vietnamese language or friendly conversations, there were some things I just could not do as a non-Vietnamese person.
It is with this train of thought that I feel the need to enlighten some of my white brothers and sisters about how not to approach the black community in the United States. Now, I realize that black Americans and white Americans live in the same political state, but often times they might as well be defined as two separate nations. Young black children in predominately white schools might as well be on a study abroad trip as far as I’m concerned. White Americans who dare travel into predominately black, brown, or yellow neighborhoods often feel like they are living in another country among a sea of non-white people.
Little is admitted about the real lack of integration in our nation while whites kick back and enjoy television shows like Flavor of Love and think they’ve truly just enjoyed a slice of black life in the U.S. Non-whites watch television shows like Friends and think that most white people drink bowl-sized cups of latte. Many watch the newest season of Survivor (Cook Islands) and actually believe they’ve been schooled on diversity.
Of all the races in the United States, white people have the hardest time understanding racial oppression. This is a fact. Much like the men (including myself) in the United States who just cannot understand what it feels like to be a woman who is judged by her bra and waist measurements, white Americans cannot put themselves in the position of racial other-ness on a daily basis. Unless of course they go abroad or to New York, Chicago, DC, Altanta, Detroit, Philly, LA, Houston, or anywhere else with more black people than say, Altoona, PA. This is not to say that white people cannot understand racial opporession. It’s just that, well, most of them don’t.
With that said, I’ve put together ten pointers that will help my fellow American citizens integrate themselves more easily into a black America. Granted, many of my white brothers and sisters will never feel the need to voluntarily put themselves around people shades darker than themselves (unless it involves sex, economic or sociopolitical domination), but for those who do want to take on a grand adventure of integrating themselves with blacks in a comfortable fashion, look no further.
What follows are ten rules that may help you blend in easier with black Americans and reduce frictions between yourselves and them. Consider it a study abroad guide to black America. Now, surely there will be some white people who read the following rules and get upset about them, but just remember, when you put yourselves around a lot of black people, you are on a study abroad trip. Suck it up, deal with it how you must, and keep it moving.
Things White People Shouldn’t Do…
(10 Rules from your Half-brother, With Love)
Rule #1: Say the word “Nigger”.
This one’s pretty self explanatory. I understand that a number of my white brothers and sisters feel the need to sing along with rap songs and repeat a lot of the things that black rappers say. But, I asure you, this angers a great deal of black people. Many of us are very uncomfortable with the word “nigger”, and far fewer of us use it than is portrayed on television. For your own safety and the safety of those around you, please avoid using this word. For more explanation, please continue reading about the word “nigger”…
Rule #2: Throw “ghetto” parties (unless one actually lives in the ghetto) or dress up in blackface, brown-face, yellow-face, or any other-face that contradicts one’s own skin tone (Halloween exemptions on a case by case basis).
It seems that as of late, white people have been on the up and up when it comes to throwing ghetto parties. Perhaps this coincides with the birth of hipsterism, I’m not sure. In any event, these ghetto parties can lead to nothing but sore relationships between black Americans and white Americans who believe that dressing like black people is flattering, funny, entertaining, or harmless. For your own safety and the safety of those around you, please avoid painting yourself with shoe polish for kicks and giggles. That hurts black peoples’ feelings, and you wouldn’t want to do that. Would you?
Rule #3: Invest too much time in racial satire (unless it involves white Europeans).
Whether it’s on TV, in the newspaper, or in music, racial satire is a pretty touchy subject. Try to acquaint yourself with your surroundings before popping off at the mouth some crude joke that might have worked in your all white community. I assure you, this does nothing but upset black people.
Rule #4: Talk about one’s family related problems when minorities bring up institutional and societal oppression (this also includes sexual assault, alcoholism, mental retardation, or various forms of cancer).
Rape is horrible. Alcoholism, mental retardation, and cancers all suck. But, in truth, no one wants to hear about all of that when a discussion is being held on racial oppression in the United States. I notice a lot of my white brothers and sisters bringing up their disfunctional family as a defense for their racism. This logic doesn’t really help anything in your relationships with black people. If the topic of discussion is about racial oppression, stay on racial oppression. I’m sorry about the rape. I really am. But now is not the time to talk about it in defense of your bigotry.
Rule #5: Condemn minorities for self-segregation.
I notice a lot of this in academic settings, especially at my university. When diversity comes up in conversation, white people are quick to jump on the “they self segregate!” bandwagon as a defense for their actions that cause racial, sexual, and religious minorities to pull away from the main stream. As I have noted before, not many white people are forced to be around people of color, unless it’s on a study abroad trip or political agression tip. For my white brothers and sisters who like to condemn minorities for self segregation, I’d like to point your attention to a widely read magazine called The Expat. This magazine would not be possible without the self-segregation of white people living in non-white nations. Should I condemn my white brothers and sisters for hanging out together in downtown Ho Chi Minh City instead of integrating themselves with the local community? Surely not. They look happy together.
Rule #6: Use the phrase “human race” when discussing racism.
Human beings are not a race. We are bipedal primates belonging to the mammalian species. So, please. No one really believes that you only see the “human race” when dealing with your fellow primates. The human race does not exist. Saying something like this comes off as disingenuous and it kills real dialogue. Please, no more “human race” talk.
Rule #7: Condemn minorities for having their own television stations, radio stations, and student groups (i.e. “Why can’t we have WET?!”).
This is another extremely popular talking point by American whites. Please avoid this subject in large crowds of minorities. The problem with the “WET Question” is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of WET’s on TV already. And even the stations that are for non-whites are owned by whites. Also, the assumption in the “WET Question” is that whites are not on non-white stations. Watch BET for a while and you’re sure to find whites. Just about as many whites as there are blacks on CNN and ABC.
Rule #8: Bring up Freedom of Speech when defending one’s bigotry or racial mishaps.
We all love Freedom of Speech. But no one really believes that we have it. Oddly enough, I only hear the “1st Amendment” argument from my white brothers and sisters when the topic of racial satire (see Rule #3) comes up. I don’t see this argument much from non-whites. The first step to recognizing that this argument is flawed is realizing that everyone believes in Freedom of Speech, but no one believes in being treated like an animal. Please, when it comes to satire, jokes, or normal conversation, table the Freedom of Speech argument and come up with some other explanation behind your bigotry or racial mishaps, like how you were raised.
Rule #9: Bring up the success of European, Asian, African, or Latin American immigrants while in discussions about the status of black America.
One word. Slavery.
Rule #10: Whisper the word “black” or hesitate before saying the word “black” while in discussions about black people.
I understand that many of my white brothers and sisters are only accustomed to using the word “black” as a pejorative. But, I assure you, blacks use the word as an empowering word. To blacks, the word “black” is synonymous with powerful, strong, resilient, beautiful, rock solid, valiant, among a host of other nice words. When you hesitate before saying the word “black” or whisper it like it’s a bad word, it gives off a negative reflection of your views about black people. Say the word “black” loud and proud. Blacks have been doing it since 1968.
With these 10 hints toward smoother interactions between my white brothers and sisters and my black brothers and sisters, I hope that things do get better. And remember, it is not your place to try to shape black America’s feelings, reactions, or thoughts about the things that bother us. Our feelings are our feelings. Please respect those feelings. We are human beings too. I hope that with these hints, your travels and adventures into black America are far more enjoyable than anything else you’ve experienced up until this point. Happy Trails!!!