I can think of few things more uncomfortable than talking about race in mixed company. There’s a strange taboo surrounding what to say, what not to say. What to do, what not to do…
There's an interesting correlation between the progression of the digital age and the evolution of social and culture tolerance. On one hand, we are able to interact more with people from different communities and access new information about ideas we may not have previously understood. On the other, there are unmistakeable lines in the sand that outline how we use that information: how we should relate to our history, what we should be willing to accept, what we feel should be rejected by the collective. All that is because we have entered a new stage of “norming” as a result of the advancement of connective technology.
Privacy these days is a myth. Even if you think you’re in a “safe space” someone else is always listening, and that someone else is connected to another someone else in a whole new way. Modern technology has turned the slow-moving grapevine of gossip into a combustive wildfire that often exceeds the bounds of our control. Everything we do is under a social microscope, and that means our freedom to make mistakes, experiment with individuality, and exist in a bubble of like-minded people has been compromised (though, the latter perhaps for the better). Before you say a word, you have been conditioned to think about how others will judge you for it, and the consequences of cancel culture don’t always make it worth the while.
All that to say: I get it. I fully understand reluctance to ruffle feathers.
But also: everyone is too damn sensitive these days! The community at large is so quick to lash out that people are scared to say what they really think, or even to ask questions about things they don't know.
Now, I'll take this opportunity to admit that I, myself, have been part of that "community" at times. We all have our biases. Our buttons. Those things about our identity, values, and morals that we're ready to defend at any moment. And considering the complexity of it, race is most rightfully one of those things for a lot of people (and yes, again, "a lot of people" 100% includes me).
For the purposes of this piece, I'll specify that I'm talking about the Black-White binary as it exists in the United States. It's touchy. It's heavy. It represents hundreds of years of trauma - and for that reason alone it should be navigated with respect.
What confuses me is why so many people think respect is synonymous with political correctness. While political correctness can be valuable, problems arise when we aggrandize the level of censorship necessary to make it effective.
People don't like to feel handled. But by taking 100 extra steps to avoid any certain topic, you give it more space to grow as the elephant in the room.
Please, I beg you, stop doing this with race!
If you're trying to describe me, there is no need to take an awkward pause and go through the mental tip-toe of whether or not it's okay to say I'm Black. It's like when you're about to start a story with "THIS BITCH..." but then you stop yourself and call her a "chick" instead because it seems less offensive.
Because guess what? I am Black! Blackity Black. (Now don't go saying "Blackity" - that's a little different...)
Hesitating to say "Black" gives it the air of being synonymous to "thug" or "delinquent" or [pick your pejorative] that only reinforces the very prejudice many people say they want to dismantle. My Blackness makes me proud, and frankly, it makes my eye twitch when people default to the term "African-American" as a safety blanket for racial sensitivity.
Artificial or not, the construct of race is one upon which the very premise of Black culture has been built. I won't tread too harshly on the differences between race and ethnicity, but the systemic erasure of the history, languages, religions, and traditions belonging to the African peoples who were first to arrive in America means I, as a descendant, don't actually have an affinity to an ethnocultural system predicated upon anything more than the color of my skin.
When people ask where I'm really from, the only answer I could "definitively" give would come from a 23andMe test. (Note here that Black culture is not limited to this. There are Black people whose ancestry includes that from places outside of Africa and the U.S.) But by contrast, at least to mine as a non-mixed Black American, there are numerous African-American lineages with direct and/or uninterrupted connections to specific communities on the African continent.
Do you see the difference? I'm not saying I would be offended to be called African-American. I'm simply saying, that for me, it feels like a misguided attempt to circumvent the realities of race and its manifestations. As a Black American, I participate in an exciting and unique system of rituals, vernacular, and community consciousness that is worthy of being recognized. I celebrate those who came before me, who were able to build the culture I know today when the one they inherited was taken away. #BlackIsNotABadWord.
Blackness itself lives and breathes. See it. Name it. Love it.
I'll finish by saying I don't I claim (or want) to be a spokesperson for everyone who looks like me. I just want to encourage healthy discourse surrounding things that may otherwise feel like untouchable territory. Next time you're unsure about what to say or how to say it, consider opening the floor for discussion. That itself is a perfect lead in: "I'm not sure how to say this but ______," or "This is what I know about _______, are you comfortable telling me your thoughts?" Seek out environments that foster growth and healthy curiosity. How will we learn if we are too scared to confront our own ignorance by searching for the answers to our questions? Or if we remain unwilling to share? Trust, empathy, honesty, and grace make all the difference, and that's the light we all need to see.
P.S. Michael Scott didn't read this article. Don't be like him. But definitely click to watch these clips of him being absolutely over the top 😂