There are plenty of ways to offend Black people, intentionally or unintentionally. People use racial slurs right to your face, behind your back, in anonymous comments, subtweets, status updates, the list goes on. People can also exhibit subtle behaviors, like always asking the brotha in the room if he knows where to get some weed, or assume a crime is about to happen because more than 3 Black people are standing together, or call the president a “tar baby”.
That last one may not have been so subtle, but the point is that there are a lot of racist behaviors and remarks left in the post-racial society to offend Black people. So it’s good to know what terms are not offensive. Like “Black”.
Yesterday, one of my coworkers, Megan, was telling me about someone in the office collecting clothing donations for people with hard-knock lives. I was interested in donating some clothes, so I asked Megan who was doing the collecting. She told me that it was Alex, and I had no idea who that was. The conversation proceeded as such:
Me: “I don’t know who that is. Is that a man or a woman?”
Megan: “Woman. You don’t know Alex?”
Me: “No, what does she look like?”
Megan: “…kind of non-descript. She’s short with a shoulder-length haircut”
Me: “Oh, the Chinese woman?”
Megan: “um…. no”
Me: “so… what is she?”
Megan: “she’s….she’s Black”
This happens way too much. I ask a White person to describe somebody and they give me every characteristic except the person’s race. It’s ridiculous. They never provide characteristics that are useful either. It’s always, “He has a short haircut” or “She has curly hair”. It’s like I have to decipher the Da Vinci Code before I can figure out who brought donuts to work.
Don’t worry about using the term “African-American” in casual conversation either. It’s the most inconvenient race option to say on government forms besides “Asian/Pacific Islander”, which is two peoples anyway. Plus, the Census still calls us “Negros”, so you’re already ahead of the game.
Now, here’s when “Black” is offensive. I know what you’re thinking, “You just got through telling us that ‘Black’ was safe!”. I wasn’t lying; all words have varying connotations given the context in which they are used. If a White person says, “Barack Obama is Black”, that’s not offensive. If a White person says, “Barack Obama is so eloquent”, also not offensive. If a White person says, “Barack Obama is so eloquent for a Black man”, its going down. “That Black guy was late with the pizzas”, what the hell you mean by that?
You get the point. At the end of the day, just specify a person’s race when necessary. That way, your compliments can stay out of our Unintentional Racism Files, and I can know who to look for when I ask you who the hell took my stapler.
keep everything in context.