10 Things Nerver SayWe’re more than a decade into the 21st century. I’d hoped– in vain– that some basic understandings of how non-Black people should interact with Black people could be something I could take for granted. But no. Somehow there are “those people” who remain entirely clueless, so much so that they will call a 9-year old the c-word, or paint a white model bronze-Black, or not even, as so-called, journalists, bother to learn the pronunciation of an Oscar nominee’s name. This is unacceptable.

Recently, I read the comments section of a post on Clutch where a male reader was baffled as how to initiate a conversation with Black women and asked for some rules. Several helpful women obliged. In the same spirit of combating ignorance, I offer rules for non-Black people to  engage Black women without causing offense. If you can manage NOT to do the following, you can probably come across as a decent human being.

Humbly, I submit a basic list, my Rules of Engagement, and ask you NOT to do the following (and encourage Black women to add to the list in the comments):

1. Talk Bad About (Black) Kids
It seems ridiculous that this has to be said, much less lead the list. I’d assumed everyone knew better, but apparently not. (And you know what “they say” about assuming.) Look here, dissing kids – all kids, of all races, creeds, and color is UNACCEPTABLE. You want to talk greasy about your own kids? Eh… still unacceptable. Kids are off-limits. Period.

2. Touch Our Hair
I know our hair– braided, permed, natural, whatever– is pretty great. We treat it like art because we can and well, it is.  However, it is never, ever, EVER okay to touch the hair of a random Black woman you’ve just encountered or even the familiar Black woman who you share the cubicle with. The world is not your personal petting zoo. Black people are, well, people. DO NOT TOUCH US (without permission).

3. Mispronounce Our Names/ Rename Us
Look, all Black folk don’t have multi-hypenate names. We have Janes, Marys and Beths too. And somehow our single syllabic sisters learn how to pronounce names like La’Taquisha, Marquaysa, Taiwanas, etc. You know what our secret is? Lean closer.

WE ASK.

I’m a four syllable girl with an uncommon name (in the States.) I know it’s a challenge to pronounce and I am never offended by anyone asking, “how do I pronounce your name?” However, I am offended when you, a stranger, butchers it without care or tries to nickname me like we’re friends. Take the time to learn my name and maybe, I’ll offer my nickname to help you out.

4. Paint Yourselves  Black/ Bronze
I know it’s Halloween or for my Jewish folk, Purim. I get you’re dressing up, but Black skin is not a costume. If you want to try out “ghetto” for Halloween, go right ahead. There are plenty of so-called “ghetto” white people. Wanna be a rapper? Great! Bubba Sparxxx’s, wherever he is, wants you to remember him.  A basketball player? How creative of you! Just be a white one, or if you just have to go Black, get a jersey with the Black guy’s name and number so everyone knows who you are. (This means you NY Assemblyman Dov Hikind.) There’s no need to go all bronze or Blackface for that. Oh, and while we’re at it, leave off the afro/dread wigs. (I know, I know, some  Black people wear other people’s hair so that seems hypocritical, but just trust me, no, the wigs just come across offensive— unless of course it’s a Jew ‘fro, which we totally give a pass to.)

5. Paint Others Black/Bronze
Do you know how hard it is for a working Black model? Of course not, because you would have to hire one to interact with her and learn what it’s like. Let me fill you in: it’s hard. And you, editor, are not making it any easier on Black models or your make-up artists by hiring white women and spraying them bronze/brown/Black. Leave the white person white or just hire a Black model already, and make it easier on everyone.

6. Try to Hook Up A SBW With the One Other Black Person You Know
Hook ups are always tricky, and I know your heart is in the right place here, but um, stop it. Just like, just how you wouldn’t introduce White Rebecca to a guy just because he too is also White, you shouldn’t try to hook up Black Regina with a guy just because he’s Black. If Regina is single and looking, introduce her to someone who she shares an interest with and you have a reasonable expectation she might click with. If he’s Black, great. If he’s not, that’s still great.

7. Drop the N-Word
Celebrities keep doing this sh** like it’s okay. Because “they”– that means you, Lisa Lampanelli – think it’s okay, you need to know that there’s no trickle down theory on this one. It doesn’t matter if it ends in “-er” or “a”, or you hear your Black friends or even your favorite rapper say it. It’s just not for you. When the lyrics in a song get to the n-word, go silent. When you’re retelling a story where someone dropped an n-bomb, just say “n-bomb” to be safe. Understand that by actually using the n-word, you not only are likely to offend every Black person in hearing distance, you will also be perceived as a racist and you may get confronted and/or physically harmed. The N-word is a fighting word. And while I, like many Black people, don’t condone violence, this is an instance where I understand.

8. Diss Michelle Obama
You got Jackie O and Princess Diana. We get the First Lady (and Oprah). You don’t like her? Think her arms are too bare? Her bum too large? She shouldn’t be dancing on Jimmy Fallon or presenting at the Oscars? Great. You’re entitled to your opinion… but tell someone else.

9. Change to the Local Hip-Hop Station When A Black Person Gets in the Car
My white friends never did this, which is how I ended up with the Oasis, Green Day, Jewel, Alanis Morissette obsession. This one is really for my cab drivers who are usually not white. I actually don’t mind AM news, and I like oldies, and rock, and jazz, and even some country.  What I actually don’t like is most commercial hip-hop. I’ll take talk radio, lyric-less music or a plucked guitar over shout outs to “hos” at Spelman, wanting “hos” as birthday presents, or a “man” lamenting his inability to avoid “ratchet p****”.

10. Auto-Assume the Other Black Woman Shopping Must Work There
Every woman is not a salesgirl. Every Black woman is not a salesgirl. Say it with me: EVERY BLACK WOMAN IS NOT A SALESGIRL. More often than not, salesgirls or salespersons or whatever PC term is  used now, are not wearing purses and coats on the sales floor. Salesgirls often have a name tag  or a uniform and often they come right up and ask “Can I help you?” Those are salesgirls. The Black girl/woman with the coat and big-ass purse, who’s holding up the dress in front of herself in the mirror or searching the rack for her size? She’s a shopper just like you and is in no way is obligated to tell you where the [whatever you're looking for] department is. If you ask her and you get a curt, “I don’t work here” as a response? Yes, she’s being rude because you’ve been ignorant.

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life”. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk.

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255 Comments

  1. I cant believe this exsists. Yes let’s all walk on fucking egg shells because God forbid someone call us a racist. But with black women that’s impossible because if you even look at them and smile, you will either be threatened with violence or called a racist.

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  2. Black, bold, beautiful & proud

    Great list! In the same vein of #10, I’d add, for non-black salespeople, to not automatically assume every Black customer is going to steal something. I had a pretty interesting Shopping While Black experience last weekend and that high-pitched “can I help you with something?” every two seconds worked my last nerve, followed by the inevitable uncomfortable silence at the register when I actually purchased several things with real money. Go figure!

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    • Yes, I hate that. They need to back off.

      If this happens to my mom she’ll start asking for help every 10 sec and asking for help when trying on clothes, then she’ll leave w/o buying anything.

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    • Paulina

      What you should do it make them work for you and at the last minute change your mind, so they have to put all that crap back.

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    • Exactly. Thought I was the only one who did this.

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    • I never buy if I’m being followed. I also ask them if they are following me. They always get extremely ashamed and will usually storm from the humiliation.

      We don’t have to take it.

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    • Just_Joi

      At 23 y/o I went to the mall with three White friends to a mall in a more-than-normal White area. I go into Rampage wearing a top I had purchased there and jeans from there as well. My shoes were Steve Madden and matched my top exactly.

      No one offered to help me, so I found an item to try on and walked into the dressing room. I didn’t like it so I left it in the room after trying it on. I walked through the store in my top, jeans and shoes. I went to the counter located near the front of the store to purchase a pair of earrings and the Salesgirl is being spoken to by the manager in an earpiece. The salesgirl says embarrassed, “I’m sorry, my manager wants me to ask you if you were wearing that when you came in.” I pointed out my shoes and told her to tell her manager I said, “Go to hell.” The salesgirl smiled and told me to have a nice day. I was so embarrassed. When I rejoined my White friends, I dried my eyes before anyone could ask me what happened.

      From experience, I knew that it’s a waste of time telling your white friends when you have a racial experience. They usually just make excuses for why it happened to you- although it’s never happened to them!

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    • sophie

      I am white and canadian-I went shopping at a mall in a black area in atlanta and the salesgirl told me that when I was done trying on the clothes I had taken to the change room that I was to put them all back.as in put them back on the hangers and fold and put them back out on the floor.since we’re sharing mall experiences.

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    • Oh ok

      @Sophie Are you saying that having someone make you put the clothes back on the rack is the same as being accused of stealing? And are you saying that this salesperson only did this because you are white and would have never made a black person put the clothes back on the rack? Please. She was probably just trying to get around doing her job and she probably does the same exact thing to other black people. Also you’re supposed to put your clothes back on the hangar and put them on some kind of rack outside. And I always take the folded clothes back out. Are you one of those people that leaves clothes tossed about the dressing room? I find it less likely that this person was being mean to you because you are white and more likely to believe she was getting around doing her job. You cannot honestly think that incidents like these happen as often as incidents like Just_Joi’s.

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    • sophie

      @ oh ok;I did say ‘since we’re sharing mall experiences’ & not to discount hers.only to share my experience & I have more if you’d like to hear;I find myself in black areas often enough as I have black friends.the salesgirl did not mean to put them on a rack outside the change room but to put them back out on the floor as I said where I found them.I’ve never been to a store where that was expected;the salesgirls are there to do there jobs just as I would @ my workplace.my point only is that these things happen not only to black women but it can happen vice versa & it feels terrible just the same when it happens to u

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    • sophie

      @ oh ok;& yes she was being mean.I can tell when a girls being mean & also I didn’t say it’s the same as being accused of stealing & like I said I have stories of being discriminated against for real & if u are a logical person then u would see it for what it is too;I just want to put different perspectives out there if only on the internet becuz I think that’s important

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    • sophie

      @ oh ok;& how rude to say am I one of those people who leaves clothes tossed around the change room.u & I both know that nowhere on this planet would u be expected to put your own clothes back!ugh.plz don’t discount my experience just becuz u can’t believe it to be true;it makes u sound white.

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    • Oh ok

      @sophie – Yes I understand she wanted you to take them back outside to the main area of the store. As I said, this probably has more to do with her not wanting to do her job. Is it mean yes.

      “From experience, I knew that it’s a waste of time telling your white friends when you have a racial experience. They usually just make excuses for why it happened to you- although it’s never happened to them!”

      You are doing exactly what Just_joi was talking about. Here she is saying that she was picked on for being black. Here you come with your story of how black people do the same thing to white people. Your story simply shows that the black salesperson was being mean. I am sure she would have done the same thing to me. These things are not equivalent. You are attempting to say that these events have nothing to do with race but only with mean people. This is untrue. Many black people have had the experience of being followed around the store for know other reason than their race. If you have been truly subjected to unfair “reverse racism” from black people, then I can honestly sympathize, but to pretend as if your experience of someone being mean to you is the same as being racially profiled is annoying. You said that you are simply sharing mall experiences, but no you were attempting to say that a black salesperson being mean to you is the same as being followed around a store or accused of stealing. I am black and have run into salespeople that were rude or did not want to do their job who happened to be black. We seem to share this experience indicating to me that this was more about the salesperson being mean. I have run into rude white salespeople as well. oddly enough I thought they were just mean and rude and not racist. it’s funny there is just something about being accused of stealing that is a uniquely black experience that screams racial profiling. How often have you been followed around a store or accused of stealing by a black salesperson? Basically her point and my point is that people like you try to cover up, deny, or trivialize these experiences by saying the same thing could have happened to you. There is a small probability that it would. Where there is a much higher probability of this happening to me which shows that race is a strong factor.

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    • Oh ok

      @Sophie – My comment about the clothes tossed about was to say why was this such a big deal to you? We have to bring our clothes outside to a rack anyway don’t we usually. You don’t just leave the clothes in the room. So if you had to bring your clothes out anyway and the mean lady told you to put them back up, I don’t understand why this is such a big deal equivalent to being accused of stealing. It is not to me. While your experience was definitely bad, it is still not that bad. As I said before, I have run into rude salespeople black and white during my years of shopping as well. I am simply wondering why having to take your clothes back is so bad to you? I take my clothes all the way back out many times especially if it is only 3 or 4 garments or if they don’t have a rack. I do not leave them in the room. If someone black or white had told me to go and hang them on the outside rack, I would have been annoyed but I doubt I would have remembered the experience. It was simply a person getting around doing her job.

      I don’t discount your experience. It was a bad experience. Someone was obviously being mean to you. But it was an inappropriate response to Just_joi’s comment. She talks about how she was racially profiled and you respond by bringing up an incident where a black salesperson was mean to you as if black salespeople are never mean to us too!

      You are doing exactly what she said discounting her experience when you haven’t experienced it.

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    • @ oh ok-oh my gosh lol let me explain this just one more time so u understand.the salesgirl wanted me to take the clothes back out onto the floor & INDIVIDUALLY put them back where I INDIVIDUALLY found them see & she did not say anything to my black friend so how would u explain that?she liked my friend better becuz she’s prettier?like really.trust me she didn’t like me becuz I’m white & trust me;me & my friend were both tripping on the attitudes we came across in the south believe that.it’s intolerant of u to steadfastly believe that it had nothing to do with my race just as it would be for me to do the same & I don’t use the term reverse racism;I do think her experience was racial but I think mine was too so that is why I shared.now see you’re saying that my experience was not racial & refuse to believe otherwise so actually U are doing what she said about her white friends.also nobody forced u to read my ‘annoying’ comment;the title of this article says ten things every non black person should know about black women so I clicked on it to see what kind of ridiculousness it was so that’s why I’m here.seems to me they want non black people comments so.

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    • Oh ok

      @sophie – I perfectly understand that she meant for you to take the clothes all the way back out to the main area of the store where you got them from. I have said this in all three of my comments. Somehow you think I don’t understand. Anyway…..your comment mentioned nothing that would lead me to believe this incident was racial except the salesperson was black and you are white. You are just NOW mentioning your friend having a different experience who is black. Sophie we will just have to agree to disagree. I have already said that I can sympathize with you if you experienced such a situation. I have agreed that this situation was rude and mean. You are just NOW mentioning your black friend receiving different treatment from the same salesperson. Now with this information it does seem like a racial incident. You insist on making it seem as if I am saying it is okay for this woman being mean to you because you are white. That is not what I said. I said that you are discounting her experience when you have never experienced it. So now you have shown me that black salespeople can be discriminatory too as if I said that they could not. Your experience is still not the same as being accused of stealing. Was it racial? Yes, but the fact that we are mentioning it in an article speaks to how often it happens. Your experience is not common. Oprah Winfrey was not allowed into a French store because they thought she would steal something. How many white actresses have been kicked out of stores by black people are made to put their clothes back where they got them from? What is annoying about your comment is how you act as if you don’t understand that this has happened to many black people because they are black. You seem to be saying that this could happen to a white person or that white people experience humiliation at the hands of black salespeople often as well. You have had a racial situation but is it common? No. Is it as bad as being accused of stealing? No. It’s like if a black person says that he was beaten up by the cops because the cops thought he had attacked someone and you respond by saying a black person beat you up in high school because you were white.

      Me and “my brethren”? You seem like the exact type of person that would talk about reverse racism.

      Also…down votes happen. That’s what happens when people disagree. It is not the end of the world. Me and my brethren probably read your comment and thought you were making it seem like your incident is as common as her incident. I don’t refuse to see your situation as racial. You are just now providing information that shows the racial aspect.

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    • sophie

      @ oh ok-sooo which part are we agreeing to disagree on if u agree that my experience was racial?I seem like a what sort of person?u are the one who used the term not I & u shouldn’t try to be clever when clearly you’re not if u have continually been not understanding what I meant about the clothes but now you’re saying that u do.okay.we can agree to disagree that u have a strong grasp of the english language.idk why u think u caught a live one when u haven’t becuz I never discounted any discrimination of black people @ all in fact it’s happened to people I know right in front of my face so I’m not sure what u mean.my point of posting is to point out a lack of tolerence from BOTH sides that is all.lol the end of the world.what are u talking about.

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    • Oh ok

      @sophie – “Yes I understand she wanted you to take them back outside to the main area of the store. As I said, this probably has more to do with her not wanting to do her job.”

      I said this in my second post. Somehow you think I am still talking about her wanting you to put the clothes on the garment rack outside the dressing room where the salespeople then take them back put to the MAIN AREA. What does “main area” mean to you? Since you are so smart it is probably hard to discuss things with us un-clever people. Let me break it down for you. There is a garment rack outside the dressing room that we usually have to bring our clothes out of the dressing room and put our clothes on. We cannot leave our clothes in the dressing room. We must put them on the rack. The salespeople usually take the clothes off the rack and take them to the MAIN AREA where you got them from. This person was being lazy and wanted you to take them back out to the main area. Main area=place where you originally got the clothes. Main area=shopping area. Main area=not the garment rack outside the dressing room. No confusion on my part. Maybe “main area” means something different in Canada. LOL. Whatever. I mean how hard can it be to understand what you said? Just about every store has a garment rack outside the dressing room. When I said the salesperson was trying to get around her job didn’t you grasp that she was trying to get around her job of taking the clothes of the rack outside the dressing room to the main area? My point about the messy dressing room is that you can’t just leave your clothes in the dressing room. You are supposed to put them on the garment rack outside the dressing room. There is a rack there for all the people who try on clothes to put things they don’t want. The worker then takes these clothes to the MAIN AREA.

      Since we have finished discussing how dressing rooms work, we can move on. My post says what I meant perfectly. If not let me state it finally and this can be the end of this not so clever discussion. Your comment that you said was meant to show the “lack of tolerance from both sides” does comes off as a way to say that black people are racist too and that we discriminate and humiliate white people in the same manner. If your black friend were to tell you that she was accused of stealing at a store by a salesperson simply because she was black would you then proceed to tell her about your main area garment rack racist mean salesperson experience? It is inconsiderate and not the same. It’s like if a sexist man had called you the b word and tried to grope you and when you tell your experience to a male friend he then replies that well a woman called him a dumb male pig. Or what if after your experience with the racist black salesperson if your black friend had then responded and said well my white kindergarten teacher was mean to me? Wouldn’t that feel as if she were discounting your experience? As if she were trying to trivialize your experience? And when you responded here, it did not come off as sharing the intolerance on both sides. It came off as insensitive. She talked about racial profiling something that many black people have been humiliated by and sometimes even killed over. You then replied with a comment to say that black people do it too. You seem to think your response is appropriate. I don’t, so we are disagreeing.

      This is my last comment to you since you are getting emotional and resorting to personal attacks. I will work on my English though so I can figure out this supposed communication breakdown we are having over the difference between the main area and the dressing room garment rack outside the dressing room. LOL. Good day.

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    • sophie

      @ oh ok-U STARTED IT!

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    • & u & your brethren can down vote me all u want-I don’t care I always get down voted

      -1
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