We’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.
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.