From The Grio — Every culture has its potentially offensive stereotypes. Blondes are dumb. White people can’t dance. Native Americans love to gamble. All Asians are geniuses. Most Latinos are illegal immigrants.
Media outlets can perpetuate these beliefs and keep them alive for decades. But, sometimes, members of those communities perpetuate them on their own.
There are, in fact, certain stereotypes about the black community that are believed and passed down, not by outsiders, but by folks within the black community itself.
Is there a such thing as “the itis”? Does black ever “crack”? Does a large group of black people generate a lot of heat? Are black people born with rhythm? Are black people more naturally more athletic than other races? Do black men really have larger penises than other men?
Read further to find out which self-perpetuating characteristics of the black community are facts and which are fiction.
Black folks get “the itis” after eating
Short for the less palatable term “ni**eritis,” the term is used in both the United States and Caribbean to describe the routine of becoming sleepy after eating a large meal. “The itis” is jokingly said to affect blacks more than any other group. The term also implies that the person who has “the itis” is lazy, and often too fatigued to return to work after their mid-day meal.
So is it fact or fiction?
“All of us are sleepier during early to mid-afternoon,” says Dr. Mark Mahowald, former director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin Medical Center, and now a professor of neurology at University of Minnesota Medical School. “There is no racial difference in the sleepiness we all experience.”
Most humans have their body clocks set to become sleepier between midnight and 6:00 am, and again around noon. Many people erroneously attribute this mid-day sleepiness to their big lunch, sitting in a dark room, hot weather, or a boring meeting.
However, these things do not cause sleepiness or “the itis,” they simply bring out the mild sleepiness that was already there from their intrinsic body clocks.
“This is why cultures wiser than ours have picked that time for their siesta [or nap] time,” says Mahowald.
So where did the “itis” notion come from?
One theory is that, given the predisposition for sleepiness during those times, that any group of people that are also exposed to the heat after eating a large lunch, without taking a nap is set up for “the itis,” so to speak, says Mahowald.
The fact that both now, and decades ago, blacks in the United States and the Caribbean have been overrepresented in outdoors work during warmer climates, makes this theory a strong possibility.
In a subset of African-Americans, a condition called obstructive sleep apnea could play a role. Overall, it tends to affect people who are obese, but African-Americans are more affected despite body habitus. People with obstructive sleep apnea stop breathing several times during sleep, for seconds at a time, usually due to obstruction from the tongue, fat around the neck, or in the case of many African-Americans, the natural construct of their airways – the nose, throat or adenoids. Because of the lack of restful sleep, people with this condition are often sleepy during the day. This also increases the risk of decreased alertness in the setting of the other factors already mentioned.
Conclusion: Since all people technically get “the itis,” the myth is somewhat true. But, since it doesn’t affect blacks more than other groups as the stereotype says, that makes it fiction.
Black Don’t Crack
The popular belief that people of African descent look younger than their stated age is what sits behind the quip, “black don’t crack.”
Numerous black celebrities have aged gracefully over the years, including singer Lena Horne who died last year at 92, 45-year-old actor Blair Underwood, and 45-year-old actress Stacey Dash who still convincingly plays 20- and 30-something characters. Many black families have their own personal stories of ageless beauty to tell.
So, is it fact or fiction?
“In my dermatology practice, black men and women tend to present with skin aging concerns about a decade later than my patients with lighter skin,” says Dr. Andrew F. Alexis, director of the Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
The types of complaints are also different, Alexis says. Aging black men and women often seek treatment for uneven skin tone, large pores or moles. Yet, the leading cosmetic concerns in his aging Caucasian patients involve fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of sun damage.
Melanin, a pigment that affects the color of hair, eyes and – most importantly – skin, serves as natural sun protection. Since ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes skin to age faster, darker skin is more protected from those changes. People with fairer skin who did not use sunscreen at a young age are thus exposed to decades of sun damage long before reaching their older years.
However, the sun can still damage darker skin, and in addition to cosmetic changes, people with darker skin can develop skin cancer. So, even though “black don’t crack,” staying out of the sun, using a hat or umbrella to block sunrays, wearing sunscreen and avoiding cigarette smoking can stave off the cracks for a few years longer.
Black folks generate more heat
The clichéd scenario is a room filled with black people, where the room then becomes uncomfortably hot and someone frustratingly calls out, “There are too many black people in here,” as he or she escapes the room. Said person is usually referring to the concept that a group of black people generates more heat than other races. And, thus requires areas with more aeration or simply not gathering so closely together or so numerously.
So is it fact or fiction?
“The amount of heat radiated can depend on a handful of factors – race does not appear to be one of them,” says Dr. David Keller, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas, who regularly performs research on how the body regulates its own temperature.