If you are already a white person who hangs out with black people you probably already know these rules–and when and how to break them. If you’re just starting to hang out with black people, or are wondering about those strange looks your black friends, colleagues and associates sometimes give you–you might want to brush up on the “rules.”
- Never use the N-Word. I shouldn’t have to say this, but apparently I do. Don’t say it in public. Don’t say it in private, don’t say it in your head. Just don’t say it! I don’t care how many times Tupac or the Young Money crew drop it, pretend you’re a radio and censor it out. (I substitute playa sometimes in songs where ‘man’ or ‘asshole’ is really what they mean.) I don’t care how many times your black friends say it–you don’t use that word! When they say it they are empowering themselves by reclaiming a word that that has been used to cause suffering and degradation. When you say it you’re being a racist asshole. (And if your white friends say it, please try to educate them–if they don’t wanna listen, consider some different friends)
- Don’t say words like the N-Word. No it’s not okay if you say it with an “a”. Don’t say Snoop-like words like fo-shizzle. You think you’re sounding cool. They think that you’re finding a sneaky way to say the N-Word. On the same tip, my friend Digger watched his buddy get beat-up by a group of black guys after yelling out “Hey Digger” on the wrong street. (And yes he watched, that 98 lb white boy didn’t have a chance against all those dudes!)
- Don’t try to “act black” Unless you’re in a gang don’t throw gang signs or imitate the folks you see on TV. Don’t have “gangsta” themed frat parties. Don’t try to dance like you see on the music videos–when you ain’t got no rhythm. Just find the beat. (Please? For me? Do you have any idea how hard it is to dance in a room full of no-rhythm white folks tryina’ throw down?) Now I’m not saying all black folk can dance, ’cause that’s a myth just like the one about all black men having big dicks–just more of them can. You can too, just relax into the beat and find your own moves.
- Don’t try to “talk black” I’d say more on this one, but I probably break the “talking black” rule more than any others–you can only talk extensively with black people for so long before you start to pick up black English. I often have POC (People of Color) stare at me perplexedly and ask if I’m from the south–Actually, I guess that’s okay if it happens naturally, it’s the “try” part that’ll mess you up.
- Don’t try to “dress black.” For god’s sake pull your pants up! (Okay, that goes for everyone of every color. Please–I do not need to see your drawers unless we’re getting freaky!) As far as clothing goes, Hip Hop is so universal these days that you can definitely work that flavor into your gear, just don’t go over the top with it. Also, hair: please, no white girl dredds or cornrows! (Unless you’re a hippy, in which case, go ahead and do dredlocks–just be aware that if you go to Jamaica you might get your ass kicked!)
- Do not call black people “articulate” No matter how loquacious and eloquent the speaker is, don’t pay them this particular “complement.” You think you’re saying: “Wow, have an amazing way with words”, or, “Obama, you make George Bush look like a gibbering idiot.” They hear: “You talk perty good for a darky.” And really, they might be on to something. Do you ever pay this particular complement to white people? If you feel in awe of a POC’s way with words, try saying something like “I really liked the way you said XYZ–I never would have thought to put it that way.” That shows not only an appreciation for the speaker’s turn of phrase, but engages with the topic they were discussing.
- Don’t ask your black friends to use the back door. Not even if you ask everyone else including your Mama and Baby-mama to do it! Black people have spent centuries having to go in through the back and they deserve red-carpet treatment now. (Um. I guess unless you’re getting freaky?)
- Don’t ask your black friend to dress up like a Gorilla Okay, really I can’t believe that I have to say this one, but a dear friend of mine was pressured into donning a Gorilla suit for a play by friends, who were apparently unaware or uncaring of the history of white people making comparisons of black people to gorillas, apes and monkeys. Similarly, some black folk might not be too keen on monkey toys for their kids.
- Know Your History. Did you even pay attention in school? Read and learn as much as you can about the history of slavery and racism in this country. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there from PBS documentaries–to books on Harriet Tubman and Malcolm X, to fiction–like the works of Bebe Moore Campel and Alice Walker. (Not an exhaustive list at all–that’s just off the top of my head–but you have the internet, I’m sure you can find plenty to give you a better perspective on where African Americans are coming from–and maybe learn a little about yourself in the process.)
- Follow the Golden Rule. If you don’t follow any other rules in this list, follow this one. Do your best to treat all people with respect and consideration.