A few days ago Buzzfeed released a video titled ’27 Questions Black People Have for Black People’. If you must, watch it below:
It’s three-minutes of unadulterated self-loathing and ignorance — filled with young black people asking insulting and absurd questions for the black community.
But because I’m a glutton for self-punishment — and not much of a social life — I’ve dedicated the past two days to some basic research and googling to answer these nonsensical-ass questions. Here we go.
Why is it so hard to be on time? Like, why does 5-10 always become 20-30?
Buzzfeed comes out guns blazing. I like a good CP time joke (note, a good joke Hillary) but whatever — people are late sometimes. It’s not that serious.
If my dab is on fleek, am I lit?
Just stop it. Next.
Why is it a problem if I like Anime?
It’s not! There’s a vibrant and growing interest in anime in the black community and there have been many black celebrities to express their interest in the anime art. Many black anime fans do experience bias from black friends and family (as do anime fans of other races), but that’s less and less the case. It’s also important to point out that many black anime supporters note that the biggest barrier to greater anime interest in the black community is the lack of positive representation in the medium (which thankfully, is also changing).
Why do black people look at your shoes before they greet you?
This is such an ignorant question. Who really thinks this? Or is your question, who do people judge other people by what they wear? Because I’m pretty sure that’s not a black phenomenon. Next.
Why are we more likely to get engaged in a new dance trend than we are to get involved in politics or opening a business?
This seems so silly at a time when a group of young dedicated black activists are single handedly forcing the issue of black lives into the presidential election narrative (#blacklivesmatter). It’s also absurd when you realize that black voter turnout has been on the rise since the early 1990s. In fact, African-Americans voted at a higher rate than Whites, Hispanics or Asian- Americans in 2012. And let’s hear it for Black women who have outvoted every other major demographic for the past two presidential cycles.
Also important to note that many of the organizations that are fighting against onerous and unreasonable new voter ID laws — that is, laws passed by predominantly white state legislatures, laws designed implicitly to restrict black and brown voter engagement — are organizations of color including black-led organizations and communities.
How did watermelon become our thing? Like, everyone should like watermelon.
Let me just fire up the old Google machine. Ah, here we go. How watermelon became ‘our thing’:
But the stereotype that African Americans are excessively fond of watermelon emerged for a specific historical reason and served a specific political purpose. The trope came into full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War. Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom. Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure. Few Americans in 1900 would’ve guessed the stereotype was less than half a century old.
And if you’re really curious about watermelon consumption in the United States — the USDA did a study back in the 1990s (our tax dollars at work!). In it they find that basically everyone does love watermelon. Also “Black consumers represent nearly 13 percent of the U.S. population yet only accounted for 11 percent of watermelon consumption during the 1994-96 survey period.” So you can do whatever you want with that.
Why do you get upset when I don’t like a black celebrity?
Historically many African-American athletes and entertainers had a difficult time achieving mainstream success (aka success in front of a predominantly white audience). Black athletes were not allowed to compete with white athletes and finally when they were, it was in front of racially hostile crowds and ignorant commentators. Black musicians — which had some early success in achieving broad fame — found themselves on the outside looking in after the pop-charts were resegregated in the late 1960s. The black community in many ways felt an obligation to support and rally behind these athletes and celebrities.
Fast forward to present-day and the picture is somewhat different. African-American culture is very much mainstream popular culture and many black athletes and entertainers benefit from huge multicultural and global fan bases. Yet even still, racism in Hollywood and in popular music persists and oftentimes black entertainers face a steeper hill to climb to achieving the celebrity and fame they rightfully deserve. So many in the black community still see it as important to support black entertainers.
However, no one is saying you have to like all black celebrities — we’re all different and we all have different tastes — and certainly many black athletes and entertainers are not particularly talented or through their actions do not deserve your support. But the context is important.
Why do we call each other the N word but get vehemently upset when a white person uses the word?
You tell me, nigga.
But seriously, nigga, it depends on who you ask. Some niggas use it just because. Other niggas, use it as a way to reclaim the word from its painful roots. Shit, I know some niggas that’ll fight a nigga if you use it in front of ‘em. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a hotly debated topic in the black community and we’re all trying to figure out our own level of comfort with the word. Different strokes for different folks, nigga.
But even so, just because we as a community haven’t come to grips with the word — and likely never will — it doesn’t mean white people should be allowed to hurl it around as they see fit. Feel me, nigga?
(oh and nigga, nigga, nigga)
Why is my natural hair, the hair that grows out of my head, seen as a political statement?
Umm because you’re black in a country that in it’s most revered political document claimed you were only 3/5ths of a person. Because said country went to war with itself to determine whether or not you were property. Everything about you is political.
Stacia Brown has a great piece on hair as a political statement. In it she notes that natural hair has always been controversial and always political:
…the afro has never been an individual expression of style for the women who originated it. It’s a collective expression of culture, history, and genetics. As author Bebe Moore Campbell wrote in a 1982 issue of Ebony, “In the ’60s and ’70s, the Afro was more than hair; it was a symbol of black pride, a silent affirmation of African roots and the beauty of blackness.”
And later in the piece (emphasis added):
…It is tempting to divorce aesthetic statements from their cumbersome histories. A year of wearing my hair the way it grows from my scalp, however, without heat or chemical alteration, has taught me that history is inescapable. An afro is a signifier. On a black woman, it invokes the black power movement, “black is beautiful” counterculture campaigns, and decades of discrimination. It was impossible to be confident or feel good wearing it until I accepted that.
Why do we think people with light skin look better than people with dark skin? Why do some black people say that you are pretty for a dark skin girl?
We’re going to tackle these two questions at once, cuz they really are the same thing and I’m getting tired.
History has shown that black people with lighter skin were treated better. In the days of slavery, the dark-skinned blacks worked in the fields while light-skinned blacks worked in the house, hence the terms “field Negroes” and “house Negroes.” It got so bad, that not only did the slave owners, who were often responsible for the lighter shade of brown his slaves had, give lighter-skinned blacks more respect, but so did the dark-skinned blacks.
This evolved into generations of blacks both consciously and subconsciously teaching themselves that one is better than the other which eventually led to a billion dollar fake hair industry.
And here’s a more recent piece from Yaba Blay on colorism and Beyonce.
Cara and I have written on this before as well. Colorism is real and pervasive — the benefits of being light skinned even extend to the criminal justice system as research has shown that lighter-skinned black women potentially receive shorter sentences for the same crimes.
Do you really believe that black is beautiful, or is that just something you say because it sounds cool?
Educate yourself. And even if you’re just saying it because it ‘sounds cool’ that’s ok. Sometimes you gotta fake it before you make it.
Why do some black men only date white women? Why is it okay for black men to date white women but not okay for black women to date outside her race?
Another two for one. We can’t speak for all black men — because motivations are different for each person. But as we’ve already mentioned, internalized feelings on race and the belief that light or white skin is better permeates through the black community. Some black men see white women as status symbols and unfortunately, this belief has driven many black men to feel that black women are inferior partners to white women.
The second question no doubt intersects with sexism and misogyny in which black men feel free to pursue a woman regardless of race while at the same time holding black women to the standard of being faithful only to black men. That’s not the only hurdle for black women either — racism and stereotypes against black women go beyond just black men (obviously) to drain the dating pool even further. You can look at data from dating sites to see that play out pretty blatantly.
Why do you protest black lives matter, and then tear each other down in the next breath?
Why are all the black people at buzzfeed asking dumb ass questions? I seriously don’t understand. You tear down black people for not being politically active and then in the same video ask why black people tear each other down after being proclaiming that black lives matter. Are we almost done yet??
Why do we say that we don’t want to be seen as a monolith, but then try to take people’s black cards away for not liking something that’s supposedly black?
I know some people that were definitely all in their feelings making this video. You guys realize black cards aren’t really a thing, right?
Why are we so quick to support a non-black owned business but then hesitate when it’s a black-owned business?
There is some research indicating that black people spend less money in black owned businesses — but that’s not so much an issue of anti-black sentiment, but a problem rooted in income and wealth disparity and historical prejudice. Many black people go to great lengths to support black restaurants, employ black doctors and physicians, and frequent black businesses.
This is also an issue of growing and expanding black businesses — an issue that won’t be solved only through greater community support. A 2015 New York Times article explored some of the challenges present for black entrepreneurship:
The relative dearth of black businesses stems in large part from the lack of wealth built up over generations and the limited access to capital, Mr. Hamilton said. “We often think of slavery as the only point of departure, when in fact it was many policies that took place after the Great Depression and after enduring World War II that created a white asset-based middle class,” he said.
“It was government intervention that created a white, asset-based middle class,” he added, “and it’s going to take government intervention to create a black, asset-based middle class as well.”
Is there a cut-off time for this whole homophobia thing in the black community?
There is definitely a strong presence of homophobia and transphobia in the black community — which is wrong and unacceptable. And it is no defense to say that other groups such as white people (which, again, are the predominant force behind anti-gay and trans legislation being passed in state legislatures across the country) or other communities of color are also grappling with these issues.
But to say that the black community is unique in it’s transphobia or homophobia may be a myth.
Support for marriage equality was a bit low among Black Protestants, with only 38 percent supporting and 54 percent opposing. But on the other two measures, Black Protestants overwhelmingly supported LGBT equality. They favored nondiscrimination laws 64-31, and on the question of religious refusals, black respondents actually opposed exemptions at higher rates than any other racial group, including white respondents.
There was a big deal about this back in 2008 when California passed prop 8 in the same election where Obama won the Presidency. Many blamed black voters for Prop 8s passing. But that analysis as well may have been wrong:
The statistician Nate Silver ruled out black voter turnout in 2008 as the reason Proposition passed. For one, the much-cited claim that 70 percent of black voters wanted the ban was inflated. “At the end of the day, Prop 8’s passage was more a generational matter than a racial one,” he wrote. ” If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two. It appears that the generational splits may be larger within minority communities than among whites, although the data on this is sketchy.”
Why is growing up without a father so common in our race?
The New York Times actually did a really interesting piece on the 1.5 ‘missing’ black men; finding that the vast majority of this groups were either dead or incarcerated. Educate yourself:
Incarceration and early deaths are the overwhelming drivers of the gap. Of the 1.5 million missing black men from 25 to 54 — which demographers call the prime-age years — higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost 1 in 12 black men in this age group are behind bars, compared with 1 in 60 nonblack men in the age group, 1 in 200 black women and 1 in 500 nonblack women.
Higher mortality is the other main cause. About 900,000 fewer prime-age black men than women live in the United States, according to the census. It’s impossible to know precisely how much of the difference is the result of mortality, but it appears to account for a big part. Homicide, the leading cause of death for young African-American men, plays a large role, and they also die from heart disease, respiratory disease and accidents more often than other demographic groups, including black women.
Why don’t we like to confront our mental health issues?
Like all of these question, there’s so much to unpack. If you’re really interested, you should listen to this 2012 NPR interview with Dr. William Lawson a professor of psychiatry at Howard University. Here are a few key quotes.
there [is] less accessibility of mental health services for people of color for a variety of reasons. Part of it is that many of the systems simply aren’t located proximity to where people of color are. Part of it is that many professionals simply don’t know how to diagnose properly African-Americans.
Many African-Americans have a lot of negative feelings about, or not even aware of mental health services. They may not be aware of the symptoms of many mental disorders, or they may believe that to be mentally ill is a sign of weakness or a sign of a character fault…
More from Dr. Lawson.
…African-Americans tend to like to seek treatment or help from those institutions that they’re familiar with and trust. Unfortunately, in the past, the church, while it has been very helpful in terms of general medical conditions and putting on health fairs and other support organizations, many times some of the members simply aren’t aware that mental disorders of some types are in fact medical problems and need the kind of support and help that can come.
Also consider that black people used to be TREATED LIKE LAB RATS and you may get why some negroes have a healthy skepticism of medical and mental health treatment.
Why is there a checklist for being black?
There isn’t. There literally isn’t. I mean, for the vast majority of our history it wasn’t even African-Americans who were defining what it meant to be ‘black’. Today, being black is defined by ancestry, culture, and community. Blackness for one person may not be what blackness means to you (but not you, Rachel).
Why is being educated considered a “white thing”? Why can’t I love school and also be black?
Ah yes, the ‘acting white’ stigma. I missed you, old friend.
There’s been some really great research in the past few years pushing back against the idea that black people create intellectual and educational ceilings for ourselves through stigmatizing academic success. Jamelle Bouie has a really good piece highlighting this work.
In a 2005 paper, sociologists Karolyn Tyson, William Darity Jr., and Domini Castellino found “that black adolescents are generally achievement oriented and that racialized peer pressure against high academic achievement is not prevalent in all schools.”
According to their research—drawn from interviews with students across eight North Carolina schools—racialized stigma against high achievement exists. But it requires specific circumstances, namely, predominantly white schools where few blacks attend advanced classes. There, black and white students hold racialized perceptions of educational achievement, and black students are often isolated by stigma from both groups.
Even better, research is finding that the more black people you have in a school, there’s less of the ‘acting white’ stigma present:
By contrast, “acting white” accusations were least common at the most segregated schools, a finding echoed by a 2006 study from Harvard economist Roland Fryer, who found “no evidence at all that getting good grades adversely affects students’ popularity” in predominantly black schools.
Why do I have to be mixed in order to have long hair?
You don’t. Rock that shit.
Why do you think well-off black people don’t know what it means to be black?
Probably cuz they go work at buzzfeed and make videos about how bad black people are.
But seriously, the intersection of race and class is real and for upper-middle and upper-income black families there can be a unique struggle in understanding your blackness and your place in the black community. It’s messy, it can be painful, but it’s not as simple as this question suggests.
Why do some black people say “Oh I have Native American in my family” in order to feel interesting or more valuable than other black people around them?
Well, some (but not many) actually do. Barbara Krauthamer, a professor of African-American history, attributes this habit to “a glimmer of truth to a desire to distance from Blackness to romanticized notions about Indians.”
But you should check out this piece from Dr. Henry Louis Gates for more context — it has a lot of great links to additional resources and information.
Why can’t we just acknowledge that there are a bunch of different types of black people walking around and they’re all amazing and unique and special in their own way?
Again, very interesting question to pose to black people — when I can visit amazing blogs on a million different topics and interests from black millennials, to the interests of queer and trans black people, to black fashion and beauty, to black bourgeoisie politics. I can listen to hilarious podcasts like The Read or 2 Dope Queens which tackle black issues and black reality in entirely different (but similarly hilarious) ways.
In short, Black people are being amazing and unique and special and BLACK PEOPLE ARE ALREADY ACKNOWLEDGING IT. Maybe a better question would be why can’t society acknowledge and appreciate that diversity? Why does Hollywood only gives us one stereotypical black character? Why can’t we achieve greater diversity in book publishing?
Why are we always looking for the discount?
Wait, who isn’t trying to get the discount? Exhibit A: White people on Black Friday.
This whole exercise has been draining. These questions range from ignorant to downright malicious. At the end of the day, most of these questions have nothing to do with black people and could basically all be answered by a simple internet search or going to the library. I have no more words so we’re just gonna end on this note: