Having a conversation with a black friend about anything can often feel like walking on a minefield. And there are specific phrases that are a trigger and have black people grimacing, sighing or snapping our fingers in a z-formation because they get us really defensive about being black, racism and such and such. Here are my thoughts on some of the “harmless” stuff that you say and what your friend actually hears:
1. You say: “Apartheid/ colonialism/ the slave trade is over. Why can’t we all just love each other?”
Black person hears: “Wah-wah wee-wah…”
This is a classic foot-in-mouth statement. This comment is usually thrown in when a group of friends are having a little debate about colour etc and the diplomat in the group will say “But guys, why can’t we all just love each other? People who say this come off as sweet but also quite ignorant and really shallow. Yes, we have democracy and BBBEE and and can marry who we want to but we still have a long way to go! No, we are not at the point of just loving each other and we do need to talk about these issues because they are real and we face them every day.
2. You say: “But you are different, you’re more like us than them.”
Black person hears: “White is good, black is bad.”
This is one usually comes after a friend makes a statement that shows her/ his prejudice and they throw that in to make sure that you know that you are not included in that statement. Like how black people are so lazy, or untrustworthy or generally think they are entitled. So just to make sure you know their intentions they will add: “It’s just some black people, not you…” I have a lot of white friends (see number 4 for more on this) and they have often expressed the fact that they do not think of me as a black person. What that sounds like is: “You are less like a black person and more like a white person. White is good, black is bad.”
3. You say: “Your people.”
Black person hears: “Your (good-for-nothing) people.”
This one very rarely slips out but will in the heat of the moment. I have heard it once or twice in an academic debate that got out of hand – in a Politics, History or Jurisprudence class. It is always met with a low roar from the black students and flashing eyes. This one particularly makes black people feel very defensive and like they are being accused of something. Stay away from ‘our’ and ‘your’ distinctions.
4. You say: “I am not racist. Some of my best friends are black.”
Black person hears: *alarm bells*
Do I really need to explain why this is offensive? Okay, maybe I should. It is often said, again, by someone who has just made an offensive comment about people of a different colour. It sounds like a kind of justification and an excuse: “Yes, I make racist comments but that does not make me racist.” These days though, my usual reaction is a giggle when a well-meaning person says it and occasionally a moment of silence for the unfortunate deliverer of such words.
5. You say: “Your people.”
I just had to put that one in again!
These were fun to compile – haha! Any other ones that you would like to add? Also, are my observations correct?
Thanks for reading.