In an attempt to begin fulfilling my social obligations to my generation, I'd like to provide a few statements that when said, make you sound racist.
Yes, and that's whether you realize it or not.
Here are nine things that give off the impression you're racist, with helpful suggestions of what you should say instead:
1. “I'm not trying to be racist, but…”
What we hear: “So, I'm totally about to say something completely racially insensitive and probably offensive, but I don’t want you to get mad.”
How not to sound racist: Go with something specific like, “I don’t like the way...” or “Why does ABC happen as a result of XYZ?”
This classic preface for racial insensitivity usually precedes a negative generalization or stereotype.
If you don’t like something or someone, understand this is an isolated incident or a series of circumstances that represent only the situation in question.
2. “Oh, you’re so articulate!” (to anyone over the age of 17)
What we hear: “Oh my goodness, how is it someone who looks so different understands subject-verb agreement, and the history of European colonization?”
Listen, being surprised that something profound or intelligent came from the lips of any adult is insulting.
It’s 2015. Books have been read, degrees have been acquired and we all hate Sallie Mae.
How not to sound racist: Just continue talking about the subject matter at hand. It's easy peasy.
3. “Not just black lives matter. All lives matter.”
What we hear: “These protests, constant news coverage and the events that spawned them are inconvenient, uncomfortable, annoying and unimportant. It's not a big deal. Everyone dies, and it's not about race.”
How do I even explain this?
Black lives are the ones being lost to police brutality, as apparent in the media, and that is the subject we are discussing right now.
If there was any other race dying at the hands of law enforcement, we'd talk about them specifically, too.
How not to sound racist: “Yes, black lives do matter.”
4. “Do you need sunscreen?”
What we hear: You must have superhuman abilities because of your color.
How not to sound racist: Go to your local library, and check out a book on the anatomy and physiology of the human body.
Humans of color respond to basic environmental factors the same as everybody else.
5. “I wish I had your lips, complexion or body type.”
What we hear: “Let’s play a game of Mr. Potato Head. Give me that gorgeous caramel skin, but keep all that oppression nonsense for yourself.”
How not to sound racist: “I think your lips are awesome,” or, “You have nice, even skin."
Leave it there. You don’t really want to have my features.
If you had them naturally, you’d be a person of color, too.
6. “This is a post-racial era in society.”
What we hear: “MLK has a fancy statue in DC, President Barack Obama is a black guy and Oprah is one of the most powerful women on Earth. Equality has arrived.”
How not to sound racist: While you could research the demographics of prison populations, people who fall below the poverty line and which school districts have the most cuts in funding, it’s probably easier just to look at the news headlines in the last few years for Missouri, Florida, South Carolina, New York, etc.
In a post-racial society, race doesn’t make the news.
7. “Can I touch your hair?”
What we hear: I'm not even sure how to translate this. It’s like asking if you can touch my lips or my breasts. The answer is “hell no.”
How to not sound racist: Just say, “I like your hair.”
Or, if you don’t like it, say nothing at all. Women of color are usually extremely protective and sensitive about their hair.
It probably has something to do with how hard we have to fight to wear our hair in styles that suit the way it grows naturally.
Also, we work really hard to maintain it.
So if you’re tempted to touch, don’t. It could end badly.
8. “Did you go to college on an athletic scholarship?”
What we hear: “Surely you got in because you can dribble a basketball or catch a football. I mean, you couldn’t have been that smart.”
How not to sound racist: If you must know how someone paid for college, ask, “How did you pay for school?”
But, don’t be surprised if you get a sarcastic response because frankly, it’s none of your business.
This is a blatant insult to the person’s intelligence.
9. “I don’t understand why I can’t say the N-word. Black people say it.”
What we hear: “I have lost my mind.”
How not to sound racist: Don't say anything. There is no exception.
This is a recurring question, and it seems no past explanation about the historical context of the word is sufficient.
It does not matter if:
1. You only have J Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Tupac on your iPod.
2. You have married or procreated with a black person and given birth to a biracial child.
3. You only have black friends.
4. You were adopted by a black family.
You just can't say it.
Yes, some black people use the word as an expression of camaraderie and brotherhood or sisterhood, but just accept that for what it is.