10 Habits of Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Anti-Black
CW: anti-Black violence, death, police, transphobia
You’re probably anti-Black.
Take a moment to breathe through that. To let it sink in. To let the fear and defensiveness subside. Now, read on.
We live in a world (yes, all of us, everywhere) designed to continuously harm Black folks; to perpetuate and ensure violence against Black bodies; to systematically and consistently keep Black people down. As Audre Lorde says, we were never meant to survive.
If you’ve seen the news lately, or ever, you’ll know that this often manifests in forms of extreme violence like police brutality. You’ll get the impression that this only happens to Black, American cisgender men. You’ll feel a little sad, hit retweet and go about your day. You may be appalled or ashamed or even furious, but you probably won’t think it’s anything to do with you.
Here’s the thing. When a white police officer stands in front of a Black man, in those few precious seconds before the trigger is pulled, 101 tiny things happen. Everything he has been taught about Black men comes rushing up to greet him. Forty-five years of breathing in anti-Blackness becomes 45 seconds before deciding if this person should live or die.
I am not absolving police officers of their actions by saying it is a result of unconscious bias - in fact, I am doing quite the opposite. I am saying everyone who is not Black, has been taught to be anti-Black. (Black folks have also been taught to internalize anti-Blackness, but that’s a whole other article).
When we people say not all cops are bad, my response is, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if they are nice people, good parents, kind neighbours. As humans raised in this society they are by default anti-Black and have been trained (read: indoctrinated) by a violent institution that has been anti-Black since its inception (who do you think went to catch fleeing slaves?) and been given the authority to act on instinct (read: bias) and carry deadly weapons.
Could you say, with certainty, that you would not shoot a Black person, if, say, your job involved carrying a gun? Could you guarantee that your finger would not move to the trigger the minute you felt threatened by someone you have been taught, your entire life, is dangerous? Could you promise you would not exploit the power and authority given to you by a white supremacist state? Could you be certain you would believe the words of a Black man over a white woman? Could you state with surety that you would not mistake buying skittles, playing in a park, going for a jog, selling CDs for activities worthy of death? Could you?
White supremacy, and therefore anti-Blackness, are the waters we swim in. Anti-Blackness is our lexicon and only extensive, intentional, deep, deliberate, transformative, life-long work can make that change, even a little bit.
So, while you may perceive yourself as distanced from the violent murders of Black folks, the complicity of every non-Black person in anti-Blackness amounts to the sum total of an anti-Black world.
Here are ten habits of someone who doesn’t know they’re anti-Black:
1. Your first question to a Black person is about Beyonce
I can smell someone who hasn’t had a real conversation with a Black person before from miles away. These people have absolutely no idea how to interact with a Black person (pro tip: it’s just like any other person) aside from the caricatures of Blackness they have seen in the media. I’ve been asked Can you twerk? Have you heard Beyonce’s new album? Nicki or Cardi? more times than I care to remember. The portrayal of Black people, especially Black women and femmes as sexualized gangsters, hungrily lapped up by white folks who think it’s cool, suddenly becomes really awkward when I say I like Nickelback.
We are diverse, complex humans, not music video characters.
2. You adopt a Blaccent out of nowhere
Black culture is cool. Everyone wants - and willfully takes - a piece of it. A hairstyle, an outfit, even the whole damn dictionary. R’n’B music is the soundtrack to every hipster restaurant and hip hop is at your Sunday morning yoga (yes, that’s a thing now apparently - like a cultural appropriation crossover?) - Black music is essentially inhaled every waking second. This over-consumption of Black culture blurs the lines between Black slang and mainstream slang. Words like hella, lit, woke, bae have become staples in Millennial and Gen Z vernacular - although I heard the kids are done with it and have discarded some of these terms like Miley Cyrus tried on and discarded Blackness for a hot minute.
Why is it that white women comment you look so pretty on their white friends pictures, and yaaaasss sis, queen, fire, you look fiiiine on their Black friends’? That’s the blaccent-outta-nowhere complex.
3. You've texted your Black friends that you’re ‘shocked’
I am not shocked. Black folks are not shocked. There is nothing surprising or new about racism; there is nothing we haven’t seen before. We are tired, traumatized, emotional, numb, desperate, hurt and so much more, but rarely are we shocked.
If you are shocked, where have you been? Where do you get your news? The year I was born, the murder of a young Black man shook my family and I’ve thought about him ever since. After twenty-six years, I am not shocked. Why are you?
4. You expect labour from Black folks
After texting about how shocked you are, you then expect your Black friends and other Black folks in the community to continue to educate you - to provide links, reading lists, to do a quick lunch and learn (it’s over Zoom, so it will be super chill! We have 35 minutes and no budget, we just want you to share your story! Sound good?).
5. You re-share videos of Black death
The videos are essential, I will not dismiss that. We need evidence, we need memory, we need fire for the revolution. However, Black folks do not need to see them; do not need to be scrolling through pictures of new shoes and make-up routines to come face to face with the last breath of someone who looks like them, someone who could be them in another life, or in this one.
Send them directly to your non-Black friends, with consent - these videos can be triggering to anyone. Send them your MP or Becky from marketing who doesn’t believe racism is real. Just don’t share them carelessly.
6. Your first instinct is to call the cops
When you witness an incident, the first thing you do - or think about doing - is calling the cops. This is evidence that you are not intimately aware of the consequences of police involvement. (Although you’ve likely been sharing videos of police violence for the shock factor, so that’s confusing to say the least).
Then there are people like Amy Cooper who are so aware of the perceived innocence of white women and the perceived danger of Black men, they use it to intentionally put Black folks in harm's way - definitely don’t be like Amy.
7. You’re obsessed with grammar
She been got a job and she had went to work. Can’t nobody say she don’t work.
Do these sentences annoy you? Do you want to go in with a red marker and ‘fix’ them? This is AAVE (African American Vernacular English) which is used primarily by African Americans but also adopted by many other Black folks around the world. It’s a legit language with it’s own grammar structures including a verbal copula, habitual aspect marker, negative concord and many other consistent grammar rules (yes, I’m a linguistics nerd). Many of these same rules can be found in Russian, Portuguese, Italian and so on.
So, before you go saying that Cardi doesn’t speak properly, check yourself.
8. You take extra precautions when travelling to Africa or the Caribbean
As mentioned, anti-Blackness is a global phenomenon. The way anti-Blackness is experienced does change though, largely informed by historical projects of white supremacy and how they target Black communities in different ways. For example, the North American Black experience is largely scripted by the legacy of slavery, while the African experience is often informed by the hangover of colonialism (obviously this is not exclusive and very oversimplified).
The Western perception of African and Caribbean countries is through a patriarchal, imperial, infantilizing, neocolonial lens. We are taught to see these places as dangerous, lawless, uncivilized and many white tourists behave as such when visiting - don’t bother going if you’re going to buy a package deal from a white-owned company, overtly display distrust for the local people and take photos with the local children for your Tinder profile.
9. You celebrate Pride without knowing its origins
Pride is a fun event that brings thousands of people together (not in 2020, cryface) to celebrate how far the LGBTQ2S+ movement has come. Yet for many, that’s where it ends. People, queer and straight alike, treat Pride like a party - when it’s a protest. A protest started by trans women of colour resisting against police violence.
Because our society is so anti-Black, even within other marginalized communities, the radical Black and Latinx origins of Pride, the Stonewall Riots, have been totally whitewashed. This erasure of Black and transgender history from our contemporary understanding of Pride, contributes to the fact that Black trans women experience among the highest rates of violence in North America. Some people in the LGBTQ2S+ acronym experience a lot more privilege than they did in the past - and through great advocacy and struggle - but with their increased power and social status, are leaving Black and racialized queer, trans and Two Spirit people behind.
10. You sing Eenie Meenie Miney Moe to your kids
Eenie, meenie, minie mo. Catch an nigger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eenie, meenie, minie mo.
Yep, those are the original lyrics. This, along with so many other rhymes, catchphrases and idioms we say every day have a seriously anti-Black history. Or as Lilian Smith puts it:
These ceremonials in honour of white supremacy, performed from babyhood, slip from the conscious mind down deep into muscles and glands…and become difficult to tear out.
So, there you have it. Ten, of many, deep and insidious ways that anti-Blackness seeps into everyday behaviours. What will you do to tear them out?