Please Stop Saying These Things to Black Women

by Erika Turner

Black women in America just can’t seem to catch a break these days.

Between Michelle Obama being called transphobic slurs for her stature and physique to Janay Rice getting shamed and lampooned by Fox News anchors after being assaulted by her NFL player husband, black women are routine targets for disrespectful jokes and offbeat questions about their everyday lives.

These kinds of comments are deeply rooted in negative media stereotypes that have little-to-no connection with reality — and it’s about time we put an end to all of the ignorance.

For years now, black women have openly challenged the racism and misogyny, but to no avail. In 2011, blogger Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey struck a nerve when she created the video “Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls,” a spin-off of the popular “Shit People Say” meme at the time.

Black women everywhere applauded Chescaleigh for hilariously demonstrating to the rest of the world just how offensive and cringe-worthy some of the remarks are, but the attitudes she so masterfully critiqued still persist.

Rather than taking that moment as a challenge to self-educate about the experiences of women of color — perspectives widely available on the Internet and in numerous books — many have instead rested comfortably in their privilege of not having to encounter the difficult challenges endured every day by black women.

It’s not that talking to black women should be hard work, but people need to make a sincere effort to undo several years of unchecked, subtle racism and sexist microaggressions.

And in the interest of elevating the conversation beyond the ridiculous tropes, here are a few of the most common statements that everyone should strongly consider avoiding while speaking with a black woman.

1. ‘You’re so pretty for a black girl.’

Just three years ago, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics claimed that black women were naturally unattractive in a blog post at Psychology Today.

Despite the obvious pseudoscience related to “testosterone levels” and fat-shaming black women for having curvier figures than average, the author isn’t alone in this line of unfortunate reasoning.

In fact, this attitude still pervades many aspects of society, especially regarding dark-skinned black women.

This supremely backhanded compliment first and foremost suggests that all black women are ugly.

Not to mention the condescending notion that the woman you’re speaking with is a rare exception to a rule that only exists in the first place due to prejudice.

Next time, just drop the qualifier and offer a genuine affirmation of a black woman’s beauty — without the racist tropes.

2. ‘I want hair like yours.’

No, you don’t.

To have black hair means being subject to highest degree of scrutiny — from assessments about your professionalism to comments from other black folks about your so-called lack of self-respect.

More often than not, people who aren’t black have the privilege of not having to agonize over the message you’re sending to the world or to your own community every day by choosing to wear your hair a certain way.

Take for example Louisiana weather woman Rhonda Lee, who was fired in November 2012 after responding to negative comments about her natural hair on KTBS 3 News’s Facebook page. When she was unable to find a job afterward, according to News One, her friends tried to help, but came up empty-handed.

“Co-workers have had an intervention of sorts with me when I first started trying to get weather jobs. They took me to lunch and told me, ‘You’re going to have to grow your hair out,'” Lee said of the tedious search process. It took until July 2014 for Lee to land a new job with WeatherNation in Colorado, with her hair intact.

You might be trying to share your respect and admiration for black hair being cool, different, and versatile, but there’s a heavy burden associated with what adorns a black woman’s head — one that you’ll never quite understand.

3. ‘You don’t look completely black. What exactly are you?’

More often than not, this question stems from a few things: genuine curiosity, implicit bias, and one terrible attempt at complimenting or exoticizing a black woman.

Sadly, these questions point to an unfortunate trend of colorism in American society, where minorities are more “acceptable” if they’re closer to looking like a white person.

A recent study revealed that “educated” black people are perceived as having lighter skin, whereas “ignorant” and “athletic” black folks are thought to have darker skin — regardless of what their true skin tone was.

Colorism also works as a divisive force within communities of color, as some racial minorities express similar attitudes and preferences.

Instead of telling a black woman that she’s beautiful or intelligent, people of all races, including some black men, perpetuate the unfortunate assumption that these characteristics can only be achieved if one’s recent ancestors mated with whites or anyone who wasn’t black.

Black women, too, are endowed with socially acceptable and desirable traits, regardless of their skin tone or their family lineage.

Continue reading at Everyday Feminism

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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