Stop Giving Non-Black People "Black Cards"

by Kinsey Clarke  It can happen anywhere. For me, it happened at a pre-game party at a coworker’...

by Kinsey Clarke 

It can happen anywhere. For me, it happened at a pre-game party at a coworker’s house. Delighted to be around my successful intern class, the black interns decided to take a picture together.

Suddenly, I heard a voice call out to allow a white coworker join our picture.

“Hey! Get [redacted] in here! She’s black enough!”
I froze. Annoyance crept over me.
“She’s not black.” I said, firmly.
“Yeah she is! C’mon!”
“No, [redacted] is a white woman.” I said, again, rolling my eyes.

It had happened. In our little moment of celebrating black success in a very competitive field, someone had taken it as an opportunity to extend the black card to a non-black person.

For those of you who don’t know, the black card is the imaginary card given to black people at birth. The term is used primarily in black humor as a way to police who and who does not get to call themselves black or participate in blackness.



Though the term is an admittedly shallow reflection of the multifaceted experience that is black culture, I take issue with simply allotting “down” non-black people access to blackness. Call me selfish. Call me ignorant. Tell me I’m taking the issue too seriously, but I will call people out when they try to extend or put blackness on like a thrift store coat.

After I clarified that my coworker was a white woman, I felt a twinge of guilt. When I felt it, I was shocked. All I did was (accurately) point out that she was white, but in the face of my peers I wondered if I’d overreacted. Looking back, I see that my guilt was a reflex that has taught me to protect white womanhood from being offended.

Even though I see how black people would want to extend our creativity, our strength, our vulnerability, our genius to other people in celebration, I’ve become fiercely protective of who gets to sit with us. Maybe I’m still bothered by that woman who will not be named, but no matter how jokingly I hear someone give away a black card to a non-black person all I can think about is the fact that it does not work the other way around. I am not given all-out access to white privilege if a white friend gave me a white card, and frankly, I wouldn’t want it. However, I do know that the situation simply would not happen.

Stop extending black cards to non-black people. I know it’s nice to see non-black people who enjoy and appreciate the nuances of black culture, people who can hold a beat, or people who know all the lyrics to a favorite song, but they are not black. They do not have to experience the everyday disadvantages of blackness, even when they are given a black card. They do not have to worry about their blackness being taken and used as an automatic guilty verdict in situations where they are the victims of injustice, so as not to be seen as the aggressor. They do not have to fret over whether cops will harass them because they wore what they wanted to wear. They will not have to feel the pressure to tone themselves down in the workplace. They will not have to deal with hearing white coworkers being deliberately obtuse about the state of affairs of being black in America. They will not deal with the microaggressions, the trauma of seeing people who look like them being taken down, the parts that are not fun.

They are not black. I repeat, they are NOT BLACK. And that is okay.

Photo: Shutterstock

Kinsey Clarke is a recent graduate of Michigan State University and the intern at NPR Code Switch. She enjoys solo trapeze and aerial silks in her spare time. You can follow her personal Twitter account here.




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