How to Not Be a Menace to Minorities While Drinking Your “Juice” in the Hood (or Anywhere Else)

It has happened to all of us.

You and your friend of another race/ethnicity/nationality etc. are having a good time then all of a sudden you say something, your friend looks at you like you are crazy and immediately excuses themselves and you don’t hear from them for a couple weeks. You’d apologize, except you have no idea what to apologize for and your friend would call you but every time they think of that last conversation they get so pissed off smoke literally rises from their scalp.

So would he.

Well, I’d like to help put out the fires of discord.

Here is my attempt to address some commonly made mistakes that, let’s face it, predominantly white, straight, male people make, that make minorities of all colors, shapes and sexual orientations (critical race theory has some close cousins in queer theory) want to unleash the Kraken.*

  • Assume all members of a minority of a group share the exact same experience. This is called “the danger of the single story.” There is just as much diversity in the Mexican, Black, Vietnamese, Iranian and Nigerian (STOP using the term “African” unless you are referring to the elephant) experience as there is in the White experience. Sure there are some safe assumptions. A Mexican person probably enjoys salsa and knows 39 different ways to eat a tortilla but just to be on the safe side, let each individual person tell you who they are, where they are from and if they in fact enjoy hip hop music. You wouldn’t assume that all white people like, oh say, tuna casserole would you?
  • Don’t talk or behave like the unique physical traits of certain races are the last, recently discovered dodo bird. There are more people with so-called African hair than blond hair in this world and yet, most people don’t walk up to blonds and stick their grubby hands in their hair and say, “OH! I’ve never touched this before! How INTERESTING!” Furthermore, a lot of non-white girls have prominent asses. Some of us enjoy our asses, some of us wish they would go away forever. A lot of us hate the bitchy intro to “I like big butts.”
    Hands. Off.

    A lot of us hate the entire song. It doesn’t make us want to dance, it makes us feel exposed and sexualized in a completely non-sexy way.  So, stop talking about our asses unless you are trying to get us into bed and then only do if the individual girl gives you the green light. In regards to black men, a lot of them, at least in the United States, are big, strapping guys. Why? It is not an accident of genetics. It is because when black people were imported to the Americas and bred as work animals, like most breeds of work animals, the smaller individuals tend not survive the harsh conditions and are actively bred out of existence. It’s not a coincidence and it’s not really funny to joke about while watching football with your token black friend.

  • Learn your history. Ignorance is not a defense. My senior year two fucking idiots showed up at a frat party painted black from head to to with orange markings and called themselves “savages.” Their defense was that they had never heard of “blackface.” We live in the 21st century. Get your ass on the internet learn about the racial/cultural taboos in your country/community and then don’t fucking do them.
  • Do not ever, Ever, EVER tell someone that they aren’t really or don’t act like <insert minority group here>. This sort of relates to the first point, but this particular tendency requires special attention. Do not ever claim to be the voice of legitimacy on what is and what is not “proper” behavior/dress/etc. of a particular group if you are not a member of that group (it is also problematic for members within that group to set legitimacy requirements, but that debate is for another day). It doesn’t matter how many <insert minority group here> friends you have, you do not have authority in this arena. Keep your mouth shut.
  • Scarlett is your Goofus. Don't be a Scarlett.

    Know your own privilege(s). Are you educated? Rich? Male? Straight? White? One or all of the above? Well there are some handy things called “privileges” that go along with those characteristics. Pay attention to your life and figure out what they are. If you haven’t read this piece by Peggy McIntosh it is a great primer. Becoming knowledgeable about your particular set of privileges will help you understand the structural deficits that others operate under. So, when your friend says that they’d like to leave a place that is making them feel uncomfortable or when your girlfriend says someone said something disrespectful to them, that may have sounded completely innocuous to you instead of possibly discounting their assertions or feelings by brushing them off or asking them to “ignore” it (as if that were possible) you can help make constructive steps to remedy the situation.

  • Keeping those privileges in mind, affirmative action is not reverse discrimination. Reverse discrimination, as it is used by reactionary, angry white people, doesn’t actually exist. What affirmative actions aim to do is even out the levels of privilege experienced by advantaged groups (think white, straight, male, financially solvent, educated) and disadvantaged groups (everyone else). Similarly, when disadvantaged groups make criticize or makes jokes about the advantaged group, while it may be inappropriate, in poor taste and offensive, it does not operate the same way as when the advantaged group makes fun of the disadvantaged group. Advantaged groups typically have the power or the state and media behind them, they can set the narrative for disadvantaged groups that can cause substantial penalties for those groups. Disadvantaged groups do not have the same power to shape the message surrounding the dominant group and almost certainly do not have the power or opportunities to enact wide-spread penalties as a result of that, possibly erroneous, message.
  • Do not make the mistake of asserting that because members within a minority group make certain jokes, use certain words or wear certain things that it is then ok for you to do, say, wear those things. It is not and it is an easy and fast way to end a friendship. Also, do not claim that when members of a specific group do, say wear those things, even if it’s intent is mockery, it is a hate crime/discriminatory. It is not. People within a group are allowed to poke fun at themselves/their group, sometimes it is the only way that they can hang on to even a semblance of sanity. See: Brian Moylan’s Dustin and Jayden.

Whew! After all that, we need some Aretha to play us out.

As always, I look forward to any additional suggestions to the list or critiques.

*I realize that I am largely speaking to the choir here at one of the last bastions of internet sanity and intelligence.

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