As human beings we may all be a part of the same species, living on the same planet, but our experiences as we navigate the world we live in differ greatly. Racism has long played a part in the way society functions, so it’s no surprise that depending on the amount of melanin you have in your skin some face challenges others do not. When a black person behaves in a way that doesn’t fit the dominant cultural ideologies of how they should be, more often than not there’s upset and confusion when they deviate from their prescribed stereotypes. Black folk should be black but not too black, neither to ratchet nor too bougie, there’s infinite unspoken rules about how black people should act and behave – and these rules are forever changing. So what does it mean to be the right type of black?
Most black people I know have experienced some form of discrimination based on the colour of their skin, and I bet if you were to have a conversation about racism with a black person you know they’d have a story (or two) to tell you. Black people know everyday racism, they experience it subtly and not-so-subtly in many areas of their lives. There are a manner of unspoken rules and stereotypes about black culture, and what’s expected from black people. After centuries of being treated as unequal’s, as being seen as lesser then, black voices have been side-lined and silenced. Media representation over the years has only negatively contributed to the way in which black people are viewed, the undermining ghetto stereotypes and biases here glaringly obvious. Black stories have been told for so long by those that aren’t black, is it any wonder they’ve been stereotyped so harshly?
Black communities live a life of censorship, of biting their tongues to stay afloat and get ahead. Black people are held to unrealistic standards that are constantly evolving and changing, standards they haven’t given their blessing too or even been asked about. Standards they may not be aware of. There’s an irony and complete lack of understanding for those who have been marked as visibly different, as ’other’ their entire lives. It’s unfair that nations across the globe have decided what type of black they see as tolerable, what they deem ‘appropriate levels of blackness.’ The obliviousness and insensitivity of the situation is the unfortunate reality for many black people, the jarring and uncomfortable reality a norm. This needs to change.
A question that may often run through people’s minds when they see a black person crossing the street, “are you what you appear to be?” We say we hate stereotypes, that we don’t agree with biases based on race and ethnicity, but we take issue when people deviate from the preconceived prejudices we have about them. There’s a constant need to situate individuals inside their ethnicity, to place them in an invisible box neither you nor I can see. And there’s a frustration when this can’t be done. When we deviate from societal stereotypes, the general public doesn’t react kindly. Civilisation wants to wrap things up neatly in a bow, dot the i’s and cross off the t’s, but don’t know how to handle things when this can’t be done.
Black people come in many different forms, all different shapes and sizes, all different shades, from all different walks of life. There is no right type of black, no singular way a black person should be behaving. It’s irresponsible to suggest that the targets of years of structural racism are responsible for ending it. Living among and interacting with different communities, different cultures, and different ethnicities can go a little way to understanding each other better and bridging racial divides. Give marginalised communities a voice, and listen to what they have to say. Open your eyes and broaden your mind; black people and black culture is richly diverse and beautiful. And it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
Written by J’Nae Phillips