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What Not to Say to Black People

17 May

In an effort to ease relationships between the races, has put together a more simplified approach for different types of people to understand each other. Public relations can be difficult to manage, especially when two types of people from dissimilar backgrounds are forced into close proximity with one another. Ignorance is not racism, but it can be perceived that way. So, we enlisted the help of several Black people and translated the most offensive questions and comments that they regularly encounter into what those comments really mean, what they were supposed to convey, and a useful alternative to the offensive language.

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“Your name is so hard to pronounce.”

What You Said: You are not important enough to me for me to attempt learning your name. I know how to say Saoirse Ronan (SEER-sha, RO-nahn), Charlize Theron (SHAR-lees, THAIR-en), Shia Lebouf (SHY-uh, luh-Buhf), and Zach Galifianakas (ZAK, GAL-i-fe-nak-iss) even though they are not native names here in America, but DeAndre Jordan (DEE-un-dray, JOR-duhn) eludes me.

What You Meant to Say: Your name does not sound like it is spelled.

What You Should Say: Could you say your name one more time? Let me make sure I have it.


“You speak so well. You’re so articulate.”

What You Said: I do not know a lot of Black people, and you do not fit into my perception of what Black people are. You are not loud, you seem intelligent, and you have a decent sense of decorum. That’s weird because all the Black people in the media are loud, ignorant, and acting like a fool most of the time.

What You Meant to Say: I misjudged you. I had no idea that Black people were educated and well-spoken.

What You Should Say: We need to talk more. I had no idea that you were so well-versed in this subject.


“You’re not like other Black people.”

What You Said: You, who have been relegated to all the negative stereotypes and criticism that are associated with being Black for the entirety of your life, are not Black enough to be intimidating. Black people are violent, scary people. You are friendly. I have never actually talked to a Black person before this exact point in my life.

What You Meant to Say: Hey, you seem like a nice, responsible person. And, even though I do not have any Black friends, I kind of want to be your friend.

What You Should Say: You’re cool. Let’s hang out/get a drink sometime.

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“Can I touch your hair?” (while touching their hair in public)

What You Said: Your hair is curly/kinky/stiff/coarse. My hair is normal. Therefore, you are a circus freak with hair that was put here solely for my amusement. Stand still while I ogle you.

What You Meant to Say: Your hair looks completely different from mine, and because I do not know a lot of Black people intimately and I feel relatively comfortable with you, I would love to explore the differences between the textures and coarseness of our hair.

What You Should Say: Are you wearing your hair natural? I love that hairstyle. What did you do to set it like that? (You may be able to sneak in a feel if you know the person)


“What’s up?” (after saying “Good Morning,” to all the White people in the room)

What You Said: You’re different from everyone else. I know this because of your strange skin color.

What You Meant to Say: I think you’re cool because pop culture tells me that you are.

What You Should Say: Good Morning. (Keep the greetings uniform with everyone in the office unless you have a closer relationship with the Black person that gets the “What’s up?”. As a rule, if you have not had a meal or a drink with the person, then “What’s up?” is inappropriate.)


“That’s ghetto.”

What You Said: Anything that looks poor, broken, and raggedy reminds me of poor Black people, because Black people as a group have shoddy things and live in ghettos.

What You Meant to Say: What you are wearing/doing/making is terrible.

What You Should Say: “The stitching on that dress looks cheap.” “That house is in shambles. It needs repairs.” “You really did nothing with your hair today.” (All the preceding comments are still descriptive and degrading, but none of them have racist undertones. Anything that accurately describes what you are seeing can be said without making unwarranted generalizations about that subject.)


“You are so pretty for a Black girl.”

What You Said: Since Black people are ugly in general, I am shocked that you are mildly attractive

What You Meant to Say: You’re cute.

What You Should Say: You look pretty. (Yes, it really is that simple.)


“I don’t see color.”

What You Said: I am so invested in convincing you that I’m not racist, that I will publicly make ignorant comments about race that are obviously not true and ultimately make you question if I am racist. (Darker skin color is a trait that any person of color has had since their birth and it is a defining physical trait. To say that you do not see it is discounting and dismissive.)

What You Meant to Say: I do not judge people based on their race.

What You Should Say: I judge people solely on their merit. The things that you say, how responsible you are, how accountable you are to your loved ones, and how well you work individually and with others will show me the type of person you are.


“All lives matter.”

What You Said: There is way too much focus on the unarmed Black people that are being shot by police. Black people dying does not personally affect me, so we need to shift all that media focus from that subject to the real problem in America, White people dying. I am not being inclusive. I am being an ignorant asshole. And, in case you were wondering about my socioeconomic status and political affiliations, it should be fairly apparent now that I am a poor Republican.

What You Meant to Say: My life is just as valuable as any other life.

What You Should Say: Let me get behind this ‘Black lives matter’ movement because even though all lives matter, other lives are not at as much risk as Black lives right now. (We should be calling for unity instead of separatism when these issues occur.)

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“Why don’t we get a White History Month? Black history month is racist”

What You Said: I think that any event that has a racial connotation to it is an affront on White people. The other 11 months in the year when people focus on the history of White America is not enough. (By the way, there is no such thing as White culture. Being White was a way of separating from being Black in times of slavery. Black people are a specific set of people who were born slaves in America or who are descendants of those slaves. They are not African-American; African-Americans are immigrants from Africa. Black people did not migrate to this country of their own will, but have formed their own culture despite years of persecution and oppression here in the United States, the place where their culture was created. There is German culture, Czech culture, Italian, Jewish, Russian, etc., but there is no White culture. Everyone of those specific European heritages are worthy of celebration and they usually have their own annual festivals in every big city. Celebrating White history would be a celebration of your disregard for people of color; it would be like having a Hitler parade in Germany.

What You Meant to Say: Aren’t we all Americans? I feel neglected by American culture.

What You Should Say: Nothing. The idea of a White History month was born in ignorance, and the best rule when it comes to public relations is, if you are not sure whether something is offensive or not, do not say anything. It probably is offensive.


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