Black People Problems

By Michael Harriot

I’m sure you’ve recently heard the term or have seen the hashtag #WhitePeopleProblems. It’s used to describe a benign but aggravating circumstance that affects people (not necessarily white) who really don’t have anything to complain about. A hitch in your golf swing is a #WhitePeopleProblem. Having to leave your BMW at the dealership and drive a car with cloth seats is a #WhitePeopleProblem. When the maid forgets to clean the nanny’s suite, you have #WhitePeopleProblems. This begs the question: is there such a thing as #BlackPeopleProblems?

Oftentimes we mistake the difficulties of life as unique to people of color when they are often rooted in socioeconomic biases and cultural differences. We do, however, sometimes encounter circumstances that are unique to Blackness. As a way to foster a collective consciousness and engender understanding, NegusWhoRead would like to offer a few examples of situations that fall under the exclusive purview of #BlackPeopleProblems.

Ash – In the course of human events, there will come a time when all people of African descent will face what is termed a “crises of lotion.” These events usually occur when a woman is carrying her “going out purse” that is too small to hold a container of cocoa butter.  White people sometimes suffer from dry skin, but it is never an existential quandary. When confronted with a situation such as this, one has to take unconventional steps to remedy this #BlackPeopleProblem. I honestly believe the ingenuity common among Black people evolved from the brain muscles we have developed in solving the complex puzzle of ashy knees. Historical fixes include everything from petroleum jelly to butter to the most popular and readily available of them all–spit. In a pinch, I once dabbed 30-weight motor oil on my elbows.There is a small bone on the back of the ankle that somehow collects more ash than the rest of the body combined. This area is called the Achilles tendon. Most people don’t know that Achilles was a legendary warrior in Greek mythology. It is said that he was invincible because his mother dipped him in a river of lotion when he was born. His only vulnerability was the area above his heels because that is where his mother held him when he was dipped. He was killed when an archer shot him in this one exposed area–the Achilles tendon. How did the archer know where to shoot him?

His ashy ankles.

Although the details of this myth might be a little fuzzy to me, it illustrates that ashiness has been a profound #BlackPeopleProblem since the days of yore.

We all look alike – Every Black person has had that one incident where a White person confuses you for someone they swear looks exactly like you. It has happened to most of us so many times that we have become immune to it–except for one re-occurring case:

When you meet the person the person they are comparing you, and that person is ugly as fuck.

What do you do then? Do you complain? Do you disavow your doppelgänger? No, you do what I do:

If a white guy tells me I look like someone he knows, I tell him he favors Paul Giamatti. If it is a woman, I swear to her that she resembles Rosie O’Donnell.

Police – I know you expect me to go into a diatribe about police abuse or the killing of unarmed Black men, but this is different. Every Black man has been in the situation where he was driving, his license was intact, he had no drugs in the car and wasn’t committing any misdemeanor but the blue lights flashed behind him. At the very least, we get nervous and fidgety as we run every possible scenario through our mind. Even though I don’t sell or do drugs, I will somehow wonder if there could possibly be a kilo of cocaine in the trunk or a joint in the ashtray. This ubiquitous feeling conjures up two Black people problems:

You have to put on your friendly, “white people” voice. You know the one I’m talking about. Most Black people know how to “code switch” but there is a unique pressure that arises from riding and rapping along to Tupac, and then immediately switching into the Ned Flanders voice.

You have to find a gas station. After the cop runs  your license and registration, asks if you have any illegal drugs in the car, questions where you were headed, inquires about where you work, asks for your social security number, demands your current home address and your great grandmother’s maiden name, (Apparently, this is the police department protocol for Black traffic stops) he’ll let you go freely…

But now you gotta pee.

Whenever you see a Black guy rushing to the bathroom at the Citgo, just know he just probably had a #BlackPeopleProblem

Black Aptitude – This is a #BlackPeopleProblem that only arises when you hang around white people. Most Black people know that there is a wide spectrum of socioeconomic and individual experiences among each other, but they will often be confronted by White people with questions and scenarios that test their Blackness. Our caucasian counterparts don’t understand that Jamaal doesn’t always know the best chicken spot in “the hood” or the new 2Chainz song. You might get the caucasian version of the side-eye if you can’t recall the lead singer’s name of 112 or haven’t seen the latest Madea flick (I don’t know anyone who watches Tyler Perry movies. I actually don’t believe Tyler Perry makes movies. I believe Tyler Perry makes terrible trailers for movies, and Hollywood reports false box office statistics of people who went to see his movies. It’s all an elaborate Illuminati money-laundering scheme, but no one will expose it because the people who know are too embarrassed to admit they bought a ticket to a Tyler Perry movie). If you’re Black, they expect you to know everything tangentially related to Black culture, so study up!And they’ll ask you where to get some “Chronic.” They always think you know where the weed spot is.

Jesus – By default, all Black people assume each other to be religious. They usually presume you to be Christian, and if you tell them no, they default to, “Oh, you must be Muslim. Ah, Salami Lakers.” Before you are accepted as a member of the Black community, you must answer the two required questions on the universal negro questionnaire:

a. Who is your kinfolk?
b. What church do you attend?

One must reveal the God to whom he prays before dating, joining an organization or going to anybody’s cookout. If you’re like me, you keep any agnosticism or religious questioning close to your vest or risk being ostracized as if you bowed to Satan, quenched your thirst by drinking the blood of the unborn and held monthly human sacrifices. I learned this because I once told an acquaintance that I didn’t celebrate Christmas. She got very quiet, and with a concerned, almost scared look on her face she asked in a voice quivering with fear and disbelief:”But you do believe in Jesus the Christ, right?”

I didn’t ask if she wanted to know if I believed in his existence as a historical figure, as an amalgam of pre-biblical myths or as the man who made it possible for everyone born after 37 A.D to have eternal life because Roman soldiers executed him and some friends found his burial tomb empty three days later…

I just lied and said “yeah.”


Black People Problems.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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