A few days ago I was engaged in a conversation about country music with a group of people who happened to be Caucasian. As a rule, I only discuss guitar-based music with white people because I like to pander to their knowledge base and make them feel comfortable. They were surprised at how familiar I was with the genre (My first job–besides a one-day stint as a bag boy at Harris Teeter–was as a weekend disc jockey at the now defunct WHSC, my local radio station and the “Home for Country Music). As the conversation dwindled to a close, one of the guys whom I had just met, offered to buy me a drink. He asked what I drank, and before I could answer, he continued, “Let me guess. Hennessy?”
A few days later I was chiding a Black friend about a local fried chicken spot that he always touted. I told him the the place was aight because the food always tasted unseasoned, and was surprised that he liked “white people chicken” so much. He replied, “You sure do know a lot about white people’s cooking, don’t you?” We both erupted into laughter at his burn, but his question made me ask myself: Am I really that familiar with caucasian cooking? How much white people’s cooking have I actually eaten?
In the past five years, I may have eaten two non-restaurant meals prepared by someone who wasn’t Black, and I don’t recall the food tasting bland or unseasoned. I would assume that country music aficionado had likely shared drinks with a few Black people in his lifetime, and I’m willing to bet that most of them didn’t drink Hennessy. Both of our frames of reference had been so colored by tropes from TV and social media that they became real to us.
As tolerant and integrated as we would all like to think America is becoming, it is still largely segregated. I live in a mostly white, affluent neighborhood, in one of the reddest states in America. I often encounter the stay-at-home moms and businessmen in my neighborhood and I can tell that aside from the cashier at Target and the Black girl in her spin class at the gym, they seldom deal with Black people on a day-to day basis. Not because they don’t want to, but because that is how America is still built–especially in the South. Similarly, I am surrounded by white neighbors on all sides and my life is still mostly Black. My friends are Black. Most of my non-professional relationships are Black. I go to black places and do Black things (except, apparently, downing shots of mid-level cognac while listening to Merle Haggard). While it is different for many Black people (If a white person wanted to, they could choose to never deal intimately with a Black person) we all live semi-segregated lives.
I often lament that many of the prejudices built against Black people are absorbed from a media picture that paints Black men as dangerous, animalistic neanderthals and Black women as belligerent, uneducated sasses. People whose lives aren’t populated with personal relationships with people of color absorb these narratives and fill the blank spaces–either consciously or subconsciously with these stereotype.
I know this, because I do it too.
I stereotype white people. I realized that I haven’t spent a significant amount of real time with a white person since 1998. Everything I think I know about White people are facts gleaned from TV shows, movies and books I read. I admit that magazines, books, movies, television and White History Months (January, March, April, May June, July, August, September, October, November and December) give a much fuller and more nuanced look at Caucasians. In an effort to flush out all of these silly cliches, I decided to rid myself of my prejudices by listing all the things I know about White people:
- They don’t use washcloths. They use body wash and loofahs.
- They can’t dance But they love to dance. At any party you ever attend, there will be a white person dancing. The fact that they can’t find the rhythm doesn’t stop them from talking off their shoes and writhing in ecstasy. I used to think there was a dogwhistle-like beat in every song that only white people could hear. Now I know.
- They love flip flops Everybody loves flip flops during the summertime, but If you go to Wal Mart on the coldest day of the year, 21.38 percent of White people will have on flip-flops… and their children will be barefoot.
- They need excitement Apparently, if you don’t have to worry about making it home through gang territory or being tasered by a police officer for reaching for your wallet, Life can get pretty boring. You have to go white water rafting. Or street race. Or attach yourself to a kite and jump off a cliff.
- They don’t like their parents Most white people are estranged from their parents. When you ask the most popular question from the Book of Black People Small Talk–“How your mama doin?”–it is not unusual to hear a white person reply, “I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to my mom in 8 years.”
- They like oral sex I know what you’re thinking: “Well, who doesn’t like oral sex?” Everybody does. But not like white people.
- They don’t use lotion I’ve never seen a white person use lotion or complain that they were ashy, yet they are in all the lotion commercials.
- They’re inquisitive They always want to know where that noise is coming from or what your t-shirt means.
- They slow down lines If you’re at a concert, they aren’t even going to pull their tickets out until they get to the front of the line. If you want to get out of the grocery store quickly, choose the line with the most people of color. Otherwise you are going to have to wait behind a white lady with a 3-ring binder full of coupons… And she’s paying with a check.
- They let their kids yell at them And they don’t pop them in the mouth or nothin’!
- They fuck really fast Like a drumroll. That might just be a part of the rhythm thing, though.
- They love the police White people love to call the police because the more often police are around them, the less likely it is for them to encounter danger. The opposite is true for Black people. The more police encounters a Black person has, the more likely it is that they will not end up safe.
That’s it. That’s all I could think of off the top of my head. I know you’re thinking that these are all really silly, hacky, overused, uninformed stereotypes.
But the next time you are in a dark parking garage and see a Black man walking towards you, will you be able to logically erase the negative imagery of Black people from your reptilian brain?
Now pass me the Hennessy.