Every listicle, quiz and video from BuzzFeed has the same goal: to get noticed. A recent video, “27 Questions Black People Have For Black People,” certainly succeeded in that mission.
— BuzzFeedVideo (@BuzzFeedVideo) April 18, 2016
The questions are pretty provocative, but for some of them, the answers are easy to come by. Of course, BuzzFeed’s not gonna answer them: You noticed the video, and so have a good day.
Truth Be Told, however, asks people to share their stories, and then draws questions from those stories. The story grounds the question in reality.
I’ve reached out to a few folks involved in the video, and if they respond, I’ll update this article. (If you were in the video, please email me. I’d love to talk.)
In the meantime, here are some answers to seven of the questions. Yes, maybe everyone should know the answers by now -- or should be ready to look the answers up themselves -- but, well ... here we are.
Why is it so hard to be on time? Like, why does 5-10 (minutes) always become 20-30?
Ah, the dreaded Colored People’s Time (or C.P. Time): a standing stereotype about blackness and lateness. This recently came up in a rather unfortunate joke during a Hillary Clinton campaign stop in New York. And a guest on a recent edition of Truth Be Told -- a young black woman in graduate school -- recalled a black professor imploring her to never be late, so she didn’t play into the stereotype.
You’ll find the roots of this stereotype in popular culture, partly in the stories of Uncle Remus: a post-Civil War black character created by Joel Chandler Harris. In Uncle Remus we find all the racist views held against newly freed blacks: that they were lazy, shiftless and were better off in captivity. Whether black people need, en masse, to focus on promptness is one thing, but this expectation was imposed on blacks with a simple underlying message: You’ll never measure up.
Why are we more likely to engage in the new dance trend than we are to get involved in politics or opening a business?
To be clear, blacks historically faced major barriers to entering politics and business. After the Civil War, black men often faced threats of violence if they dared run for political office. Southern states passed many laws making it harder for blacks to vote (one landmark Supreme Court case, Nixon v. Herndon (1927), held that such laws violate the 14th Amendment). And black-owned businesses have faced institutional discrimination when trying, for example, to get bank loans: not in the distant past, but in recent cases that expose a number of unconscious biases.
But let’s be careful about minimizing the people behind those dance trends: some of them become politically influential and involve themselves in high-profile fundraisers. If creating a dance trend opens a door to become a captain of industry or a political kingmaker, then what’s wrong with that?
How did watermelon become our thing? Like, everybody should love watermelon.
This stereotype goes way back, but its origins are pretty shocking. This excellent article explains the whole thing, but in summary: Watermelon was a symbol of economic freedom that free blacks sold. Some whites, angry over this newfound freedom, created the stereotype to turn watermelon into something shameful.
And by the way, federal statistics show blacks aren't the most avid consumers of watermelons in the United States. The numbers show Asian and Hispanic consumers eat the most watermelon per capita. Whites and blacks are in a virtual tie, well behind those groups.
Why do we call each other the N-word but get vehemently upset when a white person uses the N-word?
I’m gonna take a stab at answering this myself. (Bear with me!)
I think of the N-word like playing with fire. If you don’t respect what fire can do -- if you’ve never been burned by it, or burned someone else and dealt with the consequences -- then you should never pick it up.
Most people are not adept at this kind of flamethrowing. Even the late Richard Pryor, a grandmaster of the N-word if ever there was one, eventually said he would not use it anymore. But some comics, like Louis CK, use it for both shock value and to make a point. (BTW, these two clips are NSFW and TV-MA.)
Let’s be clear, though: Many black people get upset at being called the N-word, no matter who says it!
Why is my natural hair, the hair that grows out of my head, seen as a political statement?
Excellent question: one of several in BuzzFeed’s video that speak to standards of beauty. Enslaved Africans had their culture ripped away from them, and that included their styles of adornment and beauty. American culture prioritized the long, flowing locks of European hair, and blacks went to all sorts of lengths to straighten their hair (some of which were excruciatingly painful, as Malcolm X learned in his youth). So it may be unfair, but wearing natural hair in a nation whose people tried to convince blacks that their hair was ugly -- yeah, there’s something inherently political to that.
Why are we so quick to support a non-black-owned business, but then hesitate when it’s a black-owned business?
I’m not sure the facts support this point. A Nielsen research study cited by the Chicago Tribune shows black households express more willingness to shop at black-owned businesses than non-black households do. Of course, whether they do or not has to do with a lot of factors: including whether there are black-owned businesses to support. It’s well documented that many forms of economic racism have made it much harder for blacks in America to get ahead, including discriminatory lending practices. And research cited by The New York Times shows that subtle biases can make consumers in general, not just black consumers, less inclined to spend money at black businesses.
But there are efforts to improve that, including an app called Purchase Black. And a survey from the freelance work site Thumbtack lists the top 10 cities in which black businesspeople say the economic climate is good for them. I’m proud (and stunned) to say that my hometown is on the list: West Palm Beach, Florida!
Why is growing up without a father so common in our race?
Black families have been under siege since slavery. Blacks were property, not people, and so things like marriage and custody were out of reach. It’s probably safe to say that any societal factors affecting black fathers today -- lower educational outcomes (and career prospects as a result), higher criminal justice interactions, etc. -- stem from the legacy of black families never having solid footing to begin with.
Back in 2013 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on how involved the nation’s fathers are in their children’s lives. The study showed black men are most likely to live apart from their children compared to white or Latino fathers. So both history and the present statistics suggest that this question has merit.
What you might not know is, these fathers have a lot to be proud of today. That same CDC study shows that black dads with kids age 5 and younger excelled in playing with, reading to, feeding and grooming (bathing, diapering or dressing) their children every day. With children ages 5-18, black dads excelled in taking their kids to activities, talking to them about their days or checking on their homework. Perhaps of larger concern: Latino dads lagged in many of these metrics.
If there’s one thing our guests on Truth Be Told have said over and over, it’s that no one has the obligation to answer these questions for you. It’s great that you have the guts to ask, but it’s your responsibility to seek the answers for yourself. And it’s OK if the person you asked got angry.
Sometimes, the anger is part of the answer.