I Am Unashamedly Black

“You can tell she’s not white from the way she writes” he said as he finished reading ‘The Problem with Black Men’. I didn’t know how to respond to this, was it meant to be an insult? Would it be better for me to come off as a white person in the way I write?

In all honesty, I was baffled when I received this feedback on my last article, especially considering #IssaMovement is a black empowerment movement, but it led me to ponder the question… do black people perceive minimising their “blackness”, in order to come off as more white, a necessity for success in the western world? My initial thought was… of course not but when I asked friends and family that very question I started to reconsider.

Many put forward strong arguments for their views, some saying yes and others saying no but the key arguments that stood out to me were;

  • Subconsciously we are taught to believe that we can’t be successful without white people
  • If we can’t adapt to our surroundings we won’t be successful hence we need to adapt to workplaces/ environments that are predominately white to excel
  • Professionalism can often be confused as “whiteness”
  • Stereotypes formed by both black and white people have created the concept of “acting white”

As I spoke to my friends at length, I realised that this is an endless debate with no right answer but it did make me wonder what exactly does it mean to act white? There are certain things that are not commonly associated with black people by black people but does doing these things mean you’re acting white? For example, I remember once saying “I’d love to go on a skiing holiday” only to be greeted with a barrage of “that’s what white people do”, does that mean black people can’t do it too? And what exactly is it about these activities/ behaviours that make them white or even black?

There are many stereotypes that are associated with black people – loud, angry, attitude, criminals, uneducated – although some of these are specific to certain genders the list goes on. Maybe we’ve adopted these behaviours as black people and labelled them “blackness”, as such not behaving in these ways is deemed white. Regardless of whether you as a black person fit these stereotypes or not, the way I see it is if you’re born black you’re black irrespective of how you behave. Behaviour is something that is shaped by a range of things, ethnic origin being one of many factors along with where you grew up, who your friends are, your personal experiences and more. So to say someone is acting white seems like a very narrow-minded view.

Now don’t get me wrong there are definitely black people out there that seem to want to hide their culture and pretend they’re not black. However, even this isn’t down to a lack of “blackness”, in my opinion, it’s down to deep rooted insecurities.

To go back to a slightly adapted version of the original question, do black people need to act more white to be successful in the UK? I don’t think this is a question that is even answerable because “acting white” is a social construct that we have created. Just because a black person enjoys doing something that isn’t commonly done by black people makes them no less black. I would always advise people to be completely themselves in any given situation, yes, some situations call for a more professional version of yourself (let’s not confuse professionalism with acting white) but provided you are being true to yourself, I don’t see any reason why you can’t be successful if you’re putting in the work.

Just remember “it’s better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation”.

Paula M

12 thoughts on “I Am Unashamedly Black

  1. Butterfly

    IMO you must be professional first foremost, strive to be great at what you do, take an interest in those that you work with or those that work for you, learn to build great relationships, network and be yourself! If you can’t get ahead because you work in a racist environment, you won’t be successful regardless of how white you act. That said, being a minority, being different can make us pretty interesting but, as always has been the case it’s about who you know. Black people don’t often have the connection so we have to make and become these.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is an excellent point and I completely agree! It’s true that other races have better connections and as such can progress better in certain situations but I wouldn’t say black people don’t have the connections I personally believe that often black people aren’t willing to a) utilise the connections they have because of pride or b) support each other in the way that people from other races do when it comes to helping or “putting people on”.

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  2. I live in America but I feel we experience some of the same things. I would say with your post that you referenced and him saying he could tell you weren’t white, it could be because of the post it was. A black women writing a post about black men is always going to come across differently if the race of the writer is different.
    I do often feel like I have to be more cognizant of how I do things, particularly at work because I feel that others are looking for me to behave in a certain way. And even with being careful it’s still hard.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes I agree with what you’re saying! I personally think professionalism is what’s being confused as acting white to be successful because really and truly everyone has to be aware of how they behave at work. The way you behave at work will be completely different to how you behave around friends and family and that’s not because you’re trying to be more white it’s simply because different situations/ environments call for different types of behaviour.

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  3. Yes to everything in this post!!! It’s crazy how people think that I you can talk and sound educated you are “acting white”. How does that even make sense?!! It’s 2018 black peoples are educated, we are using correct grammar and we are working at jobs that use to be predominantly white. We can enjoy activities that have been labeled “white activities”. Like I don’t care what people say I want to go to brunch damn it lol. I live in the US and it’s the same debate. Great read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! Really glad you enjoyed the post 🙂 Exactly, if you want to brunch, brunch girl. Yes we’re black but we’re also individuals that have different interests and hobbies so I say do what makes you happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a really thought provoking article…. and just to add my two cents worth to the debate…

    I think №1, that the concept of whiteness could have evolved as cultural defence – as in when black people came to the UK of course they tried to adapt but were rejected through racism on many occasions.. and so for the first and second generations of black people living here they needed something to distinguish them and their behavior from the “other”. To then behave as the “other”, “enemy” was seen as a negative thing, and terms such as “coconut” came around to describe and shame the person seen as behaving like this. I think even though the situation is so much better than before, this has become deeply rooted in our mindset,even in younger generations who live in mixed cities like London, Birmingham.

    You then have this other element, which is to do with the complex “caste” or “class” system in the UK. Historically everything was divided by class – including job roles. Especially at the top, I think it’s more that there are certain behaviours that are expected of people which are also associated with being of a certain class. Black people kinda fall out of this system, cause when black people arrives in the UK until maybe the 80s-90s it was always assumed that you was at the bottom, even beneath the class system. So when black people started to have the opportunity to climb the ladder, of course you must adopt certain behaviours in order to be accepted amongst the top positions in certain institutions. This in a way can seem completely foreign, and therefore labelled as “whiteness”, but actually is this rather just adapting to the reality of the class system and what certain elements of society expect when attempting to break into that level??

    Is perceived whiteness therefore more just adapting into the culture that we live in?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I would just like to add my 2 cents to the debate…..

    I think the concept of whiteness, being a coconut etc, could have evoloved as cultural defence…. as in when black people came to the UK of course they tried to adapt but were rejected through racism on many occasions.. and so for the first and second generations of black people living here they needed something to distinguish them and their behavior from the “other”.Even though the situation is so much better than before, this has become deeply rooted in our mindset,even in younger generations who live in mixed cities like London, Birmingham.

    I then think you have the other element, which is to do with the complex caste or “class” system in the UK. Historically everything was divided by class – including job roles. And especially at the top, I think it’s more that there are certain behaviours that are expected of people which are also associated with being of a certain class. Black people kinda fall out of this system, cause when black people first arrived in the UK, until maybe the 80s-90s it was always assumed that you was at the bottom, even beneath the class system. So when black people started to have the opportunity to climb the ladder, of course you must adopt certain behaviours in order to be accepted amongst the top positions in certain institutions. This in a way can seem completely foreign, and therefore labelled as “whiteness”, but actually is this rather just adapting to the reality of the class system and what certain elements of society expect when attempting to break into that level????

    Can this therefore become a question about British culture as a whole, and how much we as black people adapt to the culture within which we’re living as well?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Charlie

    As a white girl who stumbled across your post because it was shared by my black boyfriend I want to apologise that these types of people have made comments that only white people can do certain things. I do agree with you though, not just about race but it’s also said based on gender. Like you can’t be assertive because “you’re a woman”. There is that certain thought that if you are or look like something then you have to act a certain way. But hey, screw them! Just do you and if you wanna ski, go ski! Oh and by the way your writing is wonderful, I am going to enjoy reading the rest of your posts x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so true! People call assertive women bossy and assertive men driven, there’s just so many stereotypes out there that we need to break. Thanks so much for your kind words I really really appreciate it 😀

      Like

  7. Pingback: Is black empowerment racist?

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