Help! My Black Nephew Thinks He’s Yellow

Our Race Manners columnist answered your burning questions in a Reddit Ask Me Anything. Check out her answers!


(The Root) — In The Root‘s first-ever Reddit Ask Me Anything, our Race Manners columnist Jenée Desmond-Harris took all of your burning questions about race etiquette. Need to know how to talk about race with the children in your life? Want to know why it might not just be a preference if someone says, “I’m not attracted to black people”? Check out the transcript below.

Lunaedea7: Hi, Jenée! Thanks for doing this AMA, and I hope you don’t end up regretting it. 🙂 So, my question is, how can we get people to understand that the whole “I’m not attracted to black people” thing really is racism at work, and not just sexual preference? People try over and over to simply equate that s–t to something akin to liking redheads over brunettes, and it’s just not the same … it could never be the same. How can we get them to understand that we’re not saying, “YOU’RE A RACIST!” but instead try to get them to see that their so-called “preferences” are not just something they were born with, or something that randomly sprung up in their minds, like they want us to think.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Well, I love asking people a lot of questions to get them to squirm — I mean, self-reflect — versus just lecturing to them. So, “Hmm, interesting. Do you have any idea how you got that preference? How dark can skin be before it starts being unattractive to you? Or is it hair texture or a particular type of facial feature that turns you off the most? There is a LOT of variety among black people so it’s really interesting that you wouldn’t be attracted to any of them. Do you think this is completely random or might it reflect how you grew up or what you were taught? Interesting how we see this type of hierarchy of beauty around the world. Think your preference might be influenced by that at all, or did it really just come out of nowhere (because not much that we do or believe comes out of nowhere)?” Hope that helps!


Whiteguyatthepark: So … overheard this on the Metro yesterday, and I’m not sure what my response should have been. But what do you say to the (old, white) Monticello T-shirt-wearing tourist who in talking about his enjoyable vacation to the over-eager stranger says: “As far as slave sites go, that seems like it would have been a pretty nice place to work.”

Jenée Desmond-Harris: “As far as people who are ignorant about history and insensitive to human suffering go, you’re a pretty nice one to ride the Metro with.”

Whiteguyatthepark: Nice, thanks. But at the end of the day is it even worthwhile engaging? I’m not going to educate him, and making him feel small, I think, might only make him cling tighter to his line of thinking.

And, full disclosure, my response was to turn up the music in my headphones and turn away (i.e., to treat him the same way I treated my parents when I was a teenager).

Jenée Desmond-Harris: OK, so a serious response: “Wow, I couldn’t help overhearing that, and I just can’t imagine slavery being ‘nice’ anywhere. I don’t think the landscaping made much of a different to people who were completely dehumanized, physically abused and torn away from their families.”