In a piece at Slate, Aisha Harris describes how white people are often peculiarly fascinated by black performance, and how their praise and gawking can often be demonstrative of a “fetishization” of black people and black culture.
I get it — most white people rarely ever have to consider their whiteness in social settings, so they don’t recognize how their well-intentioned, overly friendly actions are perceived. They may have seen one too many of those infamous dance movies where the black kid from the wrong side of the tracks teaches the white girl how to get down and solve her life problems at the same time, and hope I may do the same for them. And I recognize that unlike Syl Johnson’s aforementioned ode to blackness, my situation is merely an irritant, not something that’s holding me back from accomplishing my life goals.
But I will say that the phenomenon of socializing while black has held me back a bit when I’m out in certain unfamiliar predominantly white settings. (This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a fact of code switching.) I just wish more people were aware that while you may think you’re being friendly and welcoming, your behavior might come off as ignorance at best, or fetishization at worst.
So I implore you, kind folks who might find a black person (or two or three) at your next predominantly white function: Think a moment before you compliment them on their poor, out-of-tune rendition of “I’ll Make Love to You,” or attempt to grind all up on the group of black girls dancing beside you. Am I doing this because I genuinely think they’re good, or want to make friends? Or is it because they’re black?
Read Aisha Harris’ entire piece at Slate.
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