(The Root) — This scenario may or may not sound familiar to you: You’re the only black person (or one of few) at a predominantly white social event. A friend’s wedding, perhaps. The DJ throws on a ubiquitous hip-hop hit, one you might find on a Now That’s Music! compilation album.
You like the song fine enough, but it fails to inspire the twerk champion inside you. So you continue to mildly nod your head to the beat until a white person — drunk or sober — grabs your hand and yanks it toward the dance floor. No one else gets beelined this way. Only you, because it just feels like you should be dancing.
What gives? Slate’s Aisha Harris wrote about this strange dance she does when she finds herself in these scenarios. She asks, “Is it because I’m black?”
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?
I remember once telling a group of white friends at an outing that I don’t particularly care for Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I was met with confusion, blank stares and broken hearts. You would have thought I told them that I hate cheese, puppies and rainbows.
We asked our Twitter followers if they’ve had similar experiences #socializingwhileblack. Lots of you did.
When you & a handful of other black co-workers are recruited to sing for the office party without being asked… #SocializingWhileBlack
— Elektrik Gypsy (@elektrikgypsy) October 14, 2013
@TheRoot247 this happens all the time at my job. Not just expected, but put on the spot, given a microphone and told, “Go!”
— Femme Teacher (@FemmeTeacher) October 14, 2013
@craftingmystyle Black Americans with white friends can all relate in many ways. Cldnt tell u how many white guys have asked me to freestyle
— ken0bii (@ken0bii) October 14, 2013
When white people assume I can “pop lock and drop it” and are so disappointed when they have more rhythm than me. #socializingwhileblack