How Being A Little Racist Sometimes Can Be A Form Of Self-Care For Black People, Explained

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

What is racism?

According to Merriam-Webster, racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.


This base belief has led to myriad race-based social constructs and dynamics. Here in America, for instance, it manifests as a structural/foundational racism that permeates our entire country. It's a belief that Whiteness is the default, the universal aspiration. And, that mindset is America's fulcrum.

The entire country? Really?

Let me put it this way: Remember the first couple seasons or so of The Walking Dead, when they first thought the only way transmit the zombie virus was through a bite?


That's kind of how we like to think about our racism problem.

But then they learned that everyone is infected. Which is the racism reality here too. There's no escaping it. So your best bet for survival is to grow a beard, befriend a Black chick with long locs and Hattori Hanzo steel, move to D.C., and start pronouncing "Carl" as "Car Whool."

That's it?

Oh no. Racism is also what happens when I'm at Giant Eagle in the 12 items or less line with just a box of donuts and the person in front of me decides to stretch her luck with 19 items. It's Game of Thrones saying its supposed to be on from 9pm to 10pm but spending the first five minutes with credits and "shit that happened last week" and ending at 9:54. It's seven-year-old news of a celebrity's death getting shared on Facebook like it's recent, which fucks you up because you already mourned their death seven years ago, and then forgot they were dead, and then saw the news story, and then felt bad again, and then thought "Wait…I thought they died already," and then got mad at the person sharing the story for making you mourn the same person's death twice.


That's all racism?

Yes. And you will not convince me otherwise.

…oookay. So, a couple weeks ago, you implied that Black Americans can't really be racist. Your exact quote was "something is racist if the act stems from either a belief of racial superiority or a position of constructed/structural racial superiority. (Or both.)"


I know what I said.

But your title today implies that Black people can be racist. Should be, actually.


I know what it says.

You don't see a contradiction here?

I see how you can see a contradiction. But I see none.

Care to expound?

So, I've written ad nauseum about the unique challenges Black Americans have to deal with just to survive. Structural racism, police brutality, Darth Beckys, gentrification, homicidal potato salad, Carly Fiorina, daps from Kappas, laughing while Black and on a wine train, shitty schools, poison water, shitty schools with poison water. Tyrese tweets, the wrath of Black Klingon Jesus, afterhours clubs, racial profiling, voter ID fuckshit, Lauryn Hill concerts — the list is an exercise in perpetuity.


As a result of these unique challenges, we (Black people) have to find unique ways to cope. To self-medicate. And one of the more popular ways to do this is to surround yourself with other Black people. Since doing this can be difficult here, it involves some intentionality. It's planning on going out Friday night, but making sure you end up at an all-Black nightclub. Or hosting a game night and/or potluck, and inviting nothing but other Black people. Or moving to an all-Black neighborhood. Or sending your child to an HBCU. Or spending six hours a day on VSB.

I wouldn't categorize any of that as racist, though. Just doing what other racial, cultural, and even gender-based groups often do.


Well, here's the thing. Sometimes, when you're in these all-Black groups, surrounding and ensconcing yourself with Blackness isn't enough. Sometimes you very specifically don't want to be around any White people either. (I realize this seems like the same thing, but it is not.)

And sometimes you don't want to be around any White people because sometimes you need to vent about capital letter Whiteness. In fact, sometimes you've searched for that all-Black space specifically to be able to vent. And sometimes that venting can get pretty, for lack of a better term, colorful.


And by "colorful" you mean "you'll definitely hear few 'White motherfuckers' here and there," right?

Yeah. Sometimes the language will not be pretty. Sometimes it will be intentionally petty, insensitive, offensive, and kinda, sorta, but not really racist. With dramatized voices and impressions and references to certain stereotypes and everything else. Basically, everyone turns into a D.L. Hughley bit from 1994.


It can be brutal, huh?

Let's just say that I've heard (and know) enough jokes about cottage cheese to last 17 lifetimes.


So…how is that kinda, sorta, but not really racist? It seems pretty racist to me.

Because its cultivated by a collective frustration of attempting to deal with and exist within pervasive Whiteness, not a belief or position of racial superiority or even a hate. Ultimately, it's a relatively safe way of responding to trauma. You want to know why Jerome in accounting didn't throat slam the manager who said something about "ghetto punctuation" in a staff meeting last week? Because Jerome's boy texted a joke about White people's shins and smoked venison (don't ask) that morning, and that gave Jerome enough fuel to make it through the day unfired and unarrested.


So kinda, sorta, but not quite racism is a form of self-care for Black people and a way to keep managers' throats safe?

You said it, not me.

But you just said…you know what? Nevermind.


Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Would racism be the same as what they're about to do to these young ladies right here…?