How to Grieve Over Black Celebrities’ Stupid Comments About Race and Racism

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

There are two quotes I cling to when it comes to responding to questionable commentary from members of my community. Of course, there is Zora Neale Hurston's notorious declaration, "All my skinfolk ain't kinfolk." There is also my favorite auntie—and, more than likely, yours, too—who always throws out a "This n—ga here" when stupidity greets her. No matter your preferred phrasing, both sentiments perfectly encapsulate the wave of famous black people saying absolutely stupid things about race and racism. 


The most recent examples include the likes of Raven-Symoné, Anthony Mackie, Don Lemon and Stacey Dash. There is also Jill Scott, circa the initial defense of Bill Cosby. Cosby himself, around the time he was telling black boys to pull up their pants and arguing that stolen packaged-dessert treats from the corner store warrant certain death. Or even LL Cool J, if you recall the god-awful "Accidental Racist."

There have always been some famous fools, but the Internet has made many of us all too aware of that fact—day after day, if not hour after hour. That makes it more infuriating, more painful and more depressing. There are, however, levels of grievance and whether the comments justifies the offender's banishment to the Island of Wayward Negroes.

I'm here to help you deal with the stages of grief. Consider it self-care. Besides, we all know there will only be more. You're welcome.

1. Don't panic.

Yes, your favorite fame-having Negro might have said something that made your black skin flinch like it just got hit with hot pork-chop grease, but settle down. Ask yourself, is it a one-time offense? Like when Phylicia Rashad gave an interview about the then-smaller pool of women accusing Cosby of rape and dismissed them by saying, "Forget these women."

Yes, it was bad. It was an insensitive and arguably callous retort to Cosby's accusers, and you would expect a nice girl from Houston who matriculated at Howard to know better. But everyone makes mistakes. It doesn't excuse the error, but with more than 50 women now accusing Cosby, I highly doubt that the artist formerly known as Mrs. Huxtable would frame her sentiments in such fashion again. So it's OK to forgive, but never forget. Now, if she continued to talk that talk, then we would have to move on to step 2.

2. Accept the truth that's two-stepping in front of you.

Sometimes in life we have to come to grips with the reality that a black public figure is prone to damn-fool syndrome—say, a Dash, a Raven-Symoné, a Lemon. These types will either truly believe their uninformed, poorly thought out and nuance-lacking statements or will merely just continue making contrarian statements, if for no other reason than to garner attention.


The same way you know that one of your cousins can never come to your house because that sumbitch steals is the same way you have to learn to minimize your expectations that this sect of black folks might say anything that doesn't make you want to throw a black power Afro pick at them. And trust me, I've been there. It takes time, but the sooner you make peace, the better off you'll be.

3. Figure out your limits.

As in, after discovering how Dash feels about gender and race, ask yourself, "Do I want to spend money on whatever movie she's doing that's heading to Redbox?" For me the answer is an emphatic "Hell no." The same applies to watching Lemon's CNN telecasts on purpose. At this point, you know what you're getting with these people; thus you have to adjust accordingly.


To that end, when it comes to someone like Pharrell Williams and that "new black" nonsense he was spouting last year, I've decided that I will forgo the majority of his interviews so that I can continue to pop, lock and drop to my favorite Neptunes-produced classics in peace. It took a second, but I came to the conclusion that my brain can't take him, but my arms and thighs still can. Namaste.

4. Seize the opportunity.

I've come to learn that whenever a black celebrity says something that tap-dances all over my last nerve, it's also a great way to figure out how to best compartmentalize certain friendships. Like, the minute Malcolm-Jamal Warner accused Ebony magazine of perpetuating stereotypes about black families with its latest cover, I noticed that some of my friends took to their social media accounts to co-sign. You know what I did? I either muted it and booted it, unfollowed them on Facebook so that I'd never again have to care what they said, or texted them to shut up. Theo already tainted himself in my eyes; last thing I need is a friend doing the same.


5. Remember one very, important thing.

Most celebrities are fallible—excluding Beyoncé, obviously. Keeping that in mind and, if nothing else, tapping more into your inner Huey Freeman and Daria Morgendorffer will prevent you from ever being hurt, since you'll assume that everyone is stupid. 


Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.