The One Superpower All Black People Possess? Detecting Blackness

Paul Mooney (Comedy Central screenshot)
Paul Mooney (Comedy Central screenshot)

Now that the Shaun King "controversy" has apparently been settled, and the right-wing trolls have returned to their cages and their shifts at Dick's Sporting Goods, I'm still legitimately fascinated with — but not surprised by — the fact that so many people doubted King's ethnicity. And I'm not talking about the cretins scouring for any reason to discredit him. But the people who weren't able to see a picture of King and immediately know "Yeah…dude definitely has some Black in him."


But again, it doesn't surprise me. Because after a lifetime of easily detecting Blackness — and interacting with non-Black people with non-existent Blackness detection meters — I've come to realize that this is a unique superpower Black people have.

A comment left on VSB put it best:

The only thing that shocked me about this was that other BLACK people didnt think he was Black. I thought that was one of our superpowers, like rhythm. I stay calling someone Black when I see someone with a press that wont quite get bone straight.

But that's the thing. All Black people — even human-sized shitty bumper stickers like Montel Williams —do possess this gift. The ones who feign not to either have some type of agenda or are named "Dontavious Cornelius Lemon." You know how everyone has a great aunt who can see a woman who's been pregnant for like 35 seconds — with no signs, no symptoms, no showing, no nothing — but still somehow know that she's pregnant? And the conversation always goes the same way. 

"Congratulations, honey!"


"Your child is going to be so smart and so beautiful. I can't wait to meet her."

"Wait…what? I just had sex 17 minutes ago. How can you possibly know I'm pregnant?"

"Aunt Jackie just knows, honey. Aunt Jackie just knows."

Well, "Aunt Jackie" is "every Black person" when it comes to the detection of Blackness. It doesn't matter if you have one drop or a KFC bucket full of Zulu blood. We see Black down the hall. We see Black in the mall. We see Black across the street. We see Black across the tweets. Shit, we see Black before Black sees itself. And sometimes even when Black refuses to see itself.


Somewhere in America today a Black person is passing for White. And he's been able to fool the people at his job, the people at his church, and the people in his girlfriend's family. And that Black person is going to be in the same supermarket aisle as another Black person. And that Black person is going to take one look at him and think "Nah, bruh."

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)


Vanity in Peril

It's my blackass berfday!!!