Lists, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

The Mirror: Uncomfortable race-related questions we (African-Americans) need to ask ourselves

Between ESPN’s “Content of Character” Town Hall panel at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Henry Abbott’s “The NBA race conversation,” and Bob Kravitz’s “On this special day, we search for perspective,” I spent much of MLK day (and the weekend preceding it) reading and watching different examples of people involved with athletics attempt to tackle the race monkey.¹

Predictably, the most interesting aspect of each of these conversations came in the responses they generated. For those who aren’t used to seeing race issues discussed in predominately white (well-intentioned, but still white nonetheless) settings—and yes, although the Town Hall meeting took place in front of a mostly black audience, there’s no doubt that the majority of the people who actually watched on TV were non-black—you usually have a few intelligent responses sprinkled in with a cacophony of idiocy.²

But, while this idiocy comes in many forms-guilt-ridden acknowledgment of race issues (“I hate being a white person.”) and back-handed acknowledgment of race issues (“I know my ancestors did some messed up things, but when are we going to get past it?”) are a couple of my personal favorites—two trains of thought in particular are extremely troublesome:

Willful ignorance and stupidity (“This is some bullsh*t. Me and none of my friends see race. It wouldn’t even be an issue if you didn’t keep talking about it.“) and Willfully dangerous ignorance and stupidity (“This is some bullsh*t. Me and none of my friends see race. The real racists are people like Kanye West and Michelle Obama.“)

What annoys me so much about these types of responses is the fact that they’re caused by an unwillingness to discuss difficult questions in mixed company; a head in the sand-ness in regards to race that continues to disturb, anger, and sadden me…at least until I remember that we do it too.

You see this—black people refusing to discuss certain race-related issues—on blogs pretty much every day of the week. For instance, someone will write something up about how a very large percentage of popular—and underground, too. Don’t get it twisted—rap music, for lack of a better term, sh*ts on black women, and the conversation will quickly devolve into “Well, white people do it too! Ever listen to Johnny Cash? He’s been murdering bitches on wax since 1940!”

It’s understandable why this happens, though. Even if they’re asked without personal indictment intent, people tend to take these types of questions personally, and when questions are taken personally, people become defensive or willfully ignorant.

Knowing why many of us refuse to acknowledge certain tough questions helps me understand why some white people do the exact same thing. Still, we can’t ask them to be open-minded, intellectually curious, and self-critical if we—all of us, not just “some” or even “most”—aren’t willing to do the same thing, and here are a couple questions I think we need to be more willing to answer or at least discuss.

1. In the history of the recorded world, there has never been a popular music genre that consistently, enthusiastically, and creatively sh*ts on a group of women like rap does with African-American women. Why is that?

2. Why are African-American women the only women on the planet where a good many of them (not all, of course. but enough to matter) expect men to be attracted to certain personality traits that are the complete antithesis of what most men are attracted to?³

3. Even if you control income, education, and background, African-American men still get married much, much, much later than men of other ethnic and cultural backgrounds (if they even get married at all). What’s up with that?

4. Our history in this country has given us a bit of a “they’ve been oppressed, so it’s ok for them to do and say openly racist sh*t” pass. And, we’re not particularly shy about using it, even in jest (myself included). Anyway, we especially know how hurtful racially-charged insults and comments can be, but we continue to do it. Why? (Also, would you rather continue to have the “pass” or complete equality? Think about it a bit before you respond, though. When you think about the creative and communicative freedom the pass gives us, the answer isn’t so easy.)

5. Through our words and actions, both black men and black women promote and take pride in the idea that black men are typically virile and extremely hyperheterosexual. Why haven’t we realized that the acceptance and promotion of this perception has many, many, many more negative effects than positive?

Anyway, these are just a few questions off the top of my head. Does anyone have any answers? Or, better yet, does any one of any more uncomfortable questions we need to ask ourselves?

The carpet is yours.

¹Why I did choose to watch and read these sports-related takes on race instead of, I don’t know, CNN’s or’s or something? One reason: The sports world forces people to encounter certain unique racial situations and dynamics that no other part of society really has to consider, and I deeply value the race-related thoughts and feelings of those involved with sports—players, fans, management, and most importantly, media.

²I’m not saying that most white people are unable to have thoughtful discussions about race, just the ones who usually feel compelled to comment in these types of venues. Big distinction.

³ To expound, the personality traits I’m referring to come in the form of taking pride in being a “handful,” giving 1001 reasons why smiling in public is bad, etc. Again, all black women don’t act this way. In fact, most don’t, but enough to make a difference. And, while I’m sure most of the women reading this can name strange entitlements many brothas have as well, what separates the two is that the brothas with ridiculous entitlements usually don’t expect women to actually be attracted to and admire the ridiculousness.

—The Champ

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • #1 leaves me saddingly speechless.

  • WeGottaDoBetter

    Good question, right? (Jay-Z voice)

  • I just threw something like that out on Twitter – why do Black people so enthusiastically support such degrading trending topics? It’s appalling

  • I’m pretty sure someone’s gonna get knifed behind an answer to question #2

    *Wraps phone books around torso like Omar*

  • coldsweat3

    1) I feel like hip-hop disses women in general and not with a targeted attack on black women. Obviously there are references to black women in songs and in the videos but I dont think that the issues/commentary is exclusive to sistahs

    2) Clarification please or maybe im one of the few thats lost.

    3) Brothas got options, too many options its like going to a big @$$ mall to look for one shirt, your just going to check out all the other stores even if you have a good deal elsewhere and hey you may leave with two with plans on returning one later because you just didnt want someone to pick up the last one of your size before you came back…

  • Colbs

    I would like a better explanation for #2. I’m not sure I understand where that’s coming from. What expectations do most women have and why are they unreasonable?

  • Enginegro

    hmm…maybe as black men, we have a subconscious deep hatred for black women….

  • Le sigh. Gotta let this marinate and I’ll jump back in.

    The first word that comes to mind is Emulation as a response to these questions though.

    Great Post.

  • 2. I think this comes from the fact men and women are two different creatures, we know but add Black in front of either gender and you have a bigger beast to tackle but a rose is still a rose…

    4. I think Black people tend to use the race card just like other races. I think we just use ours more as a defense against our sometime juvenile actions. I guess we tolerate it because we are “still owed something.”

    We like to tackle issues when we are comfortable. When it comes to talking about what’s really going on we don’t want to feel threaten. I can’t wait to see what discussions come of this good post. You know people tend to feel more secure behind the computer.

  • #2 very well could be one of the most uncomfortable of all time.

    I’m sure some of the answers to the questions posed will result in essays. I say that because I almost wrote one.

    This site isn’t applicable to my question, but…

    Why is it so difficult to get a lot of Black folks to talk about issues of importance, yet so easy to get folks discussing foolery and critiques of people that ultimately don’t impact their own lives?

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