Instruction Manual for White People

By Jasmine Cochran
Guest Commentary

I was watching one of those women-sit-around-a-table-and-chat shows one day, and the hosts were discussing a racially motivated topic. Two of the women commented, “This is a confusing subject for white folk. We don’t know what to say without being offensive!” I can see how these things can be intimidating. If you don’t approve of Obama, it’s automatically because you’re racist. If you prefer a white mate to a black one, because vanilla is more attractive to you, you must be racist. If you ask a question that black people you’ve encountered think should be common knowledge about black culture, not only are you racist—you’re a stupid racist.

With some people, you can’t win regardless of what you do. They find anything to cry racism about. The Als and Jessies of the world are always around the corner looking for a fight. Ignore those people. That’s what I do.

Political correctness has us tip-toeing around every little word, striving not to offend people. And it forces you to either take a hard stand or say nothing at all, because at heart, you really don’t want to offend, but you also want to voice what you feel without having to start a war over it. There are so many rules and guidelines, so much people get offended about, so many thin lines that you don’t know you’ve crossed until you’ve crossed them. It seems like there’s no middle ground, no neutral conversation when it comes to race.

Please allow me to clear some things up for you. Before I get started, I just want to say that I am not the voice for all black people. I’m probably not even the voice for most black people. I just want to share with you the things that I, and many of the people I know, find offensive, funny, and downright stupid, and hopefully, you’ll be able to better navigate the waters of blackness without drowning in fear. Just so you know, everything in quotation marks is something someone has actually said to me. So here goes…

1.  I don’t know how African I am. I don’t know how Native American I am. I don’t know how white I am. But my skin is dark enough, so please, just call me black. I actually like the term.

2.   These are not compliments:

“You don’t act like the other black people I know.”

“She’s pretty, for a black girl.”

“You’re so articulate!” Why wouldn’t I be? I have to be honest; at its core, this isn’t really an insult. However, some individuals in the past have ruined this one for me, because it came from an attitude that suggested I’m only capable of saying stuff like, “I’s gwine mosey o’er yonda ti da coop,” instead of speaking English, the language I’ve been learning since birth.

3.  Don’t pat me on the head for “getting out of the hood.”

4.  Don’t tell me to get over slavery. It’s a pivotal juncture not only in black history, but American history as a whole. Nobody should ever be encouraged to forget their history. We know that many other ethnicities have been slaves, but that doesn’t mean our ancestors’ slavery was any less important or gruesome than we all know it was. We’ll get over it when somebody invents a time machine and undoes it.

5Don’t deny that racism still exists or make excuses for racists, such as “He only said (insert overtly racist remark) to you because he was having a bad day.” Racism does exist, and people who portray racism are idiots. They may be idiots who are having a bad day, but idiots, nonetheless.

6Some of the stuff you say is funny, like;

“How can I get my hair to fro out like that?”

“Do you have skin lightening beds to make your skin lighter the same way we have tanning beds?”

Some of it is out of genuine curiosity:

“Can I touch your hair?” Sure, let me fulfill this item on your bucket list, but please, don’t pet me like a Yorkie. Black hair is in a league of its own, so I’m not offended. I like this one because people are always shocked and say it’s so soft, to which I reply “What did you think it would feel like?” In that moment, I get to educate.

Other things are downright offensive:

“Why don’t black people wear deodorant?” So you smelled one or two musty black people, and now we all don’t wear deodorant? Come on.

“What are you doing listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers? That’s so funny!” My bad, I must have missed the whites-only label on the package. I dig RHCP. What they got I gotta get it, put it in me.

And some things you just should not ever say at all (think negative, blanket statements):

“Some people are poor because of their decisions and others because of their race.”

“Black women are fat.”

“Black people are on welfare.”

“Black people can’t read.”

“Black people are the most racist group of people out of anybody.” To the people who’ve said this, you must be incredible researchers. I’d love to see your data.

7. Don’t use the ‘n’ word in either form, ever. I know the “If you can say it, why can’t I?” argument, but really, why do people refer to saying nigger/nigga as if it’s some kind of grand privilege? If you view it as damaging or wrong in any way, why would you want to say it? That’s like saying to a dope fiend, “I should be able to smoke crack! If you can smoke crack, why can’t I?” I’ve heard the arguments for evolution of the word, acceptance in black circles, blah blah blah. Just eliminate it. Or make sure you always have your insurance card on your person.

8.  You don’t need to be scared of me. I’m not a jungle savage looking for a fight or a law to break. I don’t want your purse. I definitely don’t want your kids. Stop panicking and grabbing them when you see me in the store.

9.   All of us can’t rap, dunk a basketball, breakdance, or whatever else folks seem to think is encoded in black DNA.

10.  Stop talking about racial tolerance like it’s a step in the right direction. We don’t want you to look for ways to tolerate us. We want the same things you want. Love. Respect. Acceptance. Appreciation. Success. Fun. You know why that is? Because we’re, wait for it…humans.

I hope this makes the waters a little bit clearer. If not, just remember the basics. Be respectful. Show love. The only characteristic that applies to all black people is that we’re black. That, and we don’t bungee jump.



Jasmine Cochran is a wife, mom, fitness instructor, professional organizer, motivational speaker, and author of Shift: Finding True Faith Beyond Church Culture. Born in California and raised in Mississippi, she now happily resides in Texas. Her heart’s desire is to travel the world, surf in as many coastal cities as possible, and eat as much chocolate as she can while maintaining optimal health. She lives by the words, “Don’t just be alive. Live.” is a cutting-edge online magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. The site offers a platform for young adult perspectives, profiles inspirational visionaries and artists, and serves as an online community for change agents who are like-minded. Founded in 2011 by Rahiel Tesfamariam, Urban Cusp highlights voices, ideas and images not commonly found within mainstream media.

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