The Burden of Socializing While Black

Akoto Ofori-Atta
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(The Root) — This scenario may or may not sound familiar to you: You're the only black person (or one of few) at a predominantly white social event. A friend's wedding, perhaps. The DJ throws on a ubiquitous hip-hop hit, one you might find on a Now That's Music! compilation album.

You like the song fine enough, but it fails to inspire the twerk champion inside you. So you continue to mildly nod your head to the beat until a white person — drunk or sober — grabs your hand and yanks it toward the dance floor. No one else gets beelined this way. Only you, because it just feels like you should be dancing.

What gives? Slate's Aisha Harris wrote about this strange dance she does when she finds herself in these scenarios. She asks, "Is it because I'm black?"

But I will say that the phenomenon of socializing while black has held me back a bit when I’m out in certain unfamiliar predominantly white settings. (This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. It’s just a fact of code switching.) I just wish more people were aware that while you may think you’re being friendly and welcoming, your behavior might come off as ignorance at best, or fetishization at worst.

So I implore you, kind folks who might find a black person (or two or three) at your next predominantly white function: Think a moment before you compliment them on their poor, out-of-tune rendition of “I’ll Make Love to You,” or attempt to grind all up on the group of black girls dancing beside you. Am I doing this because I genuinely think they’re good, or want to make friends? Or is it because they’re black?


I remember once telling a group of white friends at an outing that I don't particularly care for Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." I was met with confusion, blank stares and broken hearts. You would have thought I told them that I hate cheese, puppies and rainbows.

We asked our Twitter followers if they've had similar experiences #socializingwhileblack. Lots of you did.


When white people assume I can "pop lock and drop it" and are so disappointed when they have more rhythm than me. #socializingwhileblack

— #JasmineFromParkat14 (@NEthing4Salenas) October 14, 2013


Some of you reminded us that black folks also have some hang-ups around this:


In certain social settings, do you feel pressure from whites to perform? Tell us in the comments or tweet me at @KO_616 or @TheRoot247.

If you want to see what's hot on black Twitter, check out The Chatterati.Akoto Ofori-Atta is the editor of The Grapevine. Like her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter. 

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