by Tiya Cunningham-Sumter
Last week I had this great article in mind, but as my research began I was thrown off course by a few questions. The original post was aimed at discussing African-American children’s hobbies and extracurricular activities. ABC World News reported that Blacks are 3 times more likely to drown than Whites and I wanted to learn more. But as I entered the words “black people and swimming” into a Google search, the results were a little bit more than I expected.
One of the first search responses was from Yahoo Answers. Once I clicked the link it returned a page titled “Other Groups and Cultures” where I came across the following questions:
Why do black people hate swimming, camping and pets?
Why do even skinny black girls have big butts?
Why are dark skinned men so sexy?
Why do black people love fried chicken?
Why are black people so aggressive?
Why do black people dress heavily in the winter?
Why do black people greet each other in odd ways? (The handshake and using my n**** as a greeting)
Do you use a hot iron for your hair?
Most of the questions started with the words “I am not trying to offend or be racist, but I am just curious.” Now I know that these questions were asked and discussed by just a small group of individuals, but I think it leads to a great conversation. I personally wasn’t offended by their search for knowledge; in fact I think more of us should be open to having conversations about race. We should ask the questions we are curious about in a respectful way of course. At my previous job I was the only African-American in my office and a couple of my co-workers and I openly discussed race, asked each other questions (occasionally about my hair) and just learned from one another. Many in today’s society are afraid of coming across as racist or insensitive and others can sometimes be too sensitive on matters regarding race.
This topic brings to mind the recent comment on the “Meet The Team” page on this very site from the woman who took issue with the title of Black and Married With Kids.
“Hello, I am white and married with kids. You people are so full of crap. You want everyone to be equal, but then you go and start a website called “blackandmarriedwithkids”?? I was so appalled when I saw this in my Parenting magazine. How about I make a website called “whiteandmarriedwithkids”? Hmmmm not so nice now… What would you call me then, racist? Well I’m not. But having been on this planet for 34 years, it’s getting harder and harder not to be when things like this come up. How about you change the name to just “marriedwithkids” and call it a day? Then you might just be able to make some friends with us whities. Just a thought.”
Her presentation, not the greatest, but the underlying question was valid. Had she just asked why that name was chosen, she would have received her answer as well as a lot more positive feedback. The results of not discussing lead to assumptions and attitudes followed by actions based on those assumptions which lead to intolerance. These basic conversations allow us to clear up many of the misconceptions others have and vice versa. We can teach that certain common generalizations don’t apply to all African-Americans and then highlight the great qualities we possess that are often overlooked. We first have to be open to answer and ask those race questions.
BMWK, are we too sensitive when it comes to conversations about race?
Tiya Cunningham-Sumter is a Certified Life & Relationship Coach, Founder of Life Editing and creator of The Black Wives’ Club. Tiya was featured in Ebony Magazine in the October 2008 and November 2010 issues. She resides in Chicago with her husband and two children.