“Why are black people better dancers?” And other questions you might be too scared to ask…

white dance

I think there are a fair few white people (and black people) who quietly read my blogs about race and ask some silent questions. Seeing as Black History Month is like Black Christmas – season of goodwill and all, I thought I’d answer some questions. Some serious, some not so serious. Take the answers with a pinch of black salt.

1) “Obama did it why can’t other black people?” aka “If young black men aren’t achieving then could it be that they aren’t working hard enough?”

There are multiple reasons, including the fact that Obama was brought up by his white, middle class mother and grandparents, personal factors like innate ability and a commitment to hard work, and a mixture of luck (or faith, depending on your belief system). And of course, Michelle (#smartbrowngirls rule the world).

Essentially, institutional racism in the school system, employer discrimination, low expectations, socio-economic conditions and the stress of living in society where you are constantly ‘othered’ are all barriers to success. You can google to discover how significant these barriers are. It’s well documented. Can it be done? Of course. Good parenting, a strong community around you that values education (i.e. church community) hard work, and a thick skin can work wonders. But why should Tyrone have to be good to get to the same level Tim, when Tim can get away with being mediocre? I’m fighting for Tyrone to be able to get a a 2:2 as well, and get called to as many interviews as Tim.

2) Who is your black history month hero or heroine?

I think humans are flawed and we shouldn’t place anyone on too high a pedestal. Having said that…..so many. I love Lauryn Hill. That may be surprising, but I think she speaks truth in a way that is really meaningful and considered. Ruby Bridges showed such great strength at such a young age. Paul Bogle – the Jamaican freedom fighter. Mae Jemison, first black female astronaut – black women (women full stop) in technology and science are inspiring because there is so much ground to break. My grandparents and the whole generation that came to England after the war. they broke down so many barriers for us, and they deserve our respect and gratitude.

3) Why are black people better at dancing or singing?

Unfortunately, growing up in church circles, I can tell you with hand on my heart, signed in blood, that a significant proportion of the black community could wake Martin Luther King from his grave with their tuneless wailing. I would agree though, that if you take a random selection of black women and white women, there would probably be more black women who could sing.

The reasons for this are largely cultural. Quite a few black people grow up in church, so they sing often and to a good standard on a fairly regular basis, from a young age.Aside from church, music is integral to many African cultures in a way that it might not be to many Northern European cultures, so white people have less regular exposure to a certain type of music or singing.

Same with dancing. I can’t dance, because my conservative Christian parents weren’t big on grinding, two stepping and the like. Generally though, African derived music tends to have more emphasis on drumming than European music, so with the musical exposure comes a sense of rhythm that some white people seem to lack. That probably translates into being more likely to dance well. White kids who grow up in black neighbourhoods with black friends from a young age tend to have the same dancing abilities as the kids they grew up around from my observation. So, no, there is no innate sense of rhythm that we have. I will admit though, that the first time I saw a room full of white people dancing, I was slightly amused. Talk about pot calling the kettle black.

4) Don’t you think talking about race so much alienates people? 

White racism alienates me from white people. It prevents meaningful friendships, it causes stress in the workplace, it roadblocks potential romantic relationships, and at worse, it kills people. Literally. It is killing little black boys. If they are alienated by me highlighting it, or if other black people are alienated because it makes them uncomfortable, then may I politely suggest that they label themselves as the problem.

5) Do you hate white people?

I’ve answered this in a previous blog post. If you hate someone they have power over you. I resist white supremacy exerting any power over me, and part of me resisting that power, is resisting hate. I believe love will win the final fight. But love can be angry. And injustice makes me angry.

6) Do you think all white people are racist?

I think everyone who lives in this system has adopted white supremacy as their modus operandi unless they make a conscious decision to resist this. Black or white. Racism comes in varying degrees. From the KKK, to the white girl who partly dates black men because it makes her feel a little bit rebellious but does actually love her boyfriend, to the well meaning liberal who loves Obama and asks me how come I’m so ‘articulate’. I think there is a difference between intentional, malicious racism,  and socialised ignorance.

7) Why are black people obsessive about food hygiene?

I don’t want to offend anyone…..but I don’t think this a complete stereotype. From my experience, my white friends seem to not think twice about buying an apple from Asda and eating it on the spot.  My black friends…erm, no, not so much. They want to wash it, sanitise it, peel it or something. Maybe we just feel like our lives are more fragile. *shrugs* White people on average live longer though, so clearly the buy it and bite it tactic is working for y’all.

8) Do you think about being black all the time?

Nope. Especially not if I’m with other black people. If I’m in a environment where everyone is white, I’m often aware of it. And if I’m not, give it a while and someone will undoubtedly say something to make me aware of it.

9)Why can’t white people say nigger when black people can?

Why would you as a white person, whose ancestors have historically used that word while enslaving, beating, raping, or abusing a black person, want the ‘right’ to use it?  Why would you want to use it knowing that people still use it today when trying to abuse or hurt black people?

The fact that you feel indignant about not being able to use it, makes you an extra shady individual. An individual that needs to have a little talk with Jesus. And your black friend that tells you it’s cool has their own issues. I don’t care if you’re a ‘rapper’ or feel like you’re part of the ‘hip-hop community’.

Some young Pakistani people call themselves Paki’s. It’s never entered my head to want to use that word around my Pakistani friends. They have a right as individuals belonging to that community to address themselves however they see fit. If they call each other that, I respectfully listen and then address them by their names. You should do the same.

10) Why do black people like chicken?

Every race of people likes chicken apart from vegetarians.

Any more questions?

3 Comments

  1. tobi
    October 12, 2014 / 2:38 pm

    fantastic post!

    I’m a 4th year med student and apparently I’m supposed to have an idea as to what I’d like to specialise in or where I want to work :/ If you don’t mind me asking, where are you working and/or what are you planning to specialise in?

  2. December 7, 2015 / 9:23 am

    I used to think that being able to dance was in black people’s blood until recently when I saw a full classroom of 10 years old black students unable to move on stage with the talented dancer that was cheering them up! And to think that they volunteered to get up there! But it was in an International school in Lagos. I suppose that in a more popular neighbourhood, you will find that all the children can dance. So, as you say, it is more about the kind of exposure to dance and music you get while growing up.

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