‘There’s No Such Thing as an Honorary Black Person.’

19 Nov

Let’s clear a few things up:

I’m white. I’m Irish, English, Scottish and Dutch. My parents weren’t very religious, and since most of my family were 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants, we didn’t pass down any kind of cultural identity, other than the Southern thing. Quite literally, the only thing that both sides of my family have in common is moonshining, and that’s not something you all get together and talk about at Xmas.

In middle school, I was usually one of the few white kids in classes predominantly full of Hispanic or black children. I felt lonely, and I never seemed to know what was cool. I did make friends, but it was more a friendship of personality than shared interests. I made people laugh sometimes, and I had people to sit with at lunch, but when people started discussing movies or music, I might as well have been from another planet. And when you’re 12 in 1992, you didn’t just get on iTunes or Youtube and figure out what people are talking about. You had to go to the store and try to listen to the ‘Mature’ albums when the clerk wasn’t looking.

In college, I worked in a Chinese restaurant, where again, I was one of the few, if any, white people. I learned a lot about the restaurant business, and a few snippets of Chinese and Vietnamese culture. My generally odd personality was an endless source of amusement to the manager, Mr. Lee, and the cooks, who didn’t speak much English. Less welcome were the jokes one older cook would tell about me (in Cantonese) that made the other cooks uncomfortable–I never found out what he found so funny, but can hazard a few guesses.  Anyway, I digress.

In short, I know what it feels like to be different.

But I never for a moment imagine that I know what it feels like to be a minority.

Missing from Picture: An Actual Black Person

I can empathize, I can enjoy movies aimed at black or gay or hispanic or Asian audiences, I can explore other cultures than my own. I can read books, watch TV shows aimed at demographics that aren’t me, read blogs and editorials and listen to podcasts, but this does not mean I think I am being somehow included.

In short, there is no such thing as being an Honorary Minority.

There’s no secret handshake, there’s no jacket with your name embroidered on the back, there’s nothing that will make people instantly know that ‘you’re down.’

All you can do when you meet a person who is different from yourself is treat them the way you would want to be treated. They don’t want to emotionally validate you, they don’t want to let the rest of ‘their kind’ know that you’re cool, they might not even want to know you at all. Would you want to be expected to do that for every person who had experienced a tiny fraction of your way of life and imagined it to mean they knew you inside and out?

Now imagine, instead of it being a superficial thing, like the kind of music you’re into, or what kind of movies or food or clothes you like, that it’s something about yourself you can never change or hide. It’s with you always. You can’t buy a new outfit and be someone else, you can’t blast music from your car so the guy at the drive-thru thinks you ALWAYS listen to that band. It’s with you before you wake up in the morning, whether you wear business or casual, if you’re in the mood or not. In some ways, whether you wanted it or not, certain aspects of your identity were chosen for you–for the rest of your life.

This sounds weird, but its something that needs to be addressed and that I’ve been thinking about for some time.  I think people today are more passive than ever when it comes to facing their fears, or dealing with difficult issues. And difficult issues become easier to deal with if you make the effort. But if it takes more effort than liking it on Facebook, people don’t want to be bothered, it seems. And changing the way you think about things takes effort, it takes a BIG effort.

Anyway, that’s my soapbox speech. Let’s get back to the movies, right?


3 Responses to “‘There’s No Such Thing as an Honorary Black Person.’”


  1. Some Helpful Links! « Late to the Theater - April 20, 2011

    […] ‘There’s No Such Thing as an Honorary Black Person’  – Entry detailing how the vicarious thrill that white people get from watching movies aimed at minority audiences does not come with a jacket and inclusion to that minority group. (P.S., I’m white!) Probably would also be enjoyed by fans of StuffWhitePeopleLike.com. […]

  2. Some Highlights! | Late to the Theater - March 4, 2015

    […] 3. ‘There’s No Such Thing as An Honorary Black Person’ […]

  3. Welcome! Please, Let Me Show You Around! | Late to the Theater - March 14, 2016

    […] There’s No Such Thing As An Honorary Black Person […]

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