Penny For Your Thoughts: Do You Ever Experience ‘Black Pride Paranoia’?

December 15, 2015  |  

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I feel weird when my friends make pro-Black pronouncements on my Facebook page. When I’m tagged in someone else’s post that says stuff like, “I love us,” “There’s nothing like being Black,” or ”You can’t beat us,” there’s a split second where I think about hiding the post from my timeline.

My friends, with their joyful sentiments of self-pride, aren’t saying anything that I haven’t stated, thought or felt myself. So why do I care when my Black friends share particularly pro-Black slogans and opinions on my Facebook page?

You and I know the answer, though I’m somewhat loathe to admit it: I care because I’m wondering, “What are my White friends thinking when they read this?”

Let’s call it Black Pride Paranoia.

A few weeks ago, I had drinks with two of my high school classmates, Jess and Jenn, who are White (an unsurprising detail given that there weren’t many students of color in my graduating class, and I was one of a handful of Black kids). I wasn’t particularly close with either of the women in high school (though I was quite friendly with one of them in junior high), but Facebook has a way of fostering reconnections that didn’t really exist to begin with. We gamely acted as if passing each other in the hallway decades ago but only now getting to know each other qualified as playing catch-up. I loved hearing about what both women were up to now—Jess is a radio host and author; Jenn is a mom and a retired professional cheerleader—and we were having a terrific time. 

At some point, the conversation somehow turned to race and Jenn excitedly said, “Oh, Penny! I want to tell you something.”

“What?” I asked.

“Remember that time in Mrs. Kindbom’s history class when I called Black people colored?”

“Uhhh…no.”

“Yeah, I don’t remember what we were learning about at the time, but I said something about ‘colored people’ when I asked a question.”

“Okay…” I said, and I continued smiling even though I couldn’t help but worry where this trip down memory lane was headed.

“…and you told me off!” Jenn exclaimed, laughing.

“Really?!” I, too, was laughing, but I was dubious about my teenage telling-off skills.

“Yes! You were like, ‘We’re not colored in with markers!’”

“I said that?” I asked, genuinely surprised.  “I know that’s right!”

I couldn’t help being impressed by my younger self. I don’t remember being brave enough at that age to fiercely correct anyone about anything.

Then, Jenn went on. “But today I saw ‘colored’ on your Facebook page. What’s up with that?”

She was laughing when she asked “What’s up with that?” but we both knew she wasn’t joking. Though it might’ve been a rhetorical question, I attempted to answer it.

“Oh, I didn’t write that. One of my Facebook friends said it on her page, and she tagged me in her post.”

That I even wanted to clarify vexed me. I certainly didn’t want Jenn to revert to publicly and earnestly referring to Black people as “colored.” But I also didn’t want to sound as if I was distancing myself from my friend’s celebratory use of the word. I also didn’t want to turn our little high school reunion happy hour into a “We can say this word, but you can’t” symposium on the dos and don’ts of appropriating Black language.

On social media, the Black aesthetic and the cool clique of Blackness reigns. Collectively, we are rightly enjoying a moment in the sun. Though these are still extremely dark times for Black folks, our voices are undeniably credible and visible in a new way. But are non-Black folks looking at us as if we’re flagrantly basking in that visibility as if we’re crossing over into nah-nah-nah-nah-nah taunting territory?

I know that’s not a question we Free and Proud Black people are supposed to ask ourselves, let alone out loud. We’re not supposed to care what White folks (read non-Black folks) think about our Blackness. For me, being Black is a source of unabashed contentment. I am unapologetically Black. (Whatever that means, but more on that later.)

I relish in the language of Black pride, and I appreciate its many iterations—from James Brown saying “Say it loud!” to Kendrick Lamar saying “N*gga, we gon’ be alright.” But when that kind of talk happens in mixed company, I can’t help wondering, “What are my White friends thinking?”

After Jenn brought up the “colored” discrepancy, I certainly had to stop myself from sending several side-eyes her way. (Was there an ulterior motive here? Was she trying to avenge her youthful ignorance by calling out my teenage confidence? Was she accusing me of being a hypocrite? Was revisiting the incident a weird exercise in supremacy and privilege to prove that she was right all along to call Black people “colored”?) Ultimately, I decided to hope that she meant well.

By no means do I plan on quelling my Black pride in the interest of my non-Black friends. I’ll never discourage my friends from including me in their public expressions of “I love us!” exuberance. And, for the record, if we are Facebook friends, always feel free to tag me in your “I Heart Black People” posts. When you do, I’ll readily join in the self-love chorus, but I’ll still ask myself from time to time, “What are my White friends thinking as they read this?”

So tell me: Do you ever experience Black Pride Paranoia on social media?

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