The Myth of the "Black Experience"
We're STILL not a monolith
I’m sure a lot of you have been in the position where you’re in a room and something comes up relating to Black people or your particular Global Majority group. All of a sudden every head swivels your way and you’re asked for the “Black perspective”. It happens in schools, during classes and group projects. It happens at work in one-to-one and large meetings. It happens socially, among both friends and strangers.
Depending on who you talk to, being on the receiving end of this question can be irritating, hurtful or perceived as racism (because would I presume to ask a white person I’m acquainted with for “the white perspective”? I would not.) I recognise that people are individuals - and complex ones at that. And I’d like white people of my acquaintance - and out in the world - to do the same.
Certainly, there are things Black people from different places have in common. Both African Americans and Caribbean people share the history of enslavement. People from many countries share the experience of colonisation. Black people targeted by law enforcement have similar experiences of injustice wherever that happens. And structural, systematic racism has effects on Global Majority people worldwide.
For all that, we are still individuals, with our own experiences. Within the Caribbean, people who are rich or middle-class or working class will experience the system differently, as is the case for Black people around the world. Some people may have resources - internal or financial - that insulate them against the worst that white supremacist systems can throw at them. Some do not. Some have different experiences depending on where they are. For example, the US, the UK and the Caribbean have white supremacist systems because of their history, but in only ONE of those places do I see people who look like me regularly in positions of power - and even that is relative.
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Whenever I’m asked this question - and it has happened a LOT - I tend to qualify it by saying where my perspective is coming from and that others may feel differently. Because I know that when I sit around a table with my Black friends, we don’t all think the same way.
My point is: you can’t simplify or ignore the complexity of people’s lived experiences. Even though I have a global perspective and relationships with Black people around the world, I certainly don’t feel qualified to speak on behalf of every Black person. We are not monoliths, and despite the many things we have in common, there is no single Black experience.
Consider that before the next time you think about putting your Black colleague on the spot.
Thank you for reading my perspective. Global Majority folks, how does this land with you? Would-be allies, what about you? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Thanks for reading,
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
I am an anti-racism writer, educator and activist, Co-Founder of Diverse Leaders Group, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast. If you value my perspective, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription.
Hi, Sharon. Excellent sharing. Thank you. My recent and first visit to the Dominican Republic came to mind reading this article. I and my travel mate, an African woman, as well, were taken aback when we had no choice but to accept that we were treated like 'second-class citizens' by the majority of the workers there at a Punta Cana resort...who interestingly had our skin color whether caramel-colored or chocolate-brown. We still had a great time. Had I known Spanish, the experience would have been totally different.
However, because we were black, American women, who did not know the language, we were routinely treated with less or no kindness and/or respect as compared to white guests and black men. I have no anger, because, I, too, used to think less and little of black people and very highly of white people at the tender of age of 7 or so. Getting called 'nigger' on a daily basis and teased on taunted took a toll on my mind and spirit. I totally bought in to the lie that skin color dictated human value and worth after years of being called a nigger and seeing big-lips-bulging eyes images commonly seen in yard and home art and statues including cartoons and books when I was a youth...along with experiencing thousands of others societal and social anti-black microaggressions.
Through grace and grit, I was able to break the spell over after decades of self-work and reflection. I know some never break through.
Sharon, It makes perfect sense. It is a reminder that many of us white people aren't around a lot of Black people so the "one" becomes "the all". When I am asked about women in general, I can certainly say SOME things but with a huge caveat: there are so many ways I am different from your "average" (U.S.) woman - I DEFINITELY can't speak for all women, but I can say SOMETHING (based on facts, trends, data - just like we can say something about white supremacy in general based on facts, trends, data and many other topics). We just need to keep this reminder top of mind ALWAYS so as to eliminate/at minimum minimize any perceived sense of micro-aggression.