The Rules & the Wake Up

Middle class Black folks have a formula: get the best education, get the best job, move into the best neighborhoods and be the most “acceptable Black” possible while you are doing these things, so that you can realize the American Dream (house ownership, nice cars, 2-3 kids, and vacations that we can brag about on FaceBook).


By the time our parents are done raising us, we know the rules: speak proper English, dress conservatively, no braids, no beards, don’t be too loud, “work twice as hard to get half as much”, etc.


Once, we’ve “made it”, many of us join these exclusive, bougie, African American clubs so that we can still celebrate our Blackness; while simultaneously looking down on the less accomplished Black folks who just can’t seem “to get it right”.  Or we informally group ourselves with “like-minded” individuals.  We sit around tables adorned with silk tablecloths, drinking wine and eating dry, hotel chicken, and  wonder “why these Negroes can’t pull their pants up; why they have to have so many babies or baby daddies or purple hair weaves or and the like.” From our “beige towers” (we don’t quite have Ivory towers) we pontificate about all the ills of those Blacks.



Most of us have a cousin or somebody that we frequently have to send money to for basic expenses (like a light bill), whom we will complain about to our spouse or bougie Black friends (we would NEVER tell our White friends about them).  We are concerned, yet judgmental.  Tsk Tsk.  We made it!  If only the others would listen.


We act as if we are generationally wealthy—as if we all haven’t sat on some porch in some Southern town (or Ohio—everybody Black has at least some “people” in Ohio) and snapped beans, or stomped on a roach (and looked in amazement when it got back up and crawled away), or taken a bath with multiple cousins (including the one you send money too).


Most Black folks won’t admit it, but there is a feeling of separation caused by economics between Blacks that has replaced colorism in its prevalence and destruction (though we still have to tackle that bear too).  For instance, many of us looked at the Baltimore riots following Eddie Gray’s death and shook our heads with as much disgust for the rioters (if not more) than for the police officers who broke the victim’s neck.  We are afraid that our White counterparts at work or in our neighborhoods will look at Black people, at us, differently.  Their behavior threatens our self-image, our “acceptable Black status.”


I’ve heard a few brave Black people say aloud, “I love Black folks; but I don’t like Niggers.”  Interestingly enough, that’s what White people used to say when they were differentiating between the well-behaved Blacks and the ones who tried to escape.


We feel superior.


And this is why the daily media coverage of police brutality against Blacks is fucking us up.


Yes, we felt outraged at the unjust murders of Black males at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us.  But, for most middle to upper class Black folks, it wasn’t intimately personal.  On some level, we felt protected.  While we felt that the police conducted themselves horribly, we also (even if we didn’t speak it) felt that things would’ve gone much better had the victim followed the rules.


We “acceptable Blacks” have become experts at following rules.  We’ve been doing it since birth to get us where we are.  So, in light of the killings, we ensured that everybody was up-to-date on the rules of dealing with the police while Black.  Facebook and email boxes were flooded with videos and lists of what a Black male should do when stopped by the police.  Some of our “well to-do” clubs held workshops.  I guarantee you, almost every Black mother and father sat down with their sons and had “the talk’ again.


But then there was Martese Johnson.  Martese, when he was beaten by cops, was a a third-year college student double majoring in Italian and media studies at the University of Virginia, one of the most prestigious state schools in the country.  Certainly, his family and he had followed the rules.


The Black Student Alliance at University of Virginia said what many of us were thinking:

“Today, we are reminded of the gruesome reality that we are not immune to injustice; as University students, we are not impervious to the brutality that has reeled on news cycles around the country,” the group said.  In other words, we too are in danger.


So we repeated the lesson to our sons—this time ensuring that we included the frequently uttered statement from Black parents to their kids, “you can’t do what your White friends do.”  We thought that perhaps Martese was attempting to drink underage, like many college students, and had he NOT been doing that, perhaps everything would have been okay. Formulas and rules provided us with a certain comfort.  Our sons will be okay.


But then there was Sandra Bland, who never left her jail cell after being stopped for a minor traffic violation.  Wait, we need to be afraid for our girls too?  So, we sat and talked to our daughters about how they are to NEVER talk back to police officers.  Perhaps if Sandra had just been more cooperative?  Our daughters will be okay.

Father with sad preteen daughter

Then you turn on the news this morning and see that James Blake, formerly ranked the #4 tennis player in the world was attacked by four police officers as he was standing outside of his hotel.  Blake scores an A+ on acceptable Blackness:


  1. He attended Harvard. That’s about the Whitest school possible
  2. He plays tennis for God’s sake. Tennis!
  3. He’s from Connecticut, a state that is too vanilla for some white people


He is a damn valedictorian of “acceptable Blackness.”


So what now?  What’s the new formula?  Perhaps, we need to understand that when it comes to something as ugly as racism, there isn’t a perfect formula.  That’s scary.  But maybe it’s what we need to realize: that we, Black folks, are really all the same.  Perhaps tragedy can bring about unity.


11 Responses

  1. And there are some Black people, the ones who are pinnacles of Blackness in capital letters that I wish would be beaten so they could remember that no matter how much you whitewash yourself you will always be black! My college freshman daughter had to read Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen” for school. It should be prescribed reading everywhere.

  2. “Whitewash themselves”? Really??? Are we in the 5th grade, sitting in the back, yelling at kids at the chalkboard that they “actin’ white”?

    If a white person said that all blacks speak alike, act alike, and have the same tastes we’d uniformly accuse them of racism and methodically pick apart their arguments with a set of irrefutable facts to the contrary. I’m amazed that when BLACK folks do it, many of us nod in affirmation.

    I’m sorry, why poke fun at Blake? Cuz he played tennis and not hoops or football? He’s from Connecticut. Well that’s a good reason. I mean, at least the brother could have done is be born in Bridgeport! And Harvard? Really?? I mean come on!!! What self-respecting black man goes to Harvard just because they admitted him?? Sheesh!

    Somewhere there are a bunch of racist white supremacists reading posts like this and just doing mic drops. Their job is done. For them to attack us is a luxury because we’re doing it to ourselves now.

    1. Hi Chris, thank you so much for you comment. Seeing the delta between the intention of my writing and how it was interpreted helps me to grow as a writer.

      To clarify, I have high regard for Blake. Pointing out his education and background was to illustrate the severity of the race crises in America, particularly between the police and Blacks. If an innocent, Harvard-educated, well-dressed, former nationally-ranked tennis player from Connecticut can not stand outside of a hotel without being tackled by a police officer then what do we do? What is the new plan? What do we tell our sons and daughters? My article is a call for us Blacks to unite because in the eyes of most we are the same, regardless of education, career, or economic status. It certainly wasn’t a call for separation or degradation of any Black man, including Blake.

      I must say though, I did receive a little chuckle at the image of white supremacists gathered around reading this ol’ Southern gal’s post. I hope they subscribe. They will see that I love nothing more that being a beautiful Black woman.

      Thanks again, Chris.

    2. I didn’t get any sense of this blog poking fun at Blake at all. Rather, that his background and accomplishment represent the things that the dominant culture (white culture) in our country highly value, yet that will never protect you if you are black. That we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking we’ve made it by those measures and look down on other blacks who haven’t made it and blame them for the brutality unleashed on them. This brutality is unleashed on us all.

  3. Beatnik24….I don’t know how I stumbled across your writings, but I must say they are thought provoking. Thank you!

    I think it is important to remember “If you do not understand Whte Supremacy (Racism) – what it is and how it works – everything else that you understand, will only confuse you” Neely Fuller Jr. (1971)

    I can’t wait to read your next post.

  4. We are not the problem! Stop self-analyzing your “blackness” We’ve earned the right to just be human! Racist police are the problem! We need to look at the hiring practices of the police force. The training they undergo, the psychological testing (or lack thereof). What I’m seeing of the police is a white cult of murderers that have no accountability. Of cowards hiding behind a badge having no respect for the law or the constitution. A judicial system that allows this. Our forefathers didn’t sacrifice their lives so that we walk around insecure, complacent and fearful! Don’t give “them” that power.

  5. Excellent piece. Just wondered if it was a typo though, where you say that Blake was attacked by four officers. In the clip that I saw, ’twas only one nutter. Loved your response to Chris as well. Circumspect and practical.

  6. There’s a scene in the movie School Daze where Laurence Fishburne’s character and his friends go to a fast food restaurant and Sam Jackson’s character tells them no matter what “Y’all still niggas!”

    That’s how you sound, Beatnik24.

    Maybe just reducing us to the color of our skin is what some people do. We shouldn’t do it to ourselves because we know that we are so much more.

    The Black Lives Matter movement is not fucking me up. I’ve always known that Black lives matter. I find the movement directionless…kinda like The Occupy Movement. It’s built on an idea and the goals are to change the way people feel. If you’ve ever been in a romantic relationship, or any kind of relationship for that matter, you know that you can’t change how someone feels. There are still white people who hate Black people just as much as they did during the Civil Rights Movement. They just can’t carry on the same way cause they could go to jail. Hopefully as the movement continues, its leaders will come up with some policies that will affect change like drawing up a new standard by which police will interact with the public or encouraging the followers not to financially support businesses or back a specific candidate – something concrete. But I digress.

    Beatnik24, you have an audience. Use your power for good.

  7. Your article stimulates thought, action and reflection. I am encouraged to remember my walk, knowing that people evaluate me whether I accept the challenge of a written cause or prayerfully submitting to being led by a higher calling.. We each have a responsibility. The key is in how we respond. I applaud your response.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

stay connected

join the family

black-owned businesses

on the blog

join the family

sign up and receive the latest info each week