Let me drop this in here before someone says something ignant
Dear Black People: Stop Rewarding Whites Who Behave Badly With ‘Honorary Blackness’
Justin Bieber’s recent arrest
has sparked more than a few jokes about the future of the Beeb’s
career. While many of us shook our head at his antics, others apparently
used his run-in with the law as further proof that the Canadian
musician’s bad boy behaviors are a result of his friendships with Black
Friend and fellow writer Bee Quammie wrote on Facebook:
[Bieber] got arrested in Miami, and social media jokes
abound re: his “honorary Blackness,” feeling the effects of “hanging out
with too many Black folk” and how he’s “one of us.” Rob Ford has been
jokingly called “Toronto’s first Black mayor” after the crack-smoking
incident, and is now our “first Jamaican mayor” who’s being lauded for
“reaching out to the West Indian community.” Pardon me while I vomit.
She’s right. While many of us lambasted Sharon Osbourne for saying Bieber “doesn’t realize he’s White”
after he peed into a bucket and directed an expletive-filled rant
toward Bill Clinton, far too many of us are quick to bestow honorary
blackness on White folks who behave badly.
Bill Clinton is commonly referred to as “the first Black president”
because he played the saxophone, smoked weed, and regularly cheated on
his wife. Richie Incognito, the White NFL player accused of bullying his
Black teammate by lobbing racial slurs, was given a pass for his
behavior by his Black teammates who saw him as an “honorary Black man”
because he grew up poor. When Gwyneth Paltrow (and Madonna) dropped the
n-word, many scrambled to her defense because, as Beyonce’s BFF, she
somehow gets a “pass” to Black it up from time to time. David Beckham
was once called an honorary black man because he wore cornrows. Kim
Kardashian gets a “Black pass” because she has a thing for Black men.
Quentin Tarantino—who Neil Brennan (a White writer) called “the best Black screenwriter” in
Hollywood—has been given an honorary Black certificate because he drops
the n-word and made a film about slavery. As soon as Justin Timberlake
donned his cornrows and ditched N’Sync for Pharrell he was given the
title (never mind he left Janet hanging during that “wardrobe
malfunction” fiasco). Rob Ford has been called the first Black mayor of
Toronto by some because he smoked crack, and apparently, likes to speak
in a Jamaican accent when he’s drunk (which is a lot).
I could go on.
Bestowing the “honorary Black man/woman” title on someone seems all
fun and games until you really examine why the person is being labeled
as such in the first place.
Have these honorary Black people earned the title because they
advocate for equal rights, genuinely care about us and our issues, or
are actively working to make the world a better place for Black folks?
Most of the people who get the honorary Black person title do so
because they’ve engaged in deviant behavior. While we’d rail against
White folks who view us through the offensive lens of negative
stereotypes, some of us will happily claim others who conform to those
same stereotypes—dancing, singing, rapping, getting arrested, growing up
But why? Is dysfunction and good rhythm all we have to offer the world?
Certainly not, but we also cannot call other people out on their
racist and prejudiced ideas if we continue to dabble in the same
problematic line of thinking
As Bee Quammie put it:
“The behaviours that La Beiba and Rob Ford exhibit are
common across all kinds of people, yet some Black folk seem quick to
take sole ownership of these pathologies like it’s all we have to offer.
La Beiba and Rob Ford ain’t no kin to me.”
To be clear, blackness is not something we can bestow on others. You
cannot rap, sing, or two-step your way into being Black—honorary or
otherwise. Getting caught up in negative or illegal behaviors does not
make you Black; it makes you human.