You Are Not An Honorary Black Guy.


Dear – ,

You are not an honorary black guy. You are a very specific type of white man, and upon reading a few sentences of this open letter you will recognise yourself within it. You are probably affluent, and have a small selection of black friends, who are themselves protected by affluence or even wealth from some of the harshest daily consequences of racism. You may even work in the entertainment industry, where your wider circle of acquaintances includes many black people. After many years of your friendship and acquaintance with these black people – most likely black men – you and your partner will occasionally joke with each other at parties that you are an honorary black guy. You go on holiday with black guys, you dance with black guys, you dance like black guys -whatever that means. You exchange black hand signs with your black guy friends, and you will probably join in their jokes about angry black women. It may never occur to you that in some sense they may hate being different as much as you think you crave it. Or maybe that’s the painfully unspoken and humourless joke: that they need you for access to those rarefied white spaces and you need them for access to those rarefied black ones. You are each other’s visa. You brandish them to your friends, and in turn they brandish you to strangers.

You are not an honorary black guy. What has happened over the course of the years is that you have begun to wear blackness like drag. But you will throw that blackness off the second you are confronted with an awkward conversation about racism with, say, your lovely, doting aunt, that one who helped you pay off your student loan but can’t resist slipping into diatribes about those foreigners ruining the country. She loves your friends, of course. It’s just the other ones she can’t stand. You never contest her views – you nod sheepishly and agree, even though in your heart you don’t.

Or maybe in your heart you do agree. Maybe you do think that if black people all simply pulled themselves together like the ones you know and presumably love, then they would all be fine. If this is how you think, then you don’t like black people. You may think you do, but you really don’t. No. You only like black people who have become affluent enough to prove that the enduring effects of racism do not exist. You only like black people who make it easy for you.

If you are still reading this, don’t stop reading now. Because it was not written for all white people, or even for all white men. It was written for you; for a very specific type of white man, the type who thinks he can have his racial cake and eat it. And you need to read this conclusion, which you will hopefully find devastating, but which in your cynicism you will probably dismiss: that there is no such thing as an honorary black guy. There are only those white men who appreciate black people as fellow and equally complex human beings, and those who do not. You, regrettably, are the latter. And, at some level, you don’t regret it at all.

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