A Non-Monolithic View of Black Culture For White Allies

Ask a Black person: What does a white ally do, when they run into Black conservatism, and prejudice?

(disclaimer this is all the opinion of Grey and does not talk about outright bigotry/hate )

Secretly, I’ve always chuckled to myself wondering what must happen when this happens in real life. The thing that most allies don’t understand is that at the end of the day majority of Black Americans are conservative and not all of us are from the same section of the culture in terms of beliefs and understanding of the world. To me, this shows that the allies are actually getting to know Black people and I’m excited this question was asked.

One day, I’ll get more into the sections of different types of Black Folk in general. But for now, I’m going to give the general sub-cultures of boujee, stereotyped, hotep, and church going and outcasts. (these are how I often think of it. It’s not about what people like but what they think.) Every general grouping has different beliefs and political understandings. Knowing a Black person’s general stance on where they fall into these categories can sometimes ease the cognitive dissonance you may find while talking to a person about intersectionality and their experience.

Black culture isn’t a monolith.

An example would be talking to a church-going Black person ( and when I say this I don’t just mean a person who goes to church. I mean a person who church is a part of their identity)  about mental health.  Sure that same person may understand the effects of poverty on the Black community, they may feel strongly about celebrating education and getting our men out of the jail system. Yet their other beliefs keep them from being able to approach/ understand other types of intersectionality. For example, that person might also be homophobic because that’s what they believe the Bible has told them that is wrong.

They may also struggle with understanding mental health because they believe that as long as you pray it away God will take care of you.

Meanwhile, a different Black person who falls more into the Hotep category may react totally differently to the same issues. They often will either overly idealize or overly put down women in their life, ignoring feminist ideas. They may care about mental health, but they may handle it in a more holistic manner. Some may be anti-vaxxers and their focus on what I consider to be outlandish conspiracy theories may stop them from being up-to-date with the most current thoughts on science and things of that nature.

Black Culture isn’t white culture

Black culture is in many ways simply more conservative than white culture, especially what allies expect. Then, there is the fact that in general Black Culture does not see the same issues in the same way that white culture particularly white allies often see issues. It’s complicated because on one hand Black gender is not the same as white gender. On the other hand, homophobia still runs rampant in the Black community. (but not more so than white culture) Although on a whole Black Culture tends to be matriarchal, there are and have been some who believe it should be patriarchal and act as such. That issue gets compounded by a relationship to White culture. For some Black men, it is hard for them to feel like they are respected when white people don’t respect them and are telling them that be respected they must at least get their women to “respect them” and be submissive just like white women are supposed to be. It creates a certain mindset to happen that is common but unusual. It’s also generally not a respected position to take within the community.

My thoughts and what to do, are twofold. First understand and accept that no matter what race or color not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye. The same way that you can call your friends and family is the same way you should consider calling out of a Black person that you know. The key here is a person that you know. To do so otherwise would be disrespectful. Additionally, if this conversation is going to be had it should be done so in private to not be shameful.

More practical advice

On the other hand, I’d highly suggest any white allies that find themselves in the situation to take a step back and really look into why they (the Black friend) feels that way. Can it be uncomfortable? Yes. At the same time though if you care about Black people it is important to understand where they’re coming from with their beliefs and understandings of the world. It may not match yours. But, is important to the why.

At the very least you should be able to say, “Hey I don’t want to hear X around me” If they ask why then explain your viewpoint. Our culture isn’t without its faults and some people believe problematic things. But I think if you come from a place of understanding, and talk to your friend in private/ maybe introduce them to new ideas with the focus on sharing something important to you vs educating folks, you should be fine.

Editors Note: This post has been updated for clarity in 2021.

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