Yesha Callahan

Black Woman Says She’s “Uncomfortable” Around Black People After Being Raised In A White Area

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Feeling uncomfortable in unfamiliar territory is something that most of us have experienced or will experience at some point on our lives, but Wisconsin native Danielle Small says her struggle with feeling like an outsider goes far beyond the norm.

In an essay for Salon, Danielle, who is a Black woman, says her less-than-Black upbringing has caused her to feel “uncomfortable” around her own people for the majority of her life. She says not being abreast on common knowledge and mannerisms in Black culture has always made her fee like an outsider despite her brown skin and dreadlocks obviously solidifying her as a Black woman.

Danielle recalled coming face to face with her realization during a routine visit to her hair dresser.

It happened. I failed the “black” test. My hair stylist and I were chatting while she was taking a break from retightening my locs. I made a funny quip, and she extended her palm so that we could partake in the standard Black American handshake. In what was most likely the longest three seconds in the universe, I stared at her hand in befuddlement, trying to figure out what she was doing. By the time I realized that this was the handshake, it was too late. I tried to recover with some weird amalgamation of a fist bump and a high-five, but the damage had been done. I had revealed myself to be the Carlton to her Fresh Prince.

I replayed the scene over and over in my head during my walk to the train. How could I have been so oblivious to an obvious cultural norm? This set off a mini existential crisis where I came to one of my greatest philosophical epiphanies: I’m uncomfortable around black people. This is a peculiar realization being that I am also a black person.

She goes on to detail memories from her upbringing in a predominantly white Wisconsin suburb during which many of her white peers even challenged her “Blackness” by suggesting that she wasn’t really Black because she wasn’t familiar with seemingly common things in Black culture.

Like most psychological problems, it all began in my childhood, specifically the eight years I spent living in all white towns in rural Wisconsin. If there was one phrase I heard more than “nigger,” it was “You’re not black.” Talk about irony.

Sometimes it was phrased as a “compliment,” meaning you’re one of the good black people. But other times it was meant so white people, whose sole interaction with black culture came through the distorted lens of racist media, could assert their own twisted version of blackness over me.

“I’m blacker than you because I know more Tupac songs than you.”

“You’re not black. Your lips aren’t even that big.”

“You’re not even that black. Look, my ass is fatter than yours.”

“I know so many white girls that can gangsta walk better than you.”

“You’re not black, you can’t even dance!”

In the end, Danielle admits that keeping herself isolated under the assumption that she’d be dismissed as “not Black enough” by her own was to blame for her likely missing out on things that she would have enjoyed or benefitted from, like attending a HBCU or joining organizations that may very well have helped her overcome her life-long fear.

Who knows what I’ve missed out on? How many friends I could’ve made, how many organizations I didn’t join out of fear.

For years I isolated myself from the community that Henry Louis Gates, Jr. talks about, keeping potential sources of emotional support at arm’s length. And with new hashtags popping up every day, strong emotional support systems are needed more than ever.

White supremacy takes on many forms. It’s most visible as the daily physical assault on black lives. But we shouldn’t underestimate the psychological effects of something as seemingly simple as how we define what it means to be black.

While many of us may find Danielle’s struggle difficult to relate to or even understand, it is one that many African-Americans face or have faced in society. Her brave decision to open up about what she went through will likely help younger Black people who may be going through something similar overcome their fears and embrace their culture before spending large portions of their lives in the same self-imposed isolation that Danielle became accustomed to as a young woman.

You can read her full story HERE.

  1. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    FYI, there are many black people from many different countries and respective cultures that are living here in the U.S. Her assertion that she is uncomfortable around “black” people is too broad. I understand that someone who was raised in a rural setting, black or white, may feel different from an urban setting and some of the culture and mannerisms from the inner cities. But I think this author has some type of post traumatic stress syndrome from growing up around people who spoke to her in such an offensive and racist manner.

  2. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    I actually know a person like this.

    • August 26, 2015 - Reply

      @Mary Burrell

      Ditto.

    • August 26, 2015 - Reply

      @Mary Burrell

      My sincerest sympathies

      • August 26, 2015 - Reply

        @blogdiz

        Lol

      • August 26, 2015 - Reply

        @blogdiz

        lol

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @blogdiz

        🙁 lolz

    • August 26, 2015 - Reply

      @Mary Burrell

      Okay, I’m afraid to ask, but what is this person like?

      • August 26, 2015 - Reply

        @paintgurl40

        We are good friends but she told me she didn’t like black men. She says because she is conservative and she is not “hood” i don’t know she’s kind of messed up. But she is a good person. It used to annoy me but she is a good friend and i try not to hold this against her. black culture etc., she is just clueless about black music unless it’s classical but she’s just weird like that. She’s good people just a special snowflake.

        • August 26, 2015 - Reply

          @Mary Burrell

          I know people like that among both genders.

        • August 26, 2015 - Reply

          @Mary Burrell

          It’s cool that y’all are friends though.

          • August 26, 2015 - Reply

            @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

            She’s a good person just kind of messed up.

            • August 26, 2015 - Reply

              @Mary Burrell

              I feel you.

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @Mary Burrell

          You can slowly teach her that its not that serious. My dude loves metal, works in tech and is into steam punk, black men are very diverse.

          • August 27, 2015 - Reply

            @Staci Elle

            But I had to pull her coat tail about that white people saying you are not like other black women trash. I let her know that trash is not a compliment.

          • August 27, 2015 - Reply

            @Staci Elle

            Now that’s a very diverse brother.

            • August 27, 2015 - Reply

              @Mary Burrell

              He got me into speampunk its hella cool. And Id added Slipknot, the Deftones and some others to my playlists of mostly underground hiphop and neo soul- I love finding new things to love.

          • August 27, 2015 - Reply

            @Staci Elle

            I love Gothic fashion/Lolita and I would love a Steampunk brother! Does he have a brother? 😀

            • August 27, 2015 - Reply

              @FromTokyo

              Yea, and he’s a really good crip walker… Girl their nothing alike and I wouldn’t do that to you lol. He does have a good friend who’s into cos play, that might be good for a cool chick like yourself.

        • August 28, 2015 - Reply

          @Mary Burrell

          Damn! I actually got a friend like that. The only difference is that she does post articles about racial inequality and gay rights, so I’ll give her that.

  3. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    It seems that she doesn’t WANT to be comfortable around people, we are not all the same hon.

    • August 26, 2015 - Reply

      @Staci Elle

      ITA. She grew up in a white town, she experienced racism, blah, blah, blah. What is she doing about it NOW? Is she working on her fear of black folks, discovering black culture, or does she enjoy playing that “special negro” role? The entire article is vague and suspicious.

      • August 26, 2015 - Reply

        @paintgurl40

        Its a “oh yt, yous been good to me I have no connection with these negros” type article. She can keep this I love black people and I love being around them, yeah there are some knuckleheads in the bunch but we can get along.

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @Staci Elle

          I didn’t want to go there but…

        • August 28, 2015 - Reply

          @Staci Elle

          I agree. Like she’s the ONLY black girl that likes punk/rock music….

  4. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    First, it is a shame that Sister Danielle was disrespected by racists by being called the N word. Black people are diverse. Worldwide, black people are involved in punk rock, science, music, history, politics, etc. So, Blackness is never monolithic. The stereotypes that to be authentically black, you must act in a certain way must be repudiated and dismissed as a bigoted stereotype. Obviously, she has suffered emotional abuse from the racists in the Wisconsin suburb. This is one of the reasons why she acted unconformable around black people when she shouldn’t be. Racism is heavily common in many Midwestern areas. Also, I do hope that Danielle has the opportunity to voluntarily communicate with a wide spectrum of black people in a higher level. Many of us have the opportunity to do so. The last statements of her article about the psychological harm the system of white supremacy has on many black people is accurate. So, there is nothing wrong with living to go into a Monica concert and there is nothing wrong with celebrating in an Afro-Punk festival either. We, as black people are diverse. We are the first humans on Earth and our lives are golden.

  5. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    Black people are not a monolith

    • August 26, 2015 - Reply

      @Mary Burrell

      black people are a community …

  6. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    Im black and I don’t know any special black people handshake either , People like this IMO are just as guilty as some white people who narrowly define all black people into limiting stereotypes
    The only difference is they feel that they do not fall into these ” boxes ” they have created for the “other blacks ”
    Special snowflake syndrome

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @blogdiz

      “Im black and I don’t know any special black people handshake either ,”

      You don’t know our special blacks only handshake? For shame! SMH j/p

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @Staci Elle

        LoL. You so silly and I like it. 🙂

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

          I know exactly what handshake your talking about, a version was shown on the Fresh prince of bell aire 😉

          • August 27, 2015 - Reply

            @Staci Elle

            Right. Fresh Prince ended in 1996. It is almost 20 years since it ended. Time flies. It is found in the film Undercover Brother too.

            • August 27, 2015 - Reply

              @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

              lol love that movie.

              • August 27, 2015 - Reply

                @Staci Elle

                That movie had humor, satire, hyperbole, and truth in it at the same time. It shows the coolness of Black. We’re so cool that we’re ice-cold. 😉

              • August 27, 2015 - Reply

                @Staci Elle

                I am about to bounce. Have a Blessed Day Sister. Your comments made my day. Bless you.

                • August 27, 2015 - Reply

                  @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

                  It good to chat with people who get you. You crack me up with your low key shade and inspire me with your wisdom, be good!

              • August 27, 2015 - Reply

                @Staci Elle

                Me too

            • August 27, 2015 - Reply

              @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

              Every time I think about it, I can’t believe it’s been that long since the show ended! Doesn’t seem that long ago in a way.

              • August 27, 2015 - Reply

                @FromTokyo

                I feel you. In 1996, I was 13.

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @Staci Elle

        LOL

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @blogdiz

          ☺️

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @blogdiz

      Maybe if she’d said “the black nod” I would have understood better, because I know for a fact that the nod is international. I love seeing black folks abroad from all countries, meeting eyes, and giving that nod and smile. XD

  7. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    Well that’s not uncommon plenty of us are surrounded by white people. I think the important thing is realizing someone else not seeing your ‘blackness’ isn’t the end of the world though it may hurt.

    • August 26, 2015 - Reply

      @Anonin

      I agree.

  8. August 26, 2015 - Reply

    What is the “standard Black American handshake”?

    I can relate somewhat to the author. Somewhat. I was a military brat. I was born in Japan and raised in Northern Italy for my formative years, lived in Portugal briefly, and finally came to the US to live permanently when my mom left the Air Force. My first culture shock was seeing so many Black people in one place.

    I had trouble adjusting with language, culture etc I dealt with the bullying throughout middle school by other Black people but even through all of that, I never felt uncomfortable around other Black people. So when I listen to these similar stories, I’m surprised that these people tend to carry such a heavy negative outlook on Black people in general.

    I think this author has some social anxiety issues. I don’t blame her for having them considering all of the abuse she endured. White people are cruel. I wish her the best and I hope she learns to love her people. No matter what kind of “Black” we are.

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @PrimmestPlum

      “What is the “standard Black American handshake”?”

      The fist bump?

      * Me and my girlfriends just hug though*

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @Staci Elle

        I have done the handshake before.

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

          Please report to the cool kids table 😉

          • August 27, 2015 - Reply

            @Staci Elle

            LOL. 10-4 like a boss. 🙂

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @Staci Elle

        Me too. Also a few things I just realized with this author’s story:

        She says she was offered it during the MIDDLE of a conversation. Aren’t handshake for greetings and departures? Regardless of culture? Not only that but they are kind of mostly used among guys and I’ve seen some couples who have a special handshake with each other. At least where I am, anyways.

        I think this author may really have a touch of some sort of social anxiety or social behavior disorder like Asperger’s. Because the way she’s describing what happened, there seems to be a definite
        disconnect.

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @PrimmestPlum

          Agreed.

          • August 27, 2015 - Reply

            @Staci Elle

            Not to mention that Brothers and Sisters will readily teach you the handshake in a respectful way if you don’t know how to do it.

        • August 28, 2015 - Reply

          @PrimmestPlum

          Maybe she meant a high five. Like when one of your girls say something that is true.

          • August 28, 2015 - Reply

            @paintgurl40

            Perhaps. But even then to refer to that as “the standard Black American handshake” (I cringe at that wording)… there’s still a disconnect.

      • September 1, 2015 - Reply

        @Staci Elle

        Girl yes. I was like, when did us black women start dapping it up like Jazz and Will? I must have missed that trend.

        • September 1, 2015 - Reply

          @Beauty In Truth

          lol 😀

  9. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    I felt like this a lot in my teen years, but in my case my “black card” was usually being tested my other black people. I can’t count how many times I was told I talk/act white by grown people who should’ve known better. It takes time to undo that.

    Cultural pride needs to be taught early and emphasized often in the home. Parents are allowing racist whites, the media, and those Blacks among us who are just plain ignorant to pollute their children’s minds then act surprised when the kid can’t function as a well adjusted adult around their own people.

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @PurpNGold1

      “Cultural pride needs to be taught early and emphasized often in the home. Parents are allowing racist whites, the media, and those Blacks among us who are just plain ignorant to pollute their children’s minds then act surprised when the kid can’t function as a well adjusted adult around their own people.”

      This!

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @PurpNGold1

      BOOM!!!

      That 2nd paragraphh is key.

  10. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    I am really getting tired of these stories. There are MILLIONS of Black people ALL OVER THE WORLD. We are NOT ALL THE SAME. So you don’t know the fist bump/dap/pound. BIG DEAL. OPEN YOUR MIND AND JUST LEARN.

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @CoolChic

      Agree wholeheartedly, white supremacy has warped their perception of themselves and other black people. But their own ignorance contributes as we live in a society where the whole world is open to you through the internet but you huddle in ignorance….says a lot about the individual. Then others on here want to blame others because they “test” your so called “blackness”, people test each other everyday in their interactions: not manly, not feminine, not smart, not rich, too dark, too light, too fat, too skinny….I could go on but Clutch does not offer enough space. Why do we continue to let immaturity shape public discussions…what we have here is the bleatings of individuals who lack the requisite maturity to deal. So instead of addressing their shortcomings they attempt to make it someone else’s problem. This woman is uncomfortable with herself she should deal with that first she may discover afterwards that the world embraces those who embrace it.

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @Rastaman

        Spot on.

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @CoolChic

      “White Supremacy has warped people’s mind and made black folks see each other through white eyes.”

      Exactly, and therein lies the struggle. I choose not to struggle with it or try to prove myself to people stupid enough to judge me based on stereotypes. Let them sit there being slack-jawed and surprised all doggone day because I like/do/say/think/know stuff they think I oughtn’t. Just makes them look stupid.

  11. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    I am a black women and I live in Wisconsin. I still receive contemptuous looks from others who ask where I am from when my answers confounds them. I was born, raised and educated in the area of town that makes them uncomfortable. Wisconsin is hyper-segregated and even within the diverse Milwaukee county the areas are clearly separate.
    I recall my first year in university where I worked in psychology and many students from other areas of the state noted their limited interaction with Black communities and cultures beyond popular media. Some of them accepted only what supported their mindset. That first year could be summed up as Respectability Politics 101. I felt simultaneously invisible and hyper-visible- both a beacon for blackness and discredited and ignored. I still encounter people that negate my blackness because I do not fit their black woman archetypes.

    This articles is a bit frustrating. Is she uncomfortable with Black people or with her own Blackness, identity, social/emotional intelligence (internalized white supremacy mixed with a bit of social awkwardness)???

    P.S. Maybe we can start a online support group because like many of you I can not figure out what handshake she is referencing???

  12. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    The Drop Squad need to come for this sister and my friend.?

  13. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    It’s funny how people have so much contempt for this lady, but have nothing to say about those black ppl who try to test the blackness of others.People being told that they,”act white”, and made to feel like they don’t belong is real.

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @_a_

      I could talk about them all day an night. They are damaged. The thing is, I come from AfAm stock that hit the ground running after slavery. Blackness has always been a good thing to me and is broad and deep. The “acting Black” types are dark-skinned white supremacists.

      This chick’s parents failed.

      • August 27, 2015 - Reply

        @BillipPhailey

        It’s not just her parents that are the issue.Its also a fail when some black people try to make others feel alienated when they don’t,”act black”.Its a form of bullying. If someone has been alienated in that way over a long period of time it can breed bitterness and hostility.Seems like ppl are quick to call out ppl like this lady, but are slow to check ppl the ones I decribed above.

        • August 27, 2015 - Reply

          @_a_

          Too many middle class people romanticize the underclass out of guilt, and fail to realize that they are a stealth threat to our ethnicity’s well-being. My parents didn’t grow up around that kind of dysfunction, esp. my mom. She wondered why none of my kid friends were black – when they bought the house in a neighborhood that would appreciate – but learned what was up with the kids on the So. Side when I explained their pregnancieS.

  14. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    Was she adopted?

    Handshakes? Seriously? Some men may have done that 50 years ago.

    Funny that she references “Carlton”. Alfonso Ribeiro is a trained dancer who danced with Michael Jackson. Hell his “white” dance always had some swing to it. I suppose if you are that divorced from Black people and young, you wouldn’t know that.

    I swear, sub-Milennials annoy the hell out of me with their “who am IIIIII” identity crises. I grew up in an white neighborhood, got it from both sides, yet never felt anything other than Black.

  15. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    Uh, what is “the standard black American handshake”?

    • August 27, 2015 - Reply

      @FromTokyo

      Yep, just because someone is black does not mean you are going to fit in with all black people. That’s impossible. We all have different interests, ideas, values, etc. Black nerds can get together, black metal fans can get together. Black comic book lovers can get together. Black republicans can get together. Black suburban stay at home moms can get together. Black gardeners can get together. Find someone who shares your interests, etc, and KEEP IT MOVING.

  16. August 27, 2015 - Reply

    I am so confused. Is there a “black test”? We have our own handshake? Why didn’t anybody tell me! But um…yeah I don’t know what to say here because she was seriously conditioned especially when she mentioned she was Carlton to her stylist’s Fresh Prince…um…both of these two characters was black. Just because they were raised differently and from different backgrounds doesn’t erase one blackness or exempt it. Why is being black always defined in a limited term or that Black Urban Culture sets the tone for blackness? As other said, black people and culture are not monolithic. Furthermore, just because you are black doesn’t mean you are automatically going to fit in with all black people just like all Asian people won’t fit in with all Asian people, white people with other white people, etc. this is not an uncommon or unnatural occurrence. The key is to find people you do fit in and that takes time and navigation among your peers. Hell, I was called a nerd growing up and I grew up around black people because me and my peers didn’t share the same interest. I also agree with those who said her parents failed her, regardless of where you live or who you are surrounded by one should always encourage love of one’s culture and identifying with it even if you don’t identify with certain segments in it.

  17. August 31, 2015 - Reply

    I feel for her so badly. To be turned to think and feel like that. This should be a lesson to all black couples who decide to raise their kids in a white suburban area that they will end up feeling “uncomfortable”. Then when they decide to leave the nest they then realise your blackness plays a huge role in how people see you. You cannot cotton wool your kids when they are adults. She may of learned the easy way, next time it may of ended with her being assaulted or dead. SMH.

  18. August 31, 2015 - Reply

    She’s an @ss, I was usually the only non white in my LI neighborhoods in the 70’s, hung out in mostly white spaces BUT I was always thrilled as fvck to see another Black person in those venues. The funny thing is I only recently realized that when I was met with reticence from some of those Black people it was due to them wanting to be the only “magic” negro in the crowd and also acknowledging me would only draw attention to their Blackness. Some Black people really do delude themselves that they somehow become colorless to whites/ non Blacks that they socialize with.

    Several times I went to predominately Black schools for short sessions during various moves and was treated like an alien and made fun of because of how I talked and my interests…..it never bothered me, it didn’t dissuade me from seeking out other Black people. I guess some of us are not so easily brainwashed by white supremacy, in fact, my upbringing has afforded me a lot of knowledge about white people, their privilege and sometimes unconscious racism which lead me to be more Blackcentric. Yes, i do have friends that are white that are like family, however, I make sure they know where I stand on racial issues and brook no disrespect. Social media has helped me to prune many a useless branch off my tree of life.

  19. September 1, 2015 - Reply

    I’m sorry, I am from Akron, Ohio where there are black people, however, when you are downtown at lunch time, you may not see to many of us dressed up in suits and ties. We are black people living in a mostly white city. Went to Atlanta for Freak Neek (you gotta be older than 30 to know bout this) and went downtown. We were surrounded by black professionals. We had never seen so many black professional people in our life. We felt so proud to be in that moment. Even walking around Atlanta and going to clubs and parks we were surrounded by black people. We loved it! I feel sorry for this lady, I really do. On another note, I need to see a vine of this black handshake lol.

  20. September 2, 2015 - Reply

    I actually seek out other black women with similar taste in men and music, I am always so thrilled to meet and befriend one that maybe I don’t take the time to vet their character properly… because all have betrayed me and let me down. The most recent time was February and it still smarts. And yet I still yearn for my black soul sister to bond with, that indie-rock loving black gal I can go to concerts with. Maybe one day I will find one who will stay. Finding a great, lasting bond isn’t easy no matter what the race or the relationship type, though.
    As for the men… I will always be more comfortable with white men than black and Asian ones. I DO have a few black male acquaintances though we don’t have as easy of a rapport and as much in common as me and my white male buddies. I’ve got no Asian ones. That is just the way the cookie crumbles, it seems.

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