The answer is “no.” White people should not be scared to give Black people compliments. However, one probably wants to “think before speaking.”
The reality is that there are many White people that are scared or apprehensive to give a Black person a compliment for fear that they may say the wrong thing. In today’s politically correct environment, society as a whole doesn’t want to offend others. This is especially true for Whites given the recent backlash felt by some well known Whites who have made comments about Blacks that resulted in a great deal of negative press and counter comments.
Two such examples were the comments made by Bill O’Reilly (host of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News) reference Sylvia’s Restaurant (Black patroned and owned) in Harlem and Senator Joe Biden’s comments about Senator Barack Obama when asked what he thought of him. Neither Bill O’Reilly nor Senator Joe Biden was quite prepared for the negative responses they would receive from the Black Community. To make matters worse, both men have stated that they absolutely meant no offense by their comments.
Given the media attention of the backlash, is it any wonder that White people are scared or apprehensive to give Black people a compliment? This fear was recently demonstrated to me by a White man who recently sat next to me on an airplane. Ironically, sitting next to him on the other side was a Black female. All three of us were very friendly and felt very comfortable with each other. We were a Human Oreo Cookie. Given the comfort level experienced by the three of us, the man in the middle decided to relate to the lady and me a story and then ask a question that had been bothering him.
He began by telling us that he recently saw a Black lady in a store whose jewelry and skin color, in combination, were very striking and beautiful to look at. He wanted to give her a compliment about how beautiful the combination was but he was afraid that somehow he would offend her in some way, shape, or form. He wanted to know from us if it would have been OK to give the lady a compliment.
Although, I immediately wanted to answer his question, I felt it would be more appropriate and enlightening if our fellow travelling Black female were to respond first. Actually, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. This lady didn’t need any prodding and was very quick to respond. She said that it was good that he didn’t make the compliment because he probably would have offended her. The primary problem with his potential compliment was that he included the lady’s skin color.
She asked him if he would have made the same statement to a White lady in regards to her jewelry and how great it looked with her skin color. He said no… he wouldn’t say that to someone White. Next she said, then why would you say it to someone Black. She explained that the Black person would probably feel that she was being slighted in someway given that she probably realized that he more than likely would not have made the same comment to a White lady. In other words, “Beauty is beauty.” If he were simply to say, “Wow, your jewelry looks great” that would be fine and would not be offensive.
Let’s look at the earlier example I used reference Senator Joe Biden and Senator Barack Obama. When questioned about what he thought of Senator Obama, Senator Biden basically said that he thought Barack was clean cut, nice looking, and articulate. Now, here is how a great number of Blacks viewed the comment. “What?” “All Presidential Candidates should be clean cut and articulate!” Why would Barack be any different? As a result, a comment that was probably meant to be a compliment was viewed as insulting and offensive.
Needless to say, our White traveling buddy was glad that he didn’t give what he thought was a compliment which could have caused an unintended negative reaction. Another way to say it may be, if it’s not good for the goose (White people), than it’s probably not good for the gander (Black people.) Simpler stated… if you wouldn’t say it to a White person, than you probably shouldn’t say it to a Black person.
We all just have to “think before speaking…”
Copyright (c) 2007 Knowledge Driven & Moore LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Kevin D. Moore is the author of “Did You Ever Wonder Why Black People Do The Things They Do?” and is the President of Knowledge Driven & Moore LLC http://www.knowledgedrivenandmoore.com a motivational speaking and consultant company on Leadership, Management, Communications, and Diversity. Additionally, he is a Chief Information Officer (CIO), a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
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