Ask Lisa Advice: I Can’t Take My White Roommates’ “Black Girl Act!”

This week, I counsel a Multiracial college freshman upset by her White roommates’ “Black Girl Act”—mimicking negative Black stereotypes for fun.

Dear Lisa

I am a new college freshman and I’m Biracial, Black and White. I really identify as Mixed—sometimes I feel Black, sometimes White, but I don’t make a big deal about race just because identifying one way or another isn’t who I am. That said, I do hate stereotypes of all kind—I hate when people assume someone is going to be a certain kind of way just because of how they look or what their last name is.

My new roommates are White girls—three of them. One keeps to herself, but the other two are very social. I like them, but the problem is that they go out of their ways to talk “Black” and act “Black”—and by that, I mean ghetto, bad grammar, noisy and obnoxious—as if that is cool. It’s not. It’s annoying! The worst part of their Black Girl Act is that they seem to be trying to impress me. They ask me if they are saying “aight” correctly (for all right). And on a hot day, they’ll lie out in the sun and then come back and hold their arm against mine to show off that they’re “even darker” than me—and I am not so dark actually. If they’re not doing that, they’re making fun of each other by saying how White they are, like: “You’re such a White girl!”

Seriously, I have never been friends with people who are so focused on race. I can’t even have a conversation about it because I just know they would accuse me of being uncool or uptight. I do not know what to do or how to handle them. Please help!

Considering changing rooms

 

Dear considering

I understand that your White roommates’ Black Girl Act is getting old, fast. How frustrating it must be to have them constantly mimic and distort Blackness. It seems as if they have internalized stereotypes that they believe are cool. Then, they turn to you—their Multiracial roommate, who has never claimed to define Blackness—for validation!

It is not uncommon for people your age to hide their insecurities by putting on a character that’s brash and loud and seemingly confident. The persona they affect doesn’t come naturally, but it feels safe because it’s a force field between the self and the threatening real world.

Without interviewing your roommates, I couldn’t say for sure that this is what they are doing, but it does seem to apply. They—like you—are on their own for the first time, figuring out who they are, grappling with more than a little uncertainty. That said, they are not emulating Blackness, they are acting out offensive stereotypes. I don’t blame you for being annoyed.

It is possible that they have no idea that they are offending you. They may believe that they are ingratiating themselves with the Black Girl Act. On the other hand, it is possible that these girls are deliberately attempting to provoke you by disrespecting Black culture and digging into the stereotypes. Either way, I believe you must say something. If not to the girls, then to a student residential advisor, or possibly a dean of students.

What you say and whom you say it to depends on what your goal is. I notice that you said you like them, though you didn’t express why. Could these girls be potential friends if you work this out? Or, are you better off without them in your life?

Before going further, I want to call their Black Girl Act what it is: Racism—perpetuating and broadcasting stereotypes of Blackness. The likelihood is that these girls either don’t consider what they’re doing racist, or that they don’t consider it at all. Either way, if you called them out, they might become offended. It is not uncommon for people to believe that racism only counts when it’s expressed intentionally. The logic goes: I didn’t mean anything by it, I was not trying to be racist; therefore, I am not racist. It is possible that, by raising this with them, you will be seen as making a big deal out of nothing. You may be called “too sensitive.” But it is a big deal.

Black people get in trouble for “being loud and sounding Black.” These girls can shed their Black Girl Act any time they want.

They are therefore being crass and careless at best. You are not being too sensitive.

Another piece of this has to do with your own identity. You are Multiracial and you say you identify as Mixed, meaning that you don’t lead with your Blackness. You say you don’t think very much about race or make a big deal out of it.

But now, thanks to your roommates and their Black Girl Act, racism is part of your daily life.

You may be facing feelings you may never have been aware of. Do you stand up as a person of color and challenge these girls? Do you let your roommates’ behavior go? Can you ignore it and still live with them?

If you do confront them, you will be owning your Black identity. It may make you feel stronger and prouder than you expected. On the other hand, in your roommates’ eyes, you will be embodying the very stereotypes you are so offended by. Be prepared for this. They may ascribe to you an “angry Black girl” status. But looking angry is a small price to pay if it puts a stop to their disrespect.

Some other things you might try:

  • Talk to a dean or an RA. Explain the situation and find out if there is a built-in process for mediation among roommates at your college.
  • Talk to an older student of color, possibly one who is Multiracial, who can be a buddy and advise you as to how to proceed.
  • Investigate the process of switching rooms.

If you decide to do the latter, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. There may be awkwardness when you pass your ex-roommates on the walkways between lecture halls. But remember: you will not be the first freshman girl to switch roommates early in the school year, and you won’t be the last. It will be worth it to free yourself from your roommates’ Black Girl Act for good.

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