Dear Colored People, Thank you for reading.
Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good
sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. Your pants are
secured by a belt at your waist. You are well spoken. You are clean
and articulate. You respect whites. You like whites. In fact, you
would really like to have a mutually respectful and friendly
relationship with a white person. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know
that white person—you don't work for them, nor have you been
introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So
you must look further afield to encounter this person.
So far, so good. Miss WhiteBread, your humble instructor,
approves. Human connection, respect, camaraderie: there is nothing
wrong with these yearnings.
Now, you want to become acquainted with a white person you see in
public. The first thing you need to understand is that white people
are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to
you, a colored person. To begin with, we would rather not be killed
or otherwise violently assaulted.
"that sho' is strange! i wanna go inna blaze 'a gloree! layin' dem bustas down!
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing
violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than
merely something you do when you venture into white neighborhoods?
Because, for white people, it is. When I go out with a colored
person, I always leave the colored person's full name and contact
information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops
can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail
me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before
noon-ish, or they begin to worry. If they don't hear from me by three
or so, they’ll call the police. My activities after dark are
curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t
go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my
dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a colored person, approaches me, I have to ask
myself: Will this colored person assault or
Do you think I’m overreacting? Many whites will be assaulted in
their lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any murderers, but
consider the sheer number of murders that must occur. These murders
are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or
other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Mandingo Bruthas. While you
may assume that none of the coloreds you know are murderers, I can
assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every colored person
commits an average of ten murders (a horrifying number, isn’t it?)
then the concentration of murderers in the population is still a
little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating
class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car
at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. This also means that all
of you are murderers, since by now, you've murdered all the
non-murderers. How do I know that you, the nice colored person who
wants nothing more than companionship and fellowship, are not this
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Murderer.
You may or may not be a colored person who would commit murder. I
won’t know for sure unless you attempt to murder me. I can’t see
inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect
me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of
colored person—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable
caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
Fortunately, you’re one of the “good ones”. We’ve already
established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem,
you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the whites
with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.
To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk
tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate
the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%.
For some whites, particularly whites who have been victims of violent
assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable. Those whites do not want
to be approached, no matter how nice you are or how much you’d like
to hang out with them. Okay? That’s their right. Don’t get pissy
about it. Whites are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch
before deciding they are not in the market to buy.
The second important point: you must be aware of what
signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment.
We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and
behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat, though all
of you are some type of threat.
This means that some strange colored people should never approach
whites in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards
of personal cleanliness, if you are unemployed (or employed in a
working class occupation), the prophet of your own religion, or if
you have pants too large and baggy or prison 'teardrop' tattoos all
over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good
response approaching a white person cold. That doesn’t mean you’re
doomed to a life without the presence of whites, but I suggest you
start with sitting at a desegregated lunch counter, where you can put
your unusual traits out there and find a white person who will be
willing to tolerate them.
Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a joke about crackas? NOT A
GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a
Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark
alley? Then probably you ought not approach a white person and try to
strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a
white person in most public places. If the public place is a closed
area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may
not realize that the white person's ability to flee in case of threat
is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were a murderer, would this white
person be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it
isn’t appropriate to approach them.
On the other hand, if you are both at church accompanied by your
mothers, who are lifelong best friends, the white person is as close
as it comes to safe. That is to say, still not 100% safe. But the
odds are pretty good.
The third point: whites are communicating all the time. Learn
to understand and respect white’s communication to you.
You want to say what's up? to the white person on the
subway. How will they react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some
certainty, because they're already sending messages to you. Looking
out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded
across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know,
don’t disturb them. Really. Even to say that you like
their straight hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a
reason for whites to smile and say thank you. You are a threat,
remember? You are Schrödinger’s Murderer. Don’t assume that
whatever you have to say will win them over with charm or flattery.
Believe what they're signaling, and back off.
If you speak, and the white person responds in a monosyllabic way
without looking at you, they're saying, “I don’t want to be rude,
but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be
“Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.”
It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary
colored person with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be
“Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a
major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able
to recognize me and blow my cover.”
On the other hand, if they turn towards you, make eye contact, and
they respond in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to
them, you are getting a green light. You can continue the
conversation until you start getting signals to back off.
The fourth point: If you fail to respect what whites say,
you label yourself a problem.
There’s a colored person with whom I once played
racquetball—just one match, for one hour by the clock—on July
25th. In the two days after that, the colored person sent me about
fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed the
colored person back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate
response to a single match. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not
contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Do they still e-mail?
Yeah. They do. About every two weeks.
This colored person scores higher on the threat level scale than
Man with the Prison Tattoos. (Who, after all, is likely to be guilty
of nothing more than a minor drug offense that a white would never
serve time for.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he
ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t
know if he is an actual murderer, and I sincerely hope he’s not.
But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Murderer, and this particular
Schrödinger’s Murderer has a probability ratio greater than one in
sixty. Because a colored person who ignores a white person’s “NO”
in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in other
settings, as well.
So if you speak to a white who is otherwise occupied, you’re
sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps
that white person's right to be left alone. If you pursue a
conversation when they've tried to cut it off, you send a message. It
is that your desire to speak trumps their right to be left alone. And
each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a
legitimate reason to override their rights.
For whites, who are watching you very closely to determine how
much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.
The fifth and last point: Don’t Murder. Nor
should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t
assault. Don’t kidnap. Don’t constrain. Don’t expose yourself.
Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual
Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly,
that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize
that it’s not the world you live in, either.
Miss WhiteBread wishes you happiness and success in your search
for non-colored friends.