3 Ways Black People Hold Ourselves Back

February 10, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, motivation, personal development

In honor of Black History Month, I thought it fitting to write about ways we as black people tend to hold ourselves back. I find it ironic that after facing slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement, we find ways to keep ourselves and other black people from succeeding. If anything, we’d want to succeed to prove that racists are wrong about us, right?


1. Black People Don’t Do That

Have you ever wanted to do something adventurous, such as sky dive, go white water rafting, learn rock climbing or go camping? Were you studious as a child, and told that you ‘talk white’, think you’re a white girl or boy, or called an Oreo? Have you ever been told that something you wanted to do – such as visit Europe, learn a non-Romance language, eat certain ethnic foods or listen to music other than hip hop, R&B, blues, jazz or gospel – was something that only white people did?


There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to follow any pursuit or interest that does not harm another human being. I don’t care if you want to be a goat herder in the Swiss Alps. Who cares if its not something that black people traditionally do? One thing is that, if there hasn’t been a black person to ever do it, there would be such a sense of racial pride by you accomplishing that feat. Another thing is, what was the point of our ancestors struggling, protesting and dying for us to have equal access to education, any social arena and any economic opportunity, only for black people to bar the door for other black people? This is one thing that I was subjected to when growing up and it has never made sense to me. I was always told I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be… but then black people told me I couldn’t do certain things because black people didn’t do them.


Yeah, okay.


We have enough work to do to stop holding ourselves back – I’m not going to anybody’s ideas, regardless of what color they are, of what black people should and shouldn’t do hold me back. And you shouldn’t either. Unless the purpose of your life is to satisfy the black race, instead of being happy and contributing to the good of mankind.


2. Get Money First, Be Happy Later

Now this isn’t something that’s exclusive to black people. I just notice it more, I guess because my family and most of my friends are black. We have a tendency to discourage each other, our children and ourselves from following career paths unless they will garner a comfortable salary. I think the focus on “making good money” comes from being a race who, historically, were among the have-nots of our society. But times have drastically changed. Athletes and entertainers aren’t the only ones who have non-traditional careers and earn “good money”. All black people aren’t poor, and black women are making major strides in education and corporate America. We’re living in an age where people are now earning their entire income online; where you can be a dancer, writer, and other creative roles when you grow up and still support yourself and your family.


The real question is whether you can withstand the negative feedback from those who don’t share your vision. As an example, your mother may want you to become a doctor and not take your aspiration of writing children’s books seriously. Not only will you be miserable while you matriculate through medical school, when you finally make time for your dream, you’ll regret not having pursued it sooner. And it’ll be you who sacrifices their happiness – how much will your career affect your mother’s life? People want to be proud of us but they can’t live our lives for us. You have to make yourself happy, first and foremost.


3. Using Other’s Views As Your Own

Depending on your cultural background and where your family originates, you may have heard phrases growing up like “don’t bring home a white boy” (and its converse, “if she can’t use your comb, don’t bring her home”), white people always try to hold you back, the white man is the devil/can’t be trusted, all black people have to stick together, Hispanics keep moving here and taking over, etc etc etc. Because of this conditioning, you may carry a chip on your shoulder the size of Texas and see racial injustice at every turn.


There are so many underlying issues to this one, so I’m just going to reiterate that you are your own person. Use the experiences that you have had to make your own judgments. You don’ t appreciate it when other races make generalizations about black people – don’t be guilty of this yourself. I try to view each individual as just that – an individual. Each person I have ever met, regardless of race or gender, has been unlike any other person of that same race or gender. Racial and gender-based discrimination has happened to me before and I’m sure it will happen again. I refuse, however, to let those incidents and people involved keep me from interacting with any other person of that same race or gender. Just because I’ve met a white or black idiot doesn’t mean that all white people, black people, or whomever, will also be idiots.


What other ways do black people hold ourselves back, and how have you worked around them in your own life?

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17 Responses to “3 Ways Black People Hold Ourselves Back”
  1. Daneesha says:

    Wow. This really stuck with me. I really enjoyed reading it. Let me start with the first one. I used to say “Black people don’t do that” to a lot of things, but I actually meant it as a joke. I have done some things that some people think I should turn in my Black card for: tubing, paintball, deer hunting, pumpkin carving…etc. My boyfriend recently asked me if I wanted to go skiiing. Never done it, but I am looking forward to it. Granted, some of these things not available because of where I grew up (Miami).

    I have often been told that I don’t act like a Black girl. Well, what does a Black girl act like? Actually, this morning, my boyfriend’s roommate said to me, “There’s the black girl!” when he saw me dancing to some hip hop. I said, “What does that mean?” He said, “You act like a white girl most of the time.” Um. OK. (Side note: My boyfriend and his roommate are white.)
    I actually didn’t know whether to be bothered or nonchalant about that comment.

    In addition to the reasons you listed, I think Black people hold each other back in school! I remember growing up and being teased and made fun of because I was smart. Rem when kids would not want to be your friend or make snide comments because you wanted to study or do your best? I really hated that there was this belief that Black kids should not make straight As or good grades because it made them look bad. Ugh!

    • Anilia says:

      A black girl only listens to certain music (hip hop, R&B, neo soul, jazz, gospel), likes certain food, only watches black movies, and has to get her hair done all the time. LOL! Let certain black people tell it, we’d only live lives according to their parameters. When I met you I got a vibe that you are open minded, fun and really sweet. I didn’t place you in the “acts like a black girl” box though… I didn’t get offended by your bf roommate’s comment b/c honestly, other races of people get these sentiments from us.

      I hated the school thing too! I LOVED school, still do, but got picked on all the time for ‘talking white’ and being a nerd. I only started speaking ebonics to be ‘cool’, we didn’t speak that way at home. If you’re smart, do your work and read, you have no street cred. Which is stupid, why do we need street cred anyway? Do you still see this now, in your classroom? (or are the kids too young to differentiate race like this?)

      • Daneesha says:

        My school does not have a lot of Black students, but I have seen little glimpses of that “it’s not cool to be smart” mentality with the males more so than the females. Luckily, many of the students they become close friends with kind of rub off on them and they do pretty well.

        Also, thanks for that wonderful assessment of me!

  2. Alexandria says:

    You raise some very interesting/valid points here. I think out of all of the points you made, the overarching concept is basically to be your own person; be a leader. There are so many problems that we as black people, and as black women face and I believe it is important to learn as much as we can about our history and use that knowledge to foster an attitude of “it’s okay to be proud to be YOU” in ourselves and in everyone around us.

    All of the “black people don’t do that” and “you talk/act white” and “you have to make money instead of do what you really want” comes from a pattern of years and years of inequality that has transformed the collective black psyche into that of the inferior. That is problematic on so many levels, but I truly believe that change starts with “each one teach one”… This is a good post.

    This is my first time reading your blog, but I like it. Keep up the good work.

    • Anilia says:

      I so agree with you. It just takes each person to reject these standards of what black people should and shouldn’t do, and decide to live their life on their own terms. At first its hard though, to realize that you’re going against the ‘grain’. But once you ask yourself who came up with these standards in the first place, then it gets easier to ‘do you’.

      Thanks for the compliment on my blog too.

  3. Tiffany says:

    What an insightful and courageous post. When I first found “You Have More Than You Think,” a financial savers blog, I was like, “alright now!” because as you know, “black people don’t blog.” =) I feel the same way about this one.

    Thank you for this post. I think it’s important for us to speak our truth – no matter how difficult it may be to receive.

    • Anilia says:

      thanks Tiffany! Speaking our truth, no matter who doesn’t see our vision, is crucial. It takes mucho courage but its good to remember that fear doesn’t always go away, and we have to live our lives regardless of that. I see you’re finding your truth in your blogging and hope you enjoy reading mine as well.

  4. jubilee says:

    Yeah, black people don’t ride horses, even though we are around them in the south, and racist Hollywood would rather die than have a black girl on a horse when many are. (bill picket rodeo)the westerns could have had black women as characters. Maybe they were afraid because the “yellow rose of texas” was a black woman. Although Ive heard there is a movie called “gang or roses” which is an all black woman cast.

    • Gosh has this topic struck me or what!

      Hi all!

      Hi! Black people DO ride horses, final. Of course not all, but a small minority of induviduals do, like me. I myself compete at showjumping and dressage, and where I come from we ride horses plenty. There are known black riders around the world, but it´s just a shame that they´re not highlighted. Even at 6 i had to deal with “ooh it’s for girls”, “since when did black people ride?”. But i’m proud to say that my family history is full of horses, right down to the native indians. It has bothered me to hear from not just from other races, but my own also that it’s “not normal”.
      Other than me: I really agree though that we need to be more open minded and explore. The steriotypical nonsense has to end, seriously. The world is big, so expect the unexpected. I am very glad that you have shed some light on this subject.

      Dennet 😀

  5. jubilee says:

    The its not cool to be smart mentality is affecting males of all colors. Pretty soon ghetto behavior will infect them all. (having the woman make the money and take care of you when shes six months pregnant) theres more women in college than men–the radical femininsts started this ish. The males are giving up. Most males today are unemployed and don’t want to go back to school to get a better job, etc. I think women in the past pretended to be ‘innocent’ of certain things so this would motiviate the guy to become a man—this seemed to be a ‘white woman’ behavior. Some blacks also played it

  6. Sister, I agree with everything you said. As a Special Education teacher, it hurts me deeply when a black 4th grade brother says, “I can’t because people like me don’t do this stuff.” When I ask what kind of people he’s referring to, he says, “Black and even though you’re black too, it’s different because you’re a teacher.” That’s when the lesson plan is put on pause and we have a true teachable moment. It’s that learned helplessness that I feel our community suffers from so much. The unfortunate thing is, if we fear…we teach our children to fear success, and our children’s children do the same. At some point, we have to be willing to hit pause on the regularly scheduled agenda, and TEACH our people.

  7. I absoloutely love this article.Growing up I was studious and got picked on because I always had my face in a book.I think that one of the ways that black people
    old ourselves back is by just pain HATIN’ on each other.In tha hood if you see another black person who is doing better than you;people tend to hate.Instead asking how they achieved their accomplishment.I think that is very unfortunate.

  8. Kari says:

    It’s as if you read my mind. I can not believe how close-minded our ancestors have become. I thought the fight was over after so many great leaders died for the cause and yet 50 years later our activists who fought the good fight are reverting back. They say ignorance allows history to repeat itself, well what is the excuse after being amply educated? I will not allow myself to be conscientiously ignorant. I will not rear my children with this mindset nor will I encourage it in those around me. In order to be an example you have to live what you teach , not recite words without meaning. I try my best to give all men, women and children equality and I hope that my children will keep this in their hearts long after I am gone.

    • Anilia says:

      “They say ignorance allows history to repeat itself, well what is the excuse after being amply educated?”

      honestly Kari, I don’t believe this anymore. There’s just way too many examples of people knowing history but ignoring the pattern of their actions.

      ” I will not rear my children with this mindset nor will I encourage it in those around me.”

      to me this is an awesome outlook to have. We should just be open to experiences period, not defined by limiting parameters. Who defines ‘what black people do’, anyway?

  9. Malibu495 says:

    First time visitor. Happy to see this. Very happy. I work in downtown minneapolis and it really bothers me to see black kids talking trash, being loud, dressing and acting like wannabe hoodlums and otherwise wasting their lives. I wanna grab them and tell them to look at themselves. Get real
    Im a white guy btw.

  10. Renee says:

    I know I’m a few years late on this LOL…

    I recently noticed that black people hold ourselves back when we say things like “don’t forget where you come from!” To me, that’s you trying to hinder that person from being successful out of fear that they won’t be accepted by those that don’t share the same level of success.

    I find that comment so unencouraging and demeaning. It’s as if they are saying since you come from nothing that’s all you’ll ever have. But just in case you make it, I still want you to remember who I am. Anyone else feel that way?

    • Anilia says:

      I can see how you’d find that comment discouraging.

      I think people say things like that, because so often when people reach higher levels of success, there is an expectation that they should reach behind them and pull people along with them. To those who’ve been ‘left behind’, I’m sure its painful for a loved one to ‘abandon’ you.

      However, its up to each of us to reach the highest levels that we can! We can use those who’ve moved on as fuel to ignite our own dreams, instead of seeing them as ‘sellouts’ or anything along those lines.

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