You don’t hear overtly racist language very often these days. Here are some words with a subtler implication.
2. Not every black person considers these words coded, nor are they coded in every context. But in some cases, this is how they are perceived.
What you say: “He is such a thug.”
What we hear: He is the n-word.
What you say: “You’re so sassy!”
What we hear: I associate your self-esteem and demeanor with a one-dimensional, finger-snapping depiction of black femininity.
What you say: “That’s ghetto.”
What we hear: That is a negative thing I associate with blackness and/or the working class.
What you say: “Timberlands [or some other thing black people have been wearing forever] are the hottest trend this season.”
What we hear: Fashion and fads do not exist until white people wear them.
What you say: “My hair is too nappy.”
What we hear: I still believe in the concept of “good” and “bad” hair. I am uncomfortable with the hair that grows out of my own head.
What you say: “This neighborhood is sketchy.”
What we hear: There are a lot of black, working-class people in this neighborhood and that makes me feel uncomfortable.
What you say: “Natural hair is unprofessional.”
What we hear: Office-appropriate dress codes are equated to whiteness, and natural hair does not conform to that.
What you say: “You are so well-mannered.”
What we hear: The way you carry yourself does not align with the way I have been led to believe black people act. You are a rare case.
What you say: “What an urban style!”
What we hear: I know that the elements of this are associated with a culture that rose from working-class black areas, but I will use this vague term to describe it instead.
What you say: “I think biracial babies are really beautiful.”
What we hear: Blackness only has worth when it’s been mixed with another race.
What you say: “Your look is so exotic.”
What we hear: I think that you are interesting and beautiful, but I also cannot wrap my head around your blackness.
What you say: “You are very articulate.”
What we hear: You speak clearly and confidently, which I do not expect from black people. Again, you are a rarity.
What you say: “Can I touch your hair?”
What we hear: I’ve never actually been this close to a black person, so I have to seize the moment. I cannot believe how different you are from me.
What you say: “This person is ethnic.”
What we hear: I am afraid to say “black.”