A Black Woman’s Conversation with a White Man About Race

A 30-year old body is a rebel. It does whatever it wants to do, with little regard to what I want it to do. When I turned 30, exercise moved from optional to mandatory. I’ve taken on a new fun physical activity to stay in shape: road cycling.

Hubby introduced me to the world of cycling 2 years ago. He purchased a performance bike, began cycling with a group of people, and fell in love with the sport. His love for the sport was infectious. I purchased a road bike in April and started bike riding as well. Twice a week, we cycle with various groups in our neighborhood. Hubby, a more seasoned cyclist, rides with intermediate riders. I, on the other hand, cycle with other beginners. We usually meet at a location after our respective rides.

On one Saturday morning, I returned from my ride before hubby. I noticed a White man in his group and asked him whether he had seen my husband. In retrospect, iI had never seen this man before, so he probably had no idea what hubby looked like, but I didn’t even stop to consider that.

He responds, “Would it be racist if I asked you if he were Black?”

“No,” I responded matter of factly, “You would need to know what he looks like in order to help me find him.”

He laughs, “Oh. But some people would be offended that I assumed that your husband is Black. I am assuming that your husband is Black because you’re Black”

“Yes, I agree. Others are sensitive about things like that. But in this case, you’re trying to find a description of what he looks like,” I said.

By now, I was becoming a bit irritated with the way this guy was avoiding my question. Sure, he needed to know my husband’s skin color in order to help me find him, but did we really need to have a conversation about the etiquette of racial discourse right now? I had just finished cycling 15 miles in North Carolina’s summer heat and the last thing I wanted to have was a conversation about race. Aside from the weather and my tired body, racial discussions are tiresome. I only engage in such discussions when absolutely necessary.  And then I take a nap.

I told him that I appreciated his sensitivity, but I’m okay with his question. In fact, I welcome it. I brings clarity. I also suggested that he simply could have asked, “What does your husband look like?” This way he would have had a lower risk of offending anyone.

Although I was a bit irritated with the man, I can understand his frustration. Race is an extremely sensitive topic. I appreciated the fact that he had the boldness to pose an important question; it is a question that ultimately helped us communicate better. I can not tell you how many times a White person has attempted to describe a Black man to me and they failed to mention his skin color. They beat around the bush, telling me that he stands about 5 feet 6 inches tall with short black hair and brown eyes. Huh? That description suits at least 75% of U.S. population! How does that help me?

This is where people get confused. Using race to describe a person is not offensive. Making an assumption about a person based on their skin color is offensive. Acknowledging that a lady is Black is not offensive, but classifying her as an angry black woman without getting to know her is offensive.

Sure, there are people who would be offended that the White man made an assumption about my husband’s skin color based on my skin color. Of course, there are interracial couples, where his assumption would have been completely false. I admire his audacity to pose an important question, at the risk of upsetting me.

Race relations has always been a source of contention in America. Blacks have been mistreated for decades and we want to express our frustration. Non-blacks are aware, but may not have insight into our struggles. I believe the man had good intentions with his questions. I appreciated the opportunity to engage in a brief (although awkward) conversation with him about race. Perhaps it shed some insight.


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