Justin Bieber’s recent arrest has sparked more than a few jokes about the future of the Beeb’s career. While many of us shook our head at his antics, others apparently used his run-in with the law as further proof that the Canadian musician’s bad boy behaviors are a result of his friendships with Black folks.
[Bieber] got arrested in Miami, and social media jokes abound re: his “honorary Blackness,” feeling the effects of “hanging out with too many Black folk” and how he’s “one of us.” Rob Ford has been jokingly called “Toronto’s first Black mayor” after the crack-smoking incident, and is now our “first Jamaican mayor” who’s being lauded for “reaching out to the West Indian community.” Pardon me while I vomit.
She’s right. While many of us lambasted Sharon Osbourne for saying Bieber “doesn’t realize he’s White” after he peed into a bucket and directed an expletive-filled rant toward Bill Clinton, far too many of us are quick to bestow honorary blackness on White folks who behave badly.
Bill Clinton is commonly referred to as “the first Black president” because he played the saxophone, smoked weed, and regularly cheated on his wife. Richie Incognito, the White NFL player accused of bullying his Black teammate by lobbing racial slurs, was given a pass for his behavior by his Black teammates who saw him as an “honorary Black man” because he grew up poor. When Gwyneth Paltrow (and Madonna) dropped the n-word, many scrambled to her defense because, as Beyonce’s BFF, she somehow gets a “pass” to Black it up from time to time. David Beckham was once called an honorary black man because he wore cornrows. Kim Kardashian gets a “Black pass” because she has a thing for Black men. Quentin Tarantino—who Neil Brennan (a White writer) called “the best Black screenwriter” in Hollywood—has been given an honorary Black certificate because he drops the n-word and made a film about slavery. As soon as Justin Timberlake donned his cornrows and ditched N’Sync for Pharrell he was given the title (never mind he left Janet hanging during that “wardrobe malfunction” fiasco). Rob Ford has been called the first Black mayor of Toronto by some because he smoked crack, and apparently, likes to speak in a Jamaican accent when he’s drunk (which is a lot).
I could go on.
Bestowing the “honorary Black man/woman” title on someone seems all fun and games until you really examine why the person is being labeled as such in the first place.
Have these honorary Black people earned the title because they advocate for equal rights, genuinely care about us and our issues, or are actively working to make the world a better place for Black folks?
Most of the people who get the honorary Black person title do so because they’ve engaged in deviant behavior. While we’d rail against White folks who view us through the offensive lens of negative stereotypes, some of us will happily claim others who conform to those same stereotypes—dancing, singing, rapping, getting arrested, growing up poor—as “Black.”
But why? Is dysfunction and good rhythm all we have to offer the world?
Certainly not, but we also cannot call other people out on their racist and prejudiced ideas if we continue to dabble in the same problematic line of thinking
As Bee Quammie put it:
“The behaviours that La Beiba and Rob Ford exhibit are common across all kinds of people, yet some Black folk seem quick to take sole ownership of these pathologies like it’s all we have to offer. La Beiba and Rob Ford ain’t no kin to me.”
To be clear, blackness is not something we can bestow on others. You cannot rap, sing, or two-step your way into being Black—honorary or otherwise. Getting caught up in negative or illegal behaviors does not make you Black; it makes you human.