ELIJAH ANDERSON, PH.D.
In the YouTube video “S... White Girls Say to Black Girls,” Black comedian Franchesca Ramsey parrots a series of unintentionally disrespectful statements directed at her by White friends over the years.
Statements like “this is so ghetto,” signifying something negative, and “it’s almost like you’re not Black” meant to be taken positively, demonstrate the subtle nuances of race relations in today’s society.
While the video is meant to be humorous, it illustrates a type of scenario sociologist Elijah Anderson refers to as a “n..... moment.”
“It’s a moment when the scales come from your eyes and you might say, what world am I living in. What the ‘n..... moment’ refers to is this moment of acute disrespect based on your Blackness,” Anderson said. “I think any Black person can cite that experience. You’re told you don’t belong and you thought you did.”
At a lecture on March 27 at the University of Pittsburgh as part of the Center on Race and Social Problems speaker series, Anderson illustrated his observations about the “n..... moment” and other theories outlined in his most recently published book “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life.”
His book looks at “cosmopolitan canopies” where color lines are blurred and people treat each other civilly. However, even in these environments of “racial cosmopolitanism,” Blacks often have a “provisional” status.
“Today Black people are virtually everywhere, including the White House, which is a big change,” Anderson said. “It’s important to appreciate that, but it’s also important to appreciate we have a long way to go.”
The “n..... moment,” is one of the latent consequences of what Anderson calls the “iconic ghetto.” In America, the idea of the “iconic ghetto” pushes people to make assumptions based solely on race.
This idea, according to Anderson, contributes to issues like police brutality against African-Americans. While not inherently racist, the “iconic ghetto” often prompts people to link African-Americans to poverty and criminal activity.
“I would argue that the racism of the South killed Emmitt Till and the iconic ghetto killed Trayvon Martin,” Anderson said referring to the incident where 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who thought he looked “suspicious.” “I don’t believe Zimmerman hated Black people.”
So while Anderson says many people laugh off their “n..... moments,” the pervasiveness of the “iconic ghetto” can have much more serious consequences.
“A lot of Black people miss out on employment because of the iconic ghetto,” Anderson said. “It’s this stereotype. You’re a criminal just because you were born in the wrong zip code.”
Anderson is one of the nation’s leading urban ethnographers and cultural theorists. His works include “Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male,” “Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Life of the Inner City” and “Problem of the Century: Racial Stratification in the United States.”
The CRSP speaker series is supported by Pittsburgh law firms, Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PC and Reed Smith LLC.