Exceptional Negroes are those who are “not like other blacks”. They do not fit the stereotypes. Sometimes they achieve great things, rise to the top of their field. They become sports heroes, film stars, tokens, black best friends, beloved servants and so on. Some even have white fans, lovers or admirers.
If you ever notice how a white person in America can be racist and yet be a fan of Michael Jordan, vote for Obama or be married to a black person, that is the Exceptional Negro thing at work.
Whites sometimes use it to prove they are not racist – the black best friend and black president arguments – but in fact it is a side effect of:
The rules of white racist thinking:
- When whites do something good, it proves how wonderful whites are. Like inventing the light bulb, freeing the slaves, feeding the children in Africa, etc.
- When whites do something bad, it is written off to circumstances, personal failings, etc. So stuff like owning slaves, raping Africa, the Wall Street crash and two massacres in two months (James Holmes, Wade Michael Page) prove absolutely nothing about white people. Whites are individuals!
- When blacks do something good, it is downplayed, overlooked or written off as an exception. The city of Great Zimbabwe? Never heard of it. Half of American blacks are middle-class? That cannot be right. Timbuktu? Due to Arab influence. Someone does not fit the stereotypes? Not like other blacks, an Exceptional Negro.
- When blacks do something bad, it proves how screwed up they are. Psychopathic killers? Proof that blacks are violent and savage. High rates of poverty? Proof of black pathologies. Mugabe’s misrule of Zimbabwe? Proof that blacks are not fit for self-government. Someone fits a stereotype? Stereotype proved true!
In short, whites are judged according to the best among them, blacks are judged according to the worst among them.
The Exceptional Negro allows whites to feel like they are not racist – “My best friend is black!” – while all along keeping their stereotypes untouched!
Reverting to type: When an Exceptional Negro falls from grace – Vanessa Williams, Marion Barry, Jayson Blair, Joe Jett, etc – it is not due to mere personal failings, like with Martha Stewart, James Holmes or Richard Nixon, but because they are black, because the stereotypes are true after all. When they fall there is like this pretend shock, which you know is pretend because it is too quickly followed by something like, “See, it was too good to be true. We should have known better. It just goes to show.”
That comes not from a profound understanding of black people but from viewing them through deeply held stereotypes.
Not protected from racism: Being an Exceptional Negro does not protect you from racism. In fact, some whites can become even more hateful because you threaten their sad, overblown self-image. They will find ways to tear you down. It gives lie to the white claim that they would stop being racist if blacks “proved themselves” worthy of their respect.
Thanks to Sondis for suggesting this topic.
– Abagond, 2012.
- respectability politics
- “Some of my best friends are black”
- The black president argument
- “Stereotypes have some truth to them”
- James Holmes
- Zora Neale Hurston: What White Publishers Won’t Print
- Why do whites hate, demonize, fear and look down on blacks?
- Marion Barry