What do I say if I can’t say “black people”?

Yesterday’s episode of the Chris Krok radio show, a local Dallas conservative talk show, was entirely dedicated to the extreme anguish that Texans feel when confronted with the question, “How can I possibly talk about black guys without calling them ‘black guys’?”

Triggering this conversation was an incident at a North Dallas restaurant, where one of the men in a group of five offered to pay for drinks for a female co-worker who happened to be at the same restaurant at the same time, but in a different party. The woman approached her server, and pointed out the group of men who had offered to pay for their drinks. When the receipt was delivered to the group, it had the label “5  black guys” written on it, presumably to identify the group to whom the receipt was to be delivered. When the men saw this, they were offended, and complained to the management. As a result, the server was fired.

Chris Krok spent a good 30 minutes talking about this issue, with many listeners calling in to express their thoughts.

What conservatives always get wrong

That 30 minutes went generally like this. How can it be offensive if it’s an accurate description? What are we supposed to call them other than ‘black people’? Is there some phrase that’s better than ‘black people’? Don’t they call themselves “black people”? Why are black people allowed to use the word “black” if white people aren’t? Does this mean white people are never allowed to use the word “black”? What’s inherently wrong with the word “black”?

And for an encore, Krok finished with a monologue about how we need to abolish the Congressional Black Caucus and he would not be celebrating Black History Month, all because the word “black” has now been deemed offensive!!

This is where conservatives always go off the rails: they focus entirely on being “allowed” or “not allowed” to say specific words, and they obsess over picking apart why a particular word is or is not “offensive”. And in 30 whole minutes not a single person on the radio show actually understood why the use of the word “black” was offensive in this particular situation.

One caller came close! A caller who identified himself as a gentleman of Irish descent said that he can understand how some people might be offended, because he has been offended at times by strangers referring to him as a “redhead”.

Krok was stunned! “But if it’s just an accurate description, why were you offended?”

The caller explained that the term “redhead” is sometimes used as a slur, and in bullying, so it has those connotations. Unfortunately, this response (while excellent and valid) completely sidetracked the discussion, once again, onto the question of the merit of individual words: What should people say instead of “redhead”? How can we know when we’re using the correct word? Is there a list somewhere of which words aren’t allowed? Isn’t it oppressive to tell people they can’t use some words?

The conversation was derailed, so the key to this issue was never actually explored.

So what is the real key to this issue?

What to say instead of “black people”

The problem, in this situation, isn’t the word black. It’s the fact that you immediately fixated on race as the only possible way to identify the people you’re talking about. When you are looking at a person or a group of people in a crowd, there are a million options of ways to describe them.

Are you not sure? Perhaps you aren’t convinced? Let’s look at some examples.

(stock images from Dreamstime)

What to call black people instead of black people Instead of “the black woman”, you might try:

“The second woman from the right.”
“The woman in the blue and pink top.”

What to call black people instead of black people Instead of “the black guy”, you could try:

“The guy wearing glasses.”
“The guy in the light gray suit.”

What to call black people instead of black people Instead of “the black kids”, consider instead:

“The children.”

What to call black people instead of black people Instead of “the black guys”, another option might be:

“The two guys wearing dark button-downs with white t-shirts underneath.”


It really isn’t that difficult to identify people in a crowd without race; you just have to be willing to think a little.


And finally: if you take a moment, and think hard, and still honestly can’t come up with any way of describing the person you want to identify other than saying “black person”, you do have one final option available to you:

Walk up and ask for a name.