Submissiveness ≠ conscientiousness

Don’t mistake submissiveness for normal everyday conscientiousness.

A friend of mine recently observed that black people in the South tend to act more submissive toward whites than do black people in the North. The example given was about black people not challenging or correcting white people who criticized them. I can’t say whether this general submissiveness to whites among Southern blacks is real or not; my friend has lived in both the North and South while I’ve only lived in the North and the West. I’ll take what my friend observed as true prima facie, but here I offer another possible explanation for what might actually be happening:

Black people in the south are acting toward white people the way white people act toward other white people just about everywhere. I’m not asserting that former slave states don’t have some of that master-slave dynamic left over and everyone’s just sort of used to it (again, I haven’t lived in those parts of the country–that dynamic might still be there or it might not), but the Northeast and the Upper Midwest do have their own history of civil rights. Black people in my generation from those places likely have parents and grandparents who were very active in those movements and who taught their kids to be extremely vigilant and never let even the most subtle potential snub or slight from a white person go unanswered.

White people do not act this way toward each other, in general. We tend to let things slide a lot, and assume good faith most of the time, etc. If a white person criticizes another white person, the name of the game is usually “mend things over and avoid escalating the confrontation.”

If it’s a black person doing the mending, to another black person I could see this being mistaken for submissiveness, when it’s really just that black person assimilating into a white cultural norm.

Once again: I’m not asserting this is definitely what’s going on because I haven’t lived in the South, but it’s a plausible alternative explanation that ought to be considered.


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