When You Say, “Black Don’t Crack,” What Do You Really Mean?

Here’s Why I Cringe When You Say Black Don’t Crack

Sam McKenzie Jr.
6 min readDec 14, 2017

The other day, my partner and I were returning to our home after dining at a restaurant.

As we walked toward our house, we saw a home developer we know in the doorway of his latest renovation.

His assistant came to the doorway with a younger woman.

The developer’s assistant is an older Black woman.

The developer tells us the lady who just left the property is his assistant’s granddaughter and she’s 26 years old.

My partner and I were shocked. His assistant does not look like she’d have a 26-year-old granddaughter.

Seeing our shock, the home developer says, “Black Don’t Crack”

I cringe. My face contorts.

I’m speechless.

We walk away quickly.

When I got home, I asked myself, what is it about the phrase, “Black Don’t Crack,” that bothers me?

I’m not sure if it has always bothered me. I’ve certainly heard the phrase all my life.

I know it doesn’t bother some other Black people. Heck, Viola Davis has a show coming out called Black Don’t Crack.

And, I know there’s a biological basis for this stereotype because of melanin. I do get that.

But where did this rhyming phrase come from?

I’ve heard about the mottos of the past like, “Black is Beautiful.” Is “Black Don’t Crack” saying the same thing?

You know maybe some well-meaning, sassy-fierce Black folks invented this term. It seems like it’s always said as a sassy retort.

But if Black folks invented this term does that mean we should accept it?

Black folks internalize oppression too. People can pick up bad habits even from people who are supposedly free.

And maybe this is an example of how a person in a community can use a term but those outside a community shouldn’t.

In any case, given the world’s history with Blackness, I must question every assumption and statement about Blackness.

I want the world to reexamine everything it thinks about being Black and Blackness.

Every stereotype, slur, pseudo positive thing, and backhanded compliment, needs to be questioned and challenged.

I can’t assume the world has anything right about Blackness, or how it describes Blackness because it’s been so wrong.

So, no, I won’t willingly accept any and every way the world defines Black.

And another point to keep in mind is that language is not timeless. Language evolves, and I believe this phrase has expired.

Maybe you aren’t convinced?

Well, I’m sure we can agree that “Black Don’t Crack” is a stereotype with some basis in biology.

But even as a stereotype, with some basis in biology, it has fault lines. There can be some downsides to darker skin.

But going back to the phrase as a stereotype, I must ask, do I really want to validate stereotypes and stereotyping?

Do those that deal with stereotypes need more ammo?

No, I say, that’s a slippery slope.

In fact, we may need to be more critical about stereotypes that appear to be positive.

“Black Don’t Crack” isn’t all positive. It has a way of reducing a person. It takes away the possibility that just maybe someone has taken good care of themselves. It’s dismissive. It sucks away individuality, personal responsibility, and achievement.

And depending on the person’s age, it may even be disrespectful to call attention to their age.

But digging deeper, I want to question if “Black Don’t Crack” is something we really believe?

And if we do believe “Black Don’t Crack,” how does that play out in our society?

Let me offer up a few examples:

If “Black Don’t Crack” is something we really believe, why hasn’t Hollywood changed?

Why is it that People Magazine can barely put a brown face on its Sexiest Man Alive issue? (Yes, I’m still mad about that, not that I was in the running.)

Has “Black Don’t Crack” really done anything to undercut white standards of beauty?

It appears it has not.

So, could it be that “Black Don’t Crack” is another way Black bodies are objectified?

Is that phrase just another way to make us strange and superhuman?

“Black Don’t Crack” is a statement about looking good for your age. It’s a way to say someone appears younger than they are because of Blackness.

Now, if that’s true that “Black Don’t Crack,” why then are Black bodies being shattered?

Sorry, I didn’t mean to go hard so fast.

But if, “Black Don’t Crack,” why are Black babies being killed?

You’ve been saying out one side of your mouth, “Black Don’t Crack,” and then saying you’re scared of us at the same time.

Come on now.

They say a 12-year-old boy looks like a man. And yet “Black Don’t Crack.”

A teenage girl is an aggressive woman, they say. And yet, “Black Don’t Crack.”

How about this — can we cross-examine the next police officer who fears teenagers with — “Black Don’t Crack.”

Let me put it this way — when Black youth are considered full-grown adults, it’s an attempt to steal innocence and apply guilt.

And, I can’t allow the world to steal my youth and call me a “boy” for life. That’s a no-no.

We’ve been trying to tell you, “I Am a Man,” for a while now. Did you not read the sign?

So then, as an adult, I can’t allow white America to define me as both aggressive and ageless.

This is life, not a cartoon. I am not forever a villain. I am not a character in a comic book series.

I’m not buying it.

If we want to talk about age, then let’s agree that white supremacy is wrought with wrinkles. It’s sagging.

And while some people these days are trying to take us back to the heyday and youth of white supremacy, we aren’t going back.

There’s no fountain of youth for white supremacy. It’s old and ugly.

The fact is white America has been aging Black people for years.

White people have been trying to crack Black people for centuries.

“Cracking down on crime” translates to “crack down on Black people.”

Every attempt of anti-Blackness has been a “crack of the whip” to break our wills.

But…let me see if I can look on the bright side.

We all know minorities can redeem slights and slurs. So, let me see if I can work this one out.

How about this:

Instead of talking about melanin, let’s talk about being malleable, in a good way.

Let’s talk about how we’ve endured, and we’re still here.

Let’s talk about the verifiable biological and psychological effects of racism and how we still rise.

So yes, despite the wear and tear of white supremacy and anti-Blackness we are looking pretty good as a people.

Could it be that this uncracked nature is mystifying and mythical because no one has taken a crack at you?

Or, is it because you crumble, grumble, and cry as your place in society is cracking?

OK, settle down, I’m not here to make anyone cringe. Or, am I?

Let’s just stop with the comparisons unless they lead to true understanding.

Stop trying to theorize why we aren’t breaking and disintegrating from terror and time.

Just stop trying to crack us. Black people aren’t a code or a puzzle to solve.

We need to be careful about the words we let roll out of our mouths, especially the ones that rhyme. Those sticky sayings stay stuck like gum to concrete.

We need to at least try to work with a clean surface here.

So, if there’s anything about Blackness that must crack it’s the stereotypes and the narrow definitions.

Let’s break and bring all of that down.

We need to crack and chip away at the world’s view of Blackness to let the humanity and commonalities bleed through.

That’s something we can take a crack at together.

What do you say?

I’ve said all I can say, and I’ve kept you too long.

It’s your turn to take a crack at it.

You’re up!

For my latest content, sign up for my newsletter, On Equal Terms.