Blackhanded: You’re pretty for a….

How to deal with backhanded compliments

Asteism:

use of creative, courteous, and well-mannered sarcasm or ridicule

                            Collins English Dictionary

 

Genteel irony; a polite and ingenious manner of deriding another.

                                        Webster Dictionary

How often are you the recipient of racial or sexist asteism? I for one can assert you that it is a common occurrence despite my ardent disdain of such ‘compliments’. Supposedly, these double edged compliments are meant to be endearing to the recipient however I can assure you, it is not. Whether the person verbalising such irony is aware or unaware of the impact of their words, one thing is certain: THIS IS THE 21st CENTURY. When it comes to cross cultural communication:

Ignorance is no longer bliss.

How you ask? If you have access to a device that can connect to the internet, use it to enhance your understanding of other cultures! Knowledge really is power and equips you with the information and skills necessary to communicate effectively with different cultures. Again, you might ask, why is this important or relevant to me? Condensing what would be a lengthy discussion, I will answer with the following two points:



1. Importance:

Language used in any communicative scenario about race or gender relations, influences one’s perception. Whether you are a an active or passive racial or gender equality advocate, detecting and intervening early (or late) in terms of rephrasing or assertively denouncing such compliments can have a tremendous impact and influence on the person, others, society and the movements. Ridding negative assumptions about a person’s gender or race, positively changes the way you perceive them and this will be evident in the way you phrase your compliments.


2. Relevance:

Exercise your empathy card and you will rapidly reach an epiphany on how demeaning and damaging these compliments can be to one’s self perception and will continue to reinforce your own negative perception of their gender or race




giphy

With that in mind, compliments are supposed to praise one’s best attributes. Therefore racial or sexist backhanded compliments are essentially disguised as racial or sexist insults, prejudices or negative stereotypes whilst simultaneously expressing admiration. Now how will that make you feel? Perhaps endeared with a hint of confusion or hesitantly accepting of that lethal insult compliment combination.  There are a few that are passionately adamant that we the recipients of not only these “compliments” but racist jokes, should retain a sense of humour. To that, I ferociously refute that humour (to provide amusement and provoke laughter), despite it’s inherent positive or negative intention, SHOULD NOT BE STEREOTYPING OR INSULTING TO ONE’S RACE, RELIGION OR GENDER. In saying that, if humour is basis of a backhanded compliment or your coping mechanism when responding to a racially charged backhanded compliment then that is your prerogative. I too, have used it in my formative years.

Well say no more, I have collated a few responses to these”compliments” and rephrased them to uphold their intended action of brightening someone’s day. Below are common phrases I have encountered coupled with assertive responses. Additionally without sounding like a complimentary- militant, I hope to provide suggestions on how to rephrase compliments for the perpetrators of this atrocious ancient practice.

Responding to backhanded compliments and alternative compliments for those being asteistic:

1. You are really pretty for a black girl

Response:

Thank you for saying that I am pretty however I feel offended that you added ‘for a black girl’ because it assumes that black girls are not pretty. What do you mean by that?

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

You are really pretty


2. Your English is very good, were you born here?

Response:

Thank you for noticing that I speak well however I feel offended that you would assume that for my English to be good, I have to born here. What could you possibly mean by that?

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

You are well-spoken/ eloquent, articulate


3. Your hair looks cool, can I touch it?

Response:

Thank you but I don’t feel comfortable that you are asking to touch my hair.Why would you like to touch my hair?

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

Your hair looks cool


4. Do you know so and so that I work with, go to uni with?

Response:

No I don’t know them. Why is it you think that I know them? I feel offended by your statement because it is assuming that I know everyone that is from my ethnic background or similar to my skin colour.

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

Do not ask this question if you have no solid evidence that they might know the person of interest


5. You look like (insert name of a dark skinned celebrity who you have no resemblance to)

Response:

I have no resemblance to (insert name). Why is it you think that I look like this person? I feel offended by your statement because it is generalising that people from my ethnic background look alike.

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

Do not say this compliment.


6. Where are you from? No I mean where are you really from?

Response:

Name the suburb or state you live in. Can you explain what you mean by where am I really from? I feel offended by that question because that was quite presumptive of you. I am a resident of this Country.

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

End the question at where are you from


7. Did you live in tree houses or have pet lions in Africa?

Response:

No however I feel offended by that question because it is assuming that Africans are primitive.

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how racially charged that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

Your hair looks cool


8. You drive well for a girl

Response:

Thank you however I feel offended that you added ‘for a girl’ because it assumes that girls can’t drive.

This can then hopefully lead into an open discussion where you can educate the person about how sexist that compliment is and offer an alternative

Alternative:

You drive well

I have received a plethora of backhanded compliments throughout my 25 years of living however I have only shared eight examples to assist with how you can re-phrase or respond to such a compliment. Being ridiculed through racist or sexist humour, then be expected to accept it and ‘have a sense of humour’ and to receive an insult camouflaged as admiration, is quite offensive for most people. Assertiveness, a useful and astounding technique I finally adopted in my earlier adult years (after several years of feeling uncomfortable, hurt and lacking skills to efficiently respond to these compliments), is the best advice I can happily impose on you. It is an inherent trait for some however some require that the skill of assertiveness be nurtured, developed, trialed and modified. The emphasis on recommendations to rephrase or respond to backhanded compliments as evidenced by my radical expression throughout this article, is that each one of us has the capacity and power to reduce and (desperately desiring) eliminate ignorant mistakes such as these. And the best way to alert the perpetrators is by informing them how you feel, have an open discussion that could hopefully turn into an educational session about how the comment is racist or sexist and alternative options.

If you have experienced any backhanded compliments, please comment and share how you re-phrased or responded to the compliment.

Always complimenting,

Zimgirl

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One thought on “Blackhanded: You’re pretty for a….

  1. Wow. This resonated with me on a personal level. I’m often a recipient of backhanded compliments especially about where I’m from. I’m an Australian citizen, born and raised here yet I am asked that question. I don’t mind someone asking me about my ethnic background

    Like

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