Catching Shade: A Beginner’s Guide to Realizing Liberation

A Black Liberation Primer

By: Erian Stirrup

Look. Racial tension is high. And racism is complicated. But it's not that hard to recognize. We all get that feeling; we know somebody tried it, but we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly was wrong. Or, somebody says something reeeeaaaaalllllll dumb (that may sound smart), but we don’t even know how to respond to the foolery. So, here’s a beginner's list of terms you need to know to catch, and throw shade.

Black Liberation: The continuing fight for freedom. Social movements like the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, and Black Lives Matter are all part of the Black liberation struggle.

Intersectionality: Simply put, it’s recognizing the multiple identities that interplay with each other to create complicated experiences with oppression, racism, sexism, and all them other isms. For example, many Black women critique feminism for its failure to acknowledge the way race impacts Black women. For more information on intersectionality, look up Kim Crenshaw. She’s so bomb.

Oppression: Oppression is being unrepresented, silenced, undercut, backdoored...anything that prevents you from reaching your full potential because of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Many of us know oppression by how it feels. You feel folks trying to silence your intelligence, talent, skills, etc. As a young professional, oppression may feel like the inability to speak honestly and behave authentically. Oppression is broader than racism, meaning racism fits under the oppression umbrella.

Policing: any attempt (direct or indirect) to control or manipulate how you respond to being oppressed. Policing starts with a sense of paternalism (i.e. a person telling you what’s best for you based on their own perceived power and privilege). Policing does not always mean direct or physical policing (as in actual police presence). One example of policing is “whitesplaining.”

Whitesplaining: When whypipo try to explain or comment on something that they should just leave alone, or they place the perspective of whypipo as the standard.

One good example of Whitesplaining is a White person trying to explain racism to a person of color. Or refusing to acknowledge the existence of racism because all of the Black people they know are “happy”. STAHP. Let a person of color guide the conversation (see, agency). Whitesplaining is motivated by the (sometimes implicit) idea that a white person KNOWS better or can better articulate a concept. NAH.

Agency: Control. Doing what you want to do without caving into societal pressures. Agency is empowerment. Personal/Human agency is the individual capacity to ACT.

Hotep: Very Smart Brothas (“VSB”) explains HOTEP as “...Pan-African extremists who often infuse their Pan-Africanism with misogyny, a Trumpian relationship with facts and understanding of context, and a steadfast belief in bizarre and ridiculous conspiracy theories.” BRUH.

Diversity v. Inclusion:  Diversity is putting “other” people in the building. By other, I mean anyone other than straight white men. *But you can’t just throw some gay whypipo, or transgender whypipo, or disabled whypipo into the mix and call yourself diverse—you ain’t slick* Look at all those froo-froo diversity pamphlets that make you think that your campus diverse AF. Hell, my picture is on one of them. You look at the pamphlets like, “WOW, dis campus nice and diverse.” Then you get there and it be 5 black folks there that are expected to represent EVERY SINGLE BLACK PERSON.  INCLUSION on the other hand means actually valuing that the “other” people in the building have input beyond their presence. Inclusion =involvement & respect.

Respectability PoliticsSIGH. This term refers to the attempt by marginalized (i.e. black folks) to fit into the mainstream, or “acceptable” view of black folks in an attempt to prove that the Black social values are COMPATIBLE with white mainstream values. What does this look like? PULL YOUR PANTS UP! Straighten your HAIR! Speak “PROPER ENGLISH.”  In other words, “ACT” this way and you will be respected and valued by whypipo. [NAH].

Black on Black Crime: It ain’t real.


“The term black-on-black crime was popularized by the white mainstream media to divert attention from institutional racism (like police brutality for example) and place Black people under the microscope to be scrutinized and blamed for our own circumstances. The term white-on-white crime is never used, despite 82 percent of all murders of whypipo are by another white person, per FBI statistics.”

The truth is, people commit crimes in proximity, so of course, most Black people commit crimes against other Black people. Because—Segregation.

Whypipo: White people. And yes, you absolutely need this term to be liberated.

Privilege: Chile. Privilege is being able to ignore oppression or deny racism because it doesn’t affect you. It's the advantages that a person has just by existing. It's the ability to have your culture be the norm, while everyone else’s is the other. It's being able to yell at police officers and fight them without dying. It's making money from being admired for features and characteristics that other people are criticized for. A closely related concept is “White Fragility.” Discussed below.

White Fragility: Like I said above, privilege is the ability to ignore something because it does not impact you. When race/racism in is addressed, it may make some whypipo reaaaaalll uncomfortable. Some of the most common responses to WF are False Equivalencies, Erasure and Colorblind Rhetoric. We talk about all of those below.

“White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.”

Racial stress is when there is an interruption of what is racially familiar or comfortable. Robin DiAngelo gives some bomb examples of WF triggers:

  • Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);

  • People of color talking directly about their racial perspectives (challenge to white racial codes);

  • People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort);

  • People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to colonialist relations);

  • A fellow white not providing agreement with one’s interpretations (challenge to white solidarity);

  • Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white liberalism);

  • Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);

  • An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);

  • Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority);

  • Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality).   

Mass Incarceration: Y’all, too many Black and Brown people are in jail and for too long. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t people that should be in jail. We don’t have to free the pedophiles and serial killers. But damn, Dre shouldn’t be serving 15 years in prison for selling drugs, especially when Ken is making Meth is his mom’s basement in the suburbs. Black people are disproportionately surveyed, arrested, charged, and sentenced for the same crimes that whypipo commit. Read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for more information.

Microaggressions: This is subtle and sometimes unintentional* racism. Sometimes microaggressions are easily noticed, but they can be hard to catch. Either way, they are generally negative, insulting and they can be verbal or behavioral.  

Here are some examples:

Your white co-worker at your new job asks you how many kids you have instead of whether you have kids;

Your classmates compliment the way you speak or your excellent vocabulary. "You don't even sounnnnnd blllaackkkkk!" #BYEFELICIA;

Your white “friends” make jokes in ebonics;

Someone touches your hair *Giirrlll*;

You are asked questions about what all Black people think;

You are asked to be called an “easier” or “simpler” name because your name is too hard to pronounce;

Someone locks the door when you are near their car;

You are mistaken for the help.

Macroaggression: Remember how Trump + many Trump supporters openly came for our first Black President saying he wasn’t a citizen. Yeah. Macroaggression. Macroaggression = outright aggression.

Racism: Watch This. 


 Notice, “Reverse Racism” is not a term. WHY? Cause it doesn’t exist.

False Equivalencies: Arguing that two things are the same when they are not. The impact is different, the facts are different, everything is different. Generally, the person will take one small (and maybe even insignificant) similarity and then argue that this small thing, makes the two issues the same. Here are some examples of “False Equivalencies.”

  • Black on Black Crime = Police Brutality

    • Common factor—A Black person is the victim

    • Important distinctions

      • Police are acting under government granted authority

      • Civilians, especially Black civilians are WAY MORE likely to be arrested, charged and punished

  • Clinton’s email scandal = Trump’s sexual assault scandal

    • Common factor—They both were presidential candidates

    • Important Distinctions

      • Tang Master’s scandal involved human victims

      • Clinton accepted responsibility

      • You can’t seriously think rape and mishandling government emails are the same

Erasure: Trying to erase history, and other people's experiences/perspective cause it makes ya feel uncomfortable/guilty.

Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter.”

Colorblindness: Any of these sound familiar?

“I see people, NOT color.”
“We are all the same.”
“Remember when MLK said we need to judge people on the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin?” [Not even gonna get into how people really be disrespecting The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior by using his quotes to perpetuate racism in a new form.]

Colorblindness is the idea that in order to end discrimination we need to treat everyone the same. Sounds nice, right? NAW BRUH. I like being Black. I don’t want you to not see my Blackness, I want you to respect it. Saying we all should be “colorblind” is actually insulting & rooted in privilege. If you don’t experience racism, then it’s easy for you to suggest that we should just ignore race and treat everyone the same. Basically, suggesting we should ignore race when your race is the “standard” is saying People of Color ("POC") should ignore negative racial experiences (ERASURE).

It’s also blaming negative racial experiences on everything except racism. Colorblindness is a convenient way to ignore some of the disadvantages that POC face. It also erases culture, history, and Black excellence. For more on colorblind racism, read Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s Racism Without Racists. BTW,  that hyperlink takes you to a PDF of the whole book. YOU WELCOME!

Anti-Black Racism: The way all of the above, and more interplay to ensure that Black people are excluded from opportunities, prevented from participating, denied rights, etc. 

Anti-black racism has been the law of the land, manifest in policies regarding housing, employment, education, and the justice system. Our potential to overcome this history is impeded by our unwillingness to interrogate it honestly.

*Never let someone explain away their racism with their intent. Intentions ain’t never saved nobody from nothing. Racism is racism, even its unintentional. The implications of what they said/did is what’s important, not whether they meant to be racist.

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