It’s time to talk about Black people and aging. About 10 years ago, a white woman approached me at a party and, after asking me my age, explained to me that she could never tell how old Black people were; so, she was reluctant to guess my age, for fear of insulting me.
It’s a running joke among both Black and non-Black folks alike that people of African descent age much more slowly than their white counterparts. I have frequently co-signed this belief, often quote the familiar adage that, “Black don’t crack.”
When I really think about it, though, I’m not sure if it’s that Black people age more slowly than white folks or that most Americans–including an awful lot of us Black folks–see so many more white people than Black people (in real life, on TV, in movies, et cetera), that our ideas about what a certain age should look like are based on using white people’s aging patterns as a baseline.
Something about that makes me a little sad–and a little ashamed. When I marvel at how “young” one or another Black middle-aged or old person looks, am simply confirming that I am so immersed in the whiteness of this nation that I can’t even correctly guess Black people’s ages anymore? I sure hope not.
Still, though, I have to tell you that the brother in this drawing–who I know to be at least 80 years old–looked really good for his age. My barber pointed him out to me, telling me that he didn’t know how old this man was, but that the man’s son was in his sixties; and he didn’t have any gray hair.
Black don’t crack.