“Black People Don’t Tip”: How Behavior Determines Racial Identity

This clip is taken from PBS’ online film festival from the category “Who Are We?” In “Black People Don’t Tip,” persons are invited to examine and discuss a stereotype that commonly defines African American patrons. In this example, socially colored black identity is defined by the perceived group’s practice of not tipping a waiter or waitress after a service is rendered. In this case, one’s personal decision or financial ability to provide gratuity determines one’s identity.

This socially constructed Identity of blackness is comprised of behaviors, dos and don’ts, that would identify a person as socially colored black. Consequently, not only can you look at a person and discern the social coloring of her skin but based on her actions, you can determine which socially colored group she belongs to. Unfortunately, for persons who see themselves as members of this socially constructed category, they may begin to think negatively of themselves and others within this group. The stereotype suggests that socially colored black people who do not tip a waiter or waitress that has served them are self- serving, cheap, rude and/or ungrateful. The opposite would then be true for those who are not socially colored black. These either/or characteristics that supposedly determine one’s identity is problemmatic for both groups.

It also increases the number of stereotypes which could then be applied to other instances of socially colored black people’s behavior that are neither related to or informed by tipping. And this is how stereotypes are born, not of multiple instances of the same action repeated by persons of the same socially constructed racial group over and over again. Instead, it is composed of individuals (not to be confused with all) who take the same action but for various reasons, which could include a response to poor service.

When we ask persons about the socially colored black people of America with starter sentences like “Black people don’t…,” stereotypes are unavoidable. It is the basis, the foundation, the purpose of all of such socially constructed identities. It is the nature of races. So, I would encourage us to raise questions concerning our motives, when we so easily reduce an individual’s identity and likewise an entire cultural group’s to a behavior.

Thank you Ms. Tucker for your unique way of challenging the assumptions of behavior believed to be normative for socially colored black persons.


Melissa V. Harris- Perry, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America
Baratunde Thurston, How To Be Black
Toure, (March 12, 2012). 10 Ideas: Black Irony, Time Magazine, v179, no.10, 76-77. 
Toure, Who’s Afraid of Post- Blackness: What It Means to be Black Now
Angela Tucker, Black Folk Don’t, http://blackfolkdont.com/pages/about/

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