Skip To Content
  • Black History Month badge

14 Words That Carry A Coded Meaning For Black People

You don't hear overtly racist language very often these days. Here are some words with a subtler implication.

Not every black person considers these words coded, nor are they coded in every context. But in some cases, this is how they are perceived.

What you say: "He is such a thug."

What we hear: He is the n-word.

What you say: "You're so sassy!"

What we hear: I associate your self-esteem and demeanor with a one-dimensional, finger-snapping depiction of black femininity.

What you say: "That's ghetto."

What we hear: That is a negative thing I associate with blackness and/or the working class.

What you say: "Timberlands [or some other thing black people have been wearing forever] are the hottest trend this season."

What we hear: Fashion and fads do not exist until white people wear them.

What you say: "My hair is too nappy."

What we hear: I still believe in the concept of "good" and "bad" hair. I am uncomfortable with the hair that grows out of my own head.

What you say: "This neighborhood is sketchy."

What we hear: There are a lot of black, working-class people in this neighborhood and that makes me feel uncomfortable.

What you say: "Natural hair is unprofessional."

What we hear: Office-appropriate dress codes are equated to whiteness, and natural hair does not conform to that.

What you say: "You are so well-mannered."

What we hear: The way you carry yourself does not align with the way I have been led to believe black people act. You are a rare case.

What you say: "What an urban style!"

What we hear: I know that the elements of this are associated with a culture that rose from working-class black areas, but I will use this vague term to describe it instead.

What you say: "I think biracial babies are really beautiful."

What we hear: Blackness only has worth when it's been mixed with another race.

What you say: "Your look is so exotic."

What we hear: I think that you are interesting and beautiful, but I also cannot wrap my head around your blackness.

What you say: "You are very articulate."

What we hear: You speak clearly and confidently, which I do not expect from black people. Again, you are a rarity.

What you say: "Can I touch your hair?"

What we hear: I've never actually been this close to a black person, so I have to seize the moment. I cannot believe how different you are from me.

What you say: "This person is ethnic."

What we hear: I am afraid to say "black."