Why Are Black People Always Late?

by Darryl Walker Jr.

A pervasive stereotype is the idea that black people are always late. I am not interested in whether or not this is true – I am interested in why this idea arose and why it remains pervasive.

Animals do not lay awake at night worrying about deadlines. What we call ‘time’ is a human invention and social convention. There is nothing inherently ‘natural’ about time: we do not find ‘seconds’ in the stars or ‘minutes’ in the mountains. Sure – the universe has a rhythm to it – but this is not reducible to the calendars and clocks that we use to interpret the natural world.

Time is an arbitrary measurement of movement; that which keeps humans marching down a linear path of ‘progress’, ‘evolution’, and ‘development.’ Time gives us a history to recollect on – and the ability to transcend that past by way of individuality and freedom.

The problem is: blackness is positioned as a slave – and racialized slaves lack the freedom of movement to transcend their past. Frantz Fanon (1952) tells the story of a white girl pointing at him on a train and screaming “Look mommy, a negro!” – a statement that arrests him away from the present and back to a past of slave ships and ‘savages’ dancing around a fire. Blackness is not granted the freedom to progress, evolve, or develop. This racist line of thinking is embedded in the work of one of the most influential philosophers – G.W.F. Hegel (1837) – when he declared that “Africa has no history.” Since blackness is seen as primitive and undeveloped, it creates the idea that “black people are always late.”

Black people are not recognized as individuals – but only as parts of a monolithic black body. Under these conditions, every single black person is the ‘representative’ of all black people and black culture. Whenever a black person ‘makes it’ (narratives of black excellence) – it is said to be a victory for all black people that their ancestors fought for. Inversely, whenever a black person makes a mistake, they are accused of sending the race back 200 years and invalidating the contributions of their ancestors. Every black person is saddled with the weight of answering for black people who are alive, the black people who are dead, and the black people who are yet to be born.

Martin Heidegger (1927) argued that humans are “beings in time”. However, since the being of blackness is not recognized as human, black people are said to never be on time. Time, as it is presently constituted, is a white supremacist/anti-black construct. Black people are not necessarily “late” because of a lack of social refinement – but because blackness is positioned outside of time altogether.

Works Cited:
Frantz Fanon -1952 – Black Skin, White Masks

G.W.F. Hegel – 1837 – The Philosophy of History

Martin Heidegger – 1927 – Being And Time

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