Why We Need to Stop Starting Sentences with “Not to Be…” and “No Offense But…”

Why We Need to Stop Starting Sentences with “Not to Be…” and “No Offense But…”

I remember the days of elementary school when I would try out a new hairstyle or a different pair of shoes and someone would come up to me and say “No offense, but that doesn’t look good on you.” It was as if saying “no offense” would take away the sting that the remaining words of the sentence would bring.

As I got older, it seemed like the phrase “no offense” began to disappear, and different phrases took its place. Not to be homophobic. Not to be racist. Not to be sexist. If I say not to be sexist, then make a sexist comment, what I said was still sexist. It seems in society today that the phrase “not to be” has become a magic eraser to take away offense from whatever we would like to say. However, that is not the case.

When someone starts a sentence with “not to be racist,” it is easy to imply that what follows will be racist. I know a few that I have heard in the last few months include, “Not to be racist, but if you are Asian, why aren’t you smart?” and “Not to be racist, but if you’re black, why aren’t you good at basketball?” As a biracial (half-black, half-white in my case) girl, I have definitely been hit with several “not to be racist” comments and questions. From why my hair isn’t kinky enough to why I get sunburned on my back, these questions create questions about my race for me. When I was younger, I wondered why I wasn’t black enough or white enough.

However, as I got older, I realized that I am who I am and there is nothing wrong with me. I am half-black and half-white. Being of two races has allowed me to become more self-aware of myself and the racism around me. Saying “not to be racist” does not make a comment or a person not racist. It is what follows the statement that determines that.

Rapper T.I. was in the news last month when he said on a radio show that he “can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman.” Of course, the phrase “not to be sexist but” preceded the previous sentence. He went on to say that “women make rash decisions emotionally… and then later, it’s kind of like it didn’t happen, or they didn’t mean for it to happen.”

The first issue is that T.I. is stating that he cannot vote for any woman to be president of the United States based on the sole fact of gender. A woman could have the same, if not better, qualifications than a man in the presidential race, and he would still vote for the man. The second is that he chose to use the crutch phrase “not to be” to make his statement not be offensive. T.I. later went on to apologize, in typical celebrity fashion, on Twitter.

In this world, we often try to be politically correct. We don’t want to offend someone or hurt a person’s feelings. We want to keep everyone happy. We want to keep everyone at peace. I believe that this is where the concept of “no offense” and “not to be…” came from. It started with us trying to be nice but, at the same time, saying what was really on our mind.

People are entitled to their opinions, and the first amendment allows for free speech in this country. However, it is important to not let our judgements cloud our judgement. No matter a person’s sexual orientation, gender, or race, everyone is a person and saying “no offense” does not always mean the person will not be offended. It’s important to learn how to say how we feel, but make sure we know how the words we use will affect someone. Say goodbye to the crutch phrases and say hello to learning when something is appropriate to say and when something is not.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.