How long does it take for a black woman to straighten her hair? Why are so many black people good at sports? And what do most prefer to be called, African American or black?
If you’ve ever wondered such questions but were too afraid to ask because you didn’t want to be offensive or, worse yet, seem racist, there’s a controversial new service that caters to your lack of cultural ignorance.
Anonymously Ask A Black Person allows users to anonymously submit black-related questions for an answer texted back from a real black person.
Here’s how it works. You can go to askablackperson.com and type in your mobile number on the site or text the app at 1-877-605-2741 and AABP will get back to you via a text message that says:
“Hi, ask me anything. How may I help you?”
After the prompt, you ask your question and then wait for a response. The wait time varies due to the fact that, right now, the AABP team consists only of 10 people.
You can even see your text to AABP on its Twitter account.
The whole thing may seem like a joke at first, but it’s actually credible, according to Fusion. Founder Wayne Sutton thought up the idea because he saw how successful start-up Magic had become and also liked Stanford Nerd, both of which operate entirely over SMS like AABP.
The core of the feature, Sutton believes, is that each and every question posed is anonymous and every answer is replied by a black person. Not only that, but all AABP answers are written in earnest.
We’ve tried AABP and it works. Sort of. We asked if the band TV on the Radio’s self-label of Afro-punk limited the band’s audience. During the process, we soon learned that the time it took to wait to receive an answer was more important than the answer itself. We texted the startup at 11:35 a.m. this morning, received the “ask me anything” question at 11:37 a.m., and then received the answer just five minutes later, at 11:41 a.m. That’s great timing.
Origins and Backlash
Despite having only been built this past weekend by Sutton, AABP has already generated thousands of pageviews in less than a day. As Sutton said on his blog:
“By Monday night [AABP] had peaked around 9,500 pageviews in one day. I answered over 100 sms and sent another tweet that it almost made it to 10,000 page views.”
So far, AABP has answered over 250 different questions, and Sutton is confident that AABP will work in the long-run, even comparing it to Twitter:
“Look at how Twitter started — it was just an SMS platform with a web interface.”
Still, AABP is obviously not without controversy. Product Hunt, the popular tech products site, removed AABP after many commenters thought the project was a bad attempt at racial humor:
“Sorry, this post was removed from the homepage with this note: we avoid censoring product submissions unless they’re a direct attack or extremely offensive to any one person or group of people. To be frank, I interpret this product as a joke, without malicious intent; however, we’re seeing enough reports that this has been removed from the front page.”
Sutton believes the removal wouldn’t have happened if Product Hunt knew that AABP was founded and run by a black person and maintained by all-black employees. Sutton told Fusion:
“I believe the Product Hunt team did the right thing being I wasn’t there to defend the product [as being run by African-Americans] and [Product Hut’s] community was upset. But then what does that say about the community? Are they not OK with a product [based on asking black people questions] or putting black people in a thought leadership position?”
And those are exactly the types of inquiries that Sutton hopes to encourage. As Sutton succinctly put it:
“We see AABP tearing down the intellectual and emotional barriers that continue to divide us down racial lines. Our goal is to be the leading voice providing a clarity to anyone who has a question about race and culture from Black people. Ask us the why, and we will tell you.”