A black friend on twitter has asked for help trying to “get through” to his white friend, who has expressed a number of troubling ideas that display blind white privilege at best, outright racism at worst.
After a number of people told him to she was a lazy racist who would never be a real friend, he still was looking for answers.
“What do you think I could say to make her understand? ” He asks.
This post is my response, since I couldn’t fit my thoughts into tweets:
First of all: there may not be anything that you can say to make her understand, understanding requires an open mind, and unless your friend is committed to opening her mind, it may not be possible for her to understand.
Your friend is actively engaging people of different races, and doesn’t understand why everything has to be “all about race.” Now I can’t think of a POC who would not like for everything to stop being all about race. Unfortunately, white people won’t let them. POC have responded by creating their own spaces where instead of being marginalized, their voices are honored and privileged.
Based on what I saw, your friend is one of the statistically few white people who has gone beyond the ubiquitous “black friend” and actually entered POC spaces. Once inside POC spaces she realized that within POC spaces, POC voices are privileged. Not only that, but that some POC made assumptions about her based on her race and may have been pretty mean about it. She has discovered what it feels like (within the narrow confines of POC dominated spaces) to be the minority, to feel silenced, denigrated, and (somewhat) oppressed.
Being the only white person in a POC space is an opportunity. An opportunity to learn what it actually feels like to not have your voice privileged, and sometimes an opportunity to see what it feels like to be on the other side of racial animosity. (Prejudice against the people oppressing you seems like a pretty natural reaction to me) But it’s just a shadow, a pale reflection of the white supremacy that POC face every day.
Your friend can leave POC spaces, and return to the white dominated spaces that take up the majority of the country. She can easily find white silos where she can speak as frankly and with as much racism as she likes.
Meanwhile, while your voice may be privileged in POC circles, but as soon as you step into the rest of White Supremacist America, it is not.
I would encourage your friend to take these feelings of silencing and racial persecution, and multiply them: multiply them by ten, by a hundred, by a million. Imagine the experiences she has had expanded beyond words and hurt feelings to include poverty, violence, death, or the threat of all three.
By gaining entrance to POC spaces, with the concurrent mixture of welcome and antipathy, your friend has a wonderful opportunity–an opportunity for empathy. But only if she can use her imagination, opens her mind, and get over herself.