Kinda sorta. Scroll way, way down
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.
Well not really married…who can afford to lose free health insurance and food stamps by getting married? Committed to, living with, what have you.
Although I have been open to dating all races, for years I lowkey thought I’d end up with a black woman. But when I found myself falling hard for a kind, smart soft white butch. She gets my jokes, she puts up with my faults, and she pays most of my bills. (Nothing + nothing equals nothing, ok?)
I tried to tell myself she’s not “white-white.” her Guayanese co-worker calls her “one of those hood-ass white girls.” She was one of the only white girls in her school growing up, her 20+ year best friend and her ex and her son are all black. But her outlook…it’s still very white.
The first worrying moment was fairly soon after we moved in together: we were trying to choose a movie, and for whatever reason I was feeling the black cinema offerings (out of the admittedly crappy selection on Netflix). She confronted me afterwards, referring especially to a movie I lingered over about drug dealers in the Hood.
“I’m white. I don’t relate to the hood” She told me angrily. “It’s not my experience!”
I was flabbergasted. First of all–she basically did grow up in the hood, if not the drug dealing part. (Although her sister sure is an addict) And second of all–it’s the point of a movie to bring you into things outside of your experience. I’ve never been to South Africa, but I was able to enjoy White Wedding I’ve also never been to space, or the distant past, but I was able to get into Star Wars.
Then recently she asked “who’s Floetry”
Followed a few days later: “Who’s Nina Simone?”
“Do you even hang out with older black people?” I asked.
Her: “No why would I?”
Me: (why wouldn’t you?) “Let me learn you something!”
So I made her watch What Happened Miss Simone
Ok, so our shared black media experience starts when we fell in love with Hip Hop in ’92. I could get used to that.
But then I made the mistake of talking to her about Sandra Bland.
Now, it took me a day or two to even click on a link to find out what happened to Sandra Bland. She was just so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to think of her life ending pointlessly in a Texas Jail cell. When I look at her I see someone I would have wanted as a friend. I see my aunt. I see my cousins. I see a vibrant intelligent soul. I see one more victim of the horrible scourge of white supremacy that gives police near impunity to kill black people and get away with it.
I was so depressed after reading the details of her arrest and death that I could barely get out of bed. Barely made it to physical therapy.
Despite my melatonin deficiency, this video sums up how the news and my Facebook/twitter feeds have had me feeling lately.
So I made the mistake of talking to my Boo about Sandra Bland. She agreed that Sandra’s death was wrong and the fault of the cops. But apparently HER facebook feed was full of different stories from mine. HER feed promised “incontrovertible” “video evidence” that Sandra took her own life.
I still haven’t read one article that backs this claim, but the most striking thing from our conversation was this: she’s not angry. She doesn’t feel the deep, abiding anger in her bones. Just this overwhelming violent angry rage and sorrow as black person after black person gets modern-day lynched for the most imaginary of offense.
When I asked: “What if this was your son?” She asked:”Why did you have to take it there?”
Because she doesn’t look at Sandra, Treyvon, Tamir, and see her son. Even though the cops sure as hell will one day. She sees all these incidents as wrong, but ultimately as single incidents.
She sees these incidents as a white person, a white woman.
I married a white woman.
A long time ago I used to go to this Black Lesbian night in Southie called Slainte. Twenty years prior a small clubs worth of blank lesbians venturing into this staunch Irish neighborhood coulda ended in bodies, or at least blood, but in 21st century Massachusetts it was cool.
I used to go with my dancing buddy, a cute tomboi who could tear up the floor. One night we were out dancing and some gorgeous back to Africa type sistas walked in with their effortless prints and radiant smiles.
There was one woman particular who intrigued me: she was so beautiful with her rich brown skin and thick curves. Each step and dance move owned her space and honored her body.
I told my friend how beautiful I found her and she tried to get me to talk to her.
“Naw.” I shook my head. “She’s not looking at me”
She and her friends were wrapped up in themselves and in each other and in the music.
So I respected them and didn’t try to intrude. I danced with my friend and enjoyed my night while she enjoyed hers.
Part of being in that space was respecting the people there. I’m sure a lotta folk might have tried to insert themselves in some way into their evening; but that would have felt wrong to me.
I’m not sure why my attitude is so difficult for others to take on. Check her out and if she’s not checking for you? Keep it moving. Everyone can still have a good time. That’s all I’m saying.
Start the night here. (yes this post was 3 years ago, so?)
They took me down to the station where once again I was jammed into a holding cell: a glass room with about 20 prostitutes, all accessorizing their skin tight ho clothes with bright orange jail shirts or pants like wearable OJ was some kind of new fashion statement.
“Oh honey what are you in for?” Asked the only non-orange clad ho. I don’t know what it was about her, but she seemed like the classiest of the group. Her velour top and clingy pants were revealing but tasteful in a way that made tohe other prostitutes in their the skimpy remains of their ho garb look shoddy.
“Obstructing the sidewalk.” I spat out weekly.
“Aww honey,” A brown-skinned ho looked at me pityingly. “If I couldn’t sell my cooch I’d be homeless asking for money like you.” That seemed so strange to me. Asking for change seemed way less degrading than selling my twat, but not to her.
“You’re pretty,” the classy ho sized me up. “Ever thought about going into the business?” I shrugged politely. The thought of anyone touching me sexually who I was not attracted to disgusted me. Being homeless was part spiritual quest for me–distancing myself from attachment to objects and limiting my needs to the basics. All I needed was a couple bucks a day to get by and I didn’t have any addictions or children to make me need more. “You look tired, here, lay on this shirt.” I thanked her and reclined on an orange jail shirt.
“I love being a ho.” One of the women chimed in. “Anywhere I go I can always sell my pussy!”
“I need to sell my pussy,” the “classy” one said, “I have my four year old son to take care of.”
“How did you get in the business?” Another one asked her.
“Like a lot of women do, I was a dancer in a club and I realized hooking could make a lot more money…”
That’s where I started coughing. And coughing, and coughing. Sleeping outside in the cold damp winter combined with smoking had given me a nasty cold. I spat some blood into the common toilet sitting exposed in the corner of the cell.
“Are you alright honey?” Classy ho asked.
“Yeah, I’m ok. I just coughed up some blood tho.”
“Coughed up BLOOD?!” One of the hos yelled. “Oh my god do you have TB?!!”
That’s when all hell broke loose:
“She has TB!!”
“Guards, gaurds, she has TB!”
After a few minutes the guards moved me to another holding cell. Only it wasn’t a regular holding cell, it was a white tiled room with every inch–floor, walls and ceiling–covered in blood stains of varying shades. It had a drain hole in the middle of the floor presumably for when they failed to wash the stains out. Or maybe for the blood to drain down. I didn’t know. All I knew was there was NO WAY I was touching anything!!!
I couldn’t sit down without touching the floor (no benches in this room) so I paced the room wearilly. In a desperate attempt to look at something besides blood stains my eyes traveled accross the room. The holding cells were set up in a circle like a glass menagerie around a cubicle farm. cops in their uniforms non-chalantly processed paperwork while us chattel watched from our glass pens.
The men were penned up accross from me and to the left, and then–my eyes stopped. Directly accross from me was what looked like a padded cell. Unlike the rest of the cells this one only had a tiny windoe, but it looked soft and white from where I was. Not only that, but it was inhabited. Inhabited by what looked like a naked woman. A naked woman staring straight at me and screaming in anguish. Screaming and screaming and screaming.
That’s when I realized I had been listening to her scream all night…
The 1st time I saw an erect penis I burst out laughing. It looked so bizarre and bulbous, protruding purple and brown from between his legs like some weird discolored mushroom.
I covered my mouth, playing it off like I was nervous. In fact I felt the opposite. I felt completely comfortable naked with Joe, comfortable in a strangely non-sexual way. More like friends who happened to be naked. One of whom happened to have a very strange physical defect.
Joe had been my “crush” the year before as a freshman in high school, the boy I trotted out as the object of my affection every time my friends talked about boys. I knew I couldn’t say that it was the gorgeous big-boned Anya that I longed for, with her wide hips and long red hair…
In fact I had spent hours in science class staring in fascination at his hair. His kinky hair and olive skin stood out in my Lilly white suburban high school. Especially his hair: forty individual braids spiraling up up like exotic underwater sea plants from his tan scalp.
Later I learned the braids were done by his mom, certainly no African American hairdresser would create braids so unruly. I always kinda wondered what trick of genetics produced this swarthy, kinky haired, thick lipped boy from his two rather ordinarily Jewish parents.
By the time we “dated” his hair was in a neat short fro, and I was officially out as bi. I dated him after being rejected by the main focus of my affection: Judy who I was hopelessly in love with, but whose affection was sadly fixated on the unusually tall and Giselle-like Chloe.
Up to the point where we rather casually removed our clothes in his bed room our entire relationship consisted of passing dirty notes in class.
“Are you sure this is ok?” I asked, thinking of his mom downstairs.
“Don’t worry, my mom trusts me. She won’t interrupt”
We undressed without fuss, talking comfortably. His grossly engorged member a sign that he was much more sexually engaged than I.
“So do you wanna have sex?” he asked, stroking my arm tentatively.
“What?” I looked down in surprise, scoping his member, contorting my bewildered amusement at its strangeness into shy embarrassment. “But…” I cast about for an excuse–there was NO WAY I wanted to touch that thing! “We don’t have a condom.”
“That’s alright, I can pull out.”
“Pull out?! I raised my eyebrows as I started putting clothes on, taking one last glance at the bizarre growth sprouting inexplicably from between his legs. “Do you pay any attention in Sex Ed?” I laughed even harder. Did that line actually work on anybody? Especially from his 15 year old self?
We didn’t “date” long after that. In some bizarre bid for Judy’s affection he attempted suicide a couple weeks later, and I learned that this was the first time (though far from the last) that the biggest thing a boy I was dating and I had in common was a crush on the same girl.