Something that God and I have been working through is the fact that, although, in hindsight, I attended one of the most racist "Christian" high schools, I'm going to say in the South (no joke), it ended up working out in my favor in the long run. Case in point, I doubt I would be able to write an article like this if I hadn't learned the differences between dealing with flat-out racists who hide under the title of "white evangelical", white people who honestly don't mean any harm but are just ignorant AF about all things race relations-related and those who are truly white allies—and good friends.
With that being said, I don't know who could deny the fact that 2020 has been a year when race and racism has piqued on some pretty high and significant levels. As I find myself saying a lot, it's not that the Trump Administration invented racism (Reagan once called Africans "monkeys" and George W. Bush totally turned his back on our New Orleans family during Hurricane Katrina); but boy oh boy, have those jokers amplified it. And when things are at a fever pitch like this, pardon the pun, but folks' true colors really do tend to show. Take an article that I recently read, for example—"Support For Black Lives Matter Surged During Protests, But Is Waning Among White Americans". (Chile…)
While Black and brown people are literally out here using our blood, sweat and tears to get the justice we deserve, how do we make sure that we approach our relationships with our white friends from a healthy mental and emotional space? While I certainly do not have all of the answers on this one—not by a country mile—I will share what I've been doing to keep things as, balanced, as I can.
Try Not to Generalize
While I'm personally someone who does not believe that Black/brown people can be racist (because to be racist, you need an enormous amount of power), we most definitely can be prejudiced. One definition of prejudice is "unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group" while another is "any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable". I actually know someone who takes her prejudice to the absolute peak because, no matter what white person she comes into contact with, she automatically assumes that they are a racist or they have an agenda. While things like the news and social media can make it tempting to feel that way sometimes (trust me, I get it), that's not right or fair. We don't like anyone to generalize us, so, for the sake of doing our part to keep humanity thriving as much as we possibly can, we must extend that same courtesy to others. Bottom line, like pretty much any human being, until a white person reveals themselves to be someone who isn't worthy of being in your personal space, try and not judge them based on their entire ethnicity. That is wrong, no matter what ethnic group you fall into.
Remember the Golden Rule
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Can you imagine, how much more harmony we'd all have if we actively applied this with the people we interacted with? If we want to be respected, we need to give respect. If we want to be heard, we have to listen. If there's something that someone doesn't understand, we should try and explain it. There is actually a Scripture in the Bible that says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1—NKJV)
A lot of people live by the rule "don't discuss religion and politics" in order to avoid conflict. I'm not that person. I don't find disagreements or uncomfortable conversations to automatically be a bad thing. However, when it comes to something like racism, even when we're talking to those we consider to be a true friend, it's important to give and expect the honor of being a human being who is trying to share and learn. No one said these conversations are easy but if there is a mutual esteem in place, they don't have to ruin relationships either.
Also, Remember Why You’re Friends with Them in the First Place
If you're really honest about the dynamics of, pretty much all of your friendships, the reality is there are certain things that you have in common—and then, there are certain things that couldn't make the two of you any more different. When it comes to your relationships with white people, automatically coming from two different ethnicities sets you apart. Yet, beyond that very obvious point, take a moment to reflect on why you became friends with each other in the first place. Some of my white friends, we're both writers. Some of my white friends, we enjoy the same things in pop culture. Some of my white friends, we've been a part of each other's lives for so long that there is a strong love between us, even if we don't have a ton of stuff in common.
Most of our relationships started from a place of common interests or how well we meshed with someone's character. Even though race is something that is talked about A LOT right through here, if/when you're tempted to "tap out" of your friendships with your white friends, simply because white people, in general, are wearing you TF out, try and remember why you connected with the white folks you hold dear. Remember to see them as people first. Because, at the end of the day, that's what we want others to do when they're interacting with us—not because our Blackness isn't a part of who we are, but because it is just one part of our identity.
Don’t Expect Empathy. Sympathy Is the Best They Can Do.
So, I've got a very dear close white male friend who, a couple of years ago, I had to school him. Interestingly enough, it was because he was actually trying to school me on my own culture. Lawd. I mean, any time he saw something Black-themed (like Dear White People, for example), he would hit me up, thinking that he was hipping me to something that I didn't know. After about six months of him doing this, I said, "You do know that I'm Black, right?" So much of our relationship consisted of discussing any and everything but race relations that he admitted he probably needed to hear my perspective more. Ever since then, he's come to all kinds of conclusions—that his parents are actually racist people, that his circle lives in a bubble that doesn't really deal with ethnic differences because pretty much everyone is white and that him being a white man and my being a Black woman means that we approach this thing called America (which I oftentimes refer to it as being Amerikkka) from two very different places.
Honestly, having those discussions has brought us closer in a lot of ways. But still, I try and be sensitive to the fact that just because my friend is my friend, I shouldn't expect him to have the same amount of knowledge, passion or focus as I do on my people, my community or our history. And so, while we do discuss race relations more than we ever have, I try and limit the chats to when he asks, so that I don't make him feel like I am patronizing him or that the sole purpose of our connection is so that I can "school him" on what's up with all things Black-related.
(By the way, if you've got white friends who honestly want to learn more about anti-racism and how to be a true ally, they can check out book lists here and here.)
Take Breaks When Needed. The Good White Friends Will Understand.
While growing up, there was a white family in my life who, in many ways, couldn't be more different than my own family. They were rich, white and, although I don't think I ever flat-out asked them, I believe they were Republican too (I personally am an independent). I say that because FOX News was on in their homes quite often. Over the years of interacting with them, I don't recall having more than five direct chats with any of them about race issues. At the same time, what I do remember is my mother sometimes saying to the white mom that she needed a "white people break". Usually it was after something covert happened to her as it related to other white folks in her life. The white mom would laugh and not take it personally. Then she would give my mom some space.
I was always tickled and fascinated by that. Fast forward to now and I tend to apply that unofficial-white-folks-interaction rule to my own life. I mean, who wants to call a friend, just to chat, only to hear said-friend go on and on and on about how sick of they are of their friend's ethnicity? Good Lord.
Again, this year has been rough on us. Hopefully, you've got some Black friends who you feel safe venting without editing to. My advice would be to go to them on your most frustrating days and if your white friends hit you up when you're at your brink, just let them know that America is wearing you out right now, you love them, but you need a second to catch your breath. Good and healthy white friends won't personalize that. If they consider themselves to even be a surface-level ally, they will understand and give you the space that you need to regroup.
Release Whoever Is Showing Their TRUE COLORS
If there is one thing that 2020 is doing, brilliantly so I might add, it's revealing who folks truly are. After all that I just shared, if you discover that you've got white friends who are racially apathetic, who try and defend racism, who want to make you feel guilty for your stance on race-relation issues, etc.—ask yourself, if they are really being a good friend to you or not. A good friend supports. A good friend encourages. A good friend tries to see things from your point of view so that they can support and encourage you.
We're living in some very trying times so, again, while it isn't fair to expect white people to see things exactly as we do, if the white relationships in your life don't respect where you're coming from, you may need to release them. Right now, what we all need are white friends who are allies. If you're not sure if yours are, go deep enough in your conversation with them to get the clarity that you need. By the way, a white friend that is a MAGA, defends Trump or says "I don't see color" (you should because seeing my color means that you are sensitive to my issues and needs) are some telling signs that some boundaries may need to be set.
It's not impossible to have white friends in this season. Just get clear on your needs, make sure that you state them and that you communicate with the same kind of compassion that you'd want to receive from them. Again, the white people who have your back will rise to the occasion. The ones who don't…won't. And if that's the case, they weren't really your friends to begin with…right? Exactly.
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