*Disclaimer: One should not read this series, if they have a difficult time understanding the use of “white”, in reference to the institutional structure and that a white person has the privilege to exist as an individual.
My Four Friends: Part II
It took a few weeks to gather myself. I needed time to rage and shed a few more tears. During this time, my mother continued to encourage a dialogue. And I wanted one; deep down. From the moment I walked out of the bar and got on my motorbike, I wanted to turn around and talk about it. But every time I thought about it, every time I asked myself should I really be upset; something inside would start to boil. Something deep would boil and I would find my fist tightening or tears beginning to gather in response. It was tough, I was hurt and did not know where to begin. More troubling, I was not sure of the proper timing. Knowing that my best friend’s family was going through a sensitive time, related to health issues; I did not want to cause further stress. I even tried to talk away her actions, using the stress of the family matter as her excuse. But it was not working, that boiling feeling would not cool. Though I was able to cool enough, to send a message to express hopes for blessings and a speedy recovery, on the day of their surgery. But we needed to actually talk. My best friend and I promised that whenever we found ourselves in an argument, we would talk things out. But accompanied with the uncertainty of proper timing and still dealing with my own mental state and emotions. I did not know where to begin and I secretly hoped, that instead, she would find the proper way. Because I knew I could not find a way into a constructive conversation, while I was still so hurt and offended by what had occurred.
Most of the anger was in why it even happened, why my best friend felt the need to tear my identity down. I did not understand what triggered her, why she felt I deserved her evaluation. But over time, I realized I needed to stop asking myself and try to get some answers from the source.
Now, I love my best friend. Though we are years apart, we always seemed from the same piece of clay. Once I met my best friend, I never imagined a time I would be without her. So it was an even greater hit to my soul, when my message received silence. I never imagined it as a possible outcome, so I made another attempt the following day. But was met with the same result. I had found out, our friendship was no longer of value to her. And this revelation, broke; my already bruised heart.
I found myself in a greater state of pain and left with my own thoughts. Trying to figure out what happened and what part I might have had in the relationship finding itself at this point. I would have like to have heard the other side and what wrong I may need to hold myself accountable for, but that opportunity was not awarded to me. As I began to review my relationship with my best friend, I started to find connections with all four broken friendships. But after further reflection of just my two close friends, I found where I am to blame. I found my main fault in these relationships, was in allowing microaggressions to go unaddressed.
ESCALATION OF MICROAGGRESSIONS
In relation to my best friend and high school friend, I found that I would let microaggressions pass by without discussion. Because I felt responsibility in making them feel comfortable around me; to keep the peace and maintain our friendships. I was the different one, I stood out. So self consciously, I wanted to avoid my identity being an issue, a burden or mood killer. So I would ignore slight missteps. In the name of keeping the peace.
This need to make them feel comfortable might have stemmed from early teachings of code switching. Or learning how to make white people comfortable by seeming non threatening or unaggressive. Many black kids are taught how to make whites comfortable. Lowering your arms and/or reframing from crossing them. Avoiding talking with your hands or making expressive hand gestures. Setting your voice to be more monotone and relaxing your facial expressions. This helps to reduce the appearance of an attitude. Speaking thoroughly, trying not to conjugate words. Full, calm sentences. I had to learn these rules; as many black children did. It’s one of the crucial rules you learn to survive coexisting with whites. Especially white authority figures. Especially the police. But that is a whole different talk that is given; when black reference “The Talk”, it is not the birds and the bees.
With practice over time, I was able to slip in and out of my “white people’s voice”. It is something that is second nature. But unfortunately, I feel the responsibility might have carried into my friendships. I made have continued my role in appeasing and soothing the white people around me.
A few situations stand out with my two close friends, where I made the decision to place their comfort over my dignity. For instance, I was discussing my job search with my old high school friend; sitting at his bar as he worked. Telling him of my frustration with the employment search. He sympathized and expressed feeling perplexed over my situation. By saying he did not understand why it was so tough for me, since I was a “very smart person, who spoke very articulately for a black person.” I paused and took a deep breath, trying to decide if I was going to state how uncomfortable and unfortunate his statement was. If I was going to change the mood by pointing out, that he was implying that black people are in general uneducated. And I somehow, was breaking some sort of genetic norm. I took a deep breath and tried to decide if I was going to defend myself and my people; while he was working. But instead I decided to just move on with the conversation. I thought it was for the best. Cause I knew he was not saying it with ill will and I did not want to cause a rift in our relationship or to stress him out while he was working.
In another situation, while visiting my high school friend at his job. A situation that really disturbed me. And still causes me disappointment in myself, for not addressing it; happened when a fight broke out in the restaurant. It was something you would never expect there. Being it was a semi upper white class establishment and area. In a bar that catered to golfers, before and after rounds. In a location which took, around 45 minutes for me to travel to from my neighborhood. No one would ever expect a fight there, it was probably the first and the last one!.
One man had picked up a chair and flopped it across the other man’s back as he sat with his friends at a table. The crowd reacted in horrific confusion, as the men then intertwined and came roaring in my direction. I jumped up from my stool and slid behind the bar next to my friend. Hoping that might be a safe place; away from the white man tornado. But unfortunately, my friend grabbed the chair swinger and threw him behind the bar with us. The man then grabbed a bottle as a new weapon but I quickly relieved him of it. He continued to yell belligerently from behind the bar at the other guy. My high school friend, attempted to calm the weapons expert as he grab another vodka bottle from the shelf. My friend seemed to have a rapport with the man, as it seemed he was a regular. Once the other man was brought outside and the crazed man finally calmed down. He continued to be soothed by my friend, with hey buddies and yeah mans. The situation finally seemed diluted, when my friend turned to me, raising his voice for the first time in the entire situation. To tell me to get from behind the bar. I was a bit taken back but began to move. As I did so, I realized I still had the bottle I pulled out of the weapons expert’s hand. So I held it up to give back to my friend, which he replied in anger, “Stop! Put it down!” At that point I was shocked and confused. My friend was yelling at me? After I saved his merchandise? My friend was yelling at me and not the insane chair wielding man? I put the bottle down and stepped from behind the bar. A server, who actually happened to be my high school friend’s girlfriend at the time, stopped and asked if I was okay. “They were coming right at you!” she said with much concern. I replied, that I was fine. I jumped out of the way and behind the bar in time.
I appreciated his girlfriend’s concern for my safety but wondered why my own friend did not take much concern in my well being. And I found myself very disheartened by the fact that I was the only person he yelled at, in that whole situation. Which did not give me a good feeling, in that I was the only black person in the room. It felt like he had singled me out as the problem, that when he saw me with the bottle, my own friend thought I was up to no good. A conclusion I would imagine most white people would jump to, when seeing a black body with a bottle in a bar fight. But this was my friend, he should know me better.
But then again, how could he really know me better? When I never fully expressed who I was, when it was needed. I did not speak up after his microaggressions and so I was whoever his conscience decided I was. I was any preconceived ideal of a black person in his mind. Any unaddressed prejudice, any ill conceived stereotype.
With my best friend, there were also several situations in which I held my tongue. Because she was very important to me as a friend; I knew I could count on her. I knew the things she said did not come from ill will. Though sometimes statements she made, gave off hints of resentment. These statements would sometimes cause me to take pause, and try to figure out whether there was a deep seeded resentment present or if her statements were just coming from a place of naiveté.
Taking a particular incident for example, my best friend and I were discussing my indecisiveness about a film. I could not decide whether I actually liked it. I did not dislike it but I was not sure if it was a film I would declare to be good. In our discussion, the common argument regarding the film’s whiteness was brought up. Something I did not particularly agree with but could understand the debate and frustration. As I brought up the common complaint, her response lacked a bit of awareness. “I just think people are too sensitive about that stuff,” she replied. It disappointed me but I just took a deep breath and just swallowed my thoughts down. Because I thought it would be best not to dive into a deep discussion about her statement. Discussing how, her seeing PoC as being sensitive, might be coming from a privileged place. A place of privilege in seeing “yourself” in the media for centuries. Discussing that representation matters and pointing out that now, for some reason, Alvin and the Chipmunks look like little white kids with tails (but seriously, why though?). Which will definitely have some subliminal effect on children of color.
That her image is the default representation of a general person or character and emoji; and that has an effect on her perception and placement in the world. And an effect on those who cannot see themselves in the world. We would probably need the rest of the day, to work through the issues or the emotional effects of rarely seeing a representation of yourself. And that for someone who also studied media, she was conveniently glossing over decades of certain representations intentionally being excluded from media or horrendously mocked with a layer of shoe polish. No, I did not want to spoil the day or our time. So instead, I glazed over her comment and just continued with the conversation. Because, I would not want to ruin her day or disturb her, now would I?
I place blame on myself for allowing microaggressions to build into big aggressive situations. I need to reprogram myself and stop catering to the comfort of white people. If I would have addressed my friends and their microaggressions, as they came along, I might have helped my friend’s in navigating their understanding of race or culture. I could have probably helped them in future situations. And I most likely could have stopped the escalation of their statements. Because in the beginning, they were passing comments, here and there. But the situations that ended it all, were full on assaults of me and my identity. I skipped the battles and just went straight for the war. This is definitely something I can take away from these situations, I am willing to take responsibility for my inaction. I do not want being a person of color to be a full time job, but it seems that’s my unwanted responsibility. In order to foster relationships.
While speaking with my boss about my situation and frustration with not knowing how to begin a conversation with friends. My boss gave me a great resource from Southern Poverty Law. I was hoping to use it to start a dialogue with my best friend but that opportunity was not granted. But the information can definitely be used in the future; in the prevention of more wars.