*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 III
FAILURE TO ALLY
The signs my mother recognized and I fought against acknowledging, was my best friend’s difficulty with acknowledging my experiences with oppression and the resulting pain. It got so frustrating that one night, I called my mother in tears. Trying to cope with my need for my best friend to be able to just listen to my pain. Trying to navigate through calling her my best friend. But not actually being able to speak to her about my truth, about myself and all that comes with that.
At points, when trying to express my experiences or concerns as a woman of color with my best friend. It often would not be taken as me reaching out for a kind ear or ally in my struggles. It often seemed to be taken as a competition. An odd competition, I would never want any part of. It became frustrating trying to discuss the issues I was facing, in regards to my experience as a black woman. Because when I did, I was met with a rebuttal of comparison, instead of compassion or just a friendly ear.
After the election, I felt a lot of heartbreak, as many of us did. I left the bar after the election results; reached my apartment, parked my car. Sat there and just cried. The following days I had increasing anxiety about leaving my apartment, as reports of hate crimes flooded my newsfeed. I had great fear, I spoke with several friends of color and a few of us got together to discuss and console each other. But the one person I really wanted to speak to was my best friend. But I knew she would not clearly understand my concerns and fears. But she was my best friend and I needed her. So I made attempts to share my fears with her, throughout the week but never really getting much back. She understood the situation was grim for many but it seemed she could not grasp my deep feeling of despair or heartbreak. Until one day, I realized I needed to clearly explain that I had been having spurts of tears and concerns of leaving my apartment. And that I really needed to hangout and be with a loved one. Once I was able to get her to understand, we grabbed some wine, pizza and a silly movie.
I felt much better being with my friend. But once I begin to express my feelings and worries with her, over the latest uptick in hate crimes and the future. I immediately felt sick again.
As I discussed my emotions with my friend. I told her of a conversation I had that week with my uncle. How I called and did not have to say anything when he picked up the line. He immediately said, “It’s going to be okay. Don’t cry.” He told me to keep my head up; that he lived through oppression and I could too. He told me of the hangings when he was younger and I shared with him the fears I had for my safety; especially being in the south. As I told her of the discussion and the emotions surrounding it, instead of listening or just being there, she replied “Well, me too! I could be hung as a woman!” I felt so frustrated with her and her statement. My heart sighed and sunk. The frustration quickly turned to sickness in the pit of my stomach. I was at a lost with the absurdity; I did not know where to begin. I just carried on and finished the conversation. As though I did not feel my uncle’s experience was belittled or those who hung from the trees, that he spoke of. I moved on with the conversation, as though I did not feel that my fears were just dismissed. As though I was not frustrated with my best friend’s inability to just stand by me and be that extra defense I needed in the world.
The most common comparison my friend would make, would be the girls in high school. The black girls who bullied her, because she was white. These girls were her main resource, whenever she felt the need to express that blacks can be racist against whites. Mind, I never made a debate of the fact. Nor brought it up in those terms. It seemed as though, my experiences were invalid because when I tried to share, there were those girls from high school. Acknowledging and condemning the girls actions towards my best friend did not even appease. It was as though I was not allowed to express my experience and struggles with racism, because, those girls. I wished she could understand that, if my only instance or run in with racism in life, was just in high school. I would take it! If I was able to choose just a single time in my life; with just a few people involved, as my experience with racism. Life would be grand! But forget it. To her, the institutional constructs of racism had nothing on those girls.
They were always a source of tension in our friendship. I did not know these girls. I did not know their names. I did not know what they said to her or did. But it did not matter. I could not escape them, I became responsible for their actions. My experience and pain were erased by those girls. And my best friend could never truly be my ally, because all she could see in me, was those girls.
DENIAL OF PRIVILEGE
In giving myself some credit, there were attempts to address microaggressions in my friendships. Which is actually how I knew my friends did not mean any ill will with the statements they made. They showed that they did have the ability to tell what was racist and what things they said were not appropriate. I knew they knew by their reactions when being confronted with their own words. In all cases, their reactions were complete denial and hostility. Because they feared the worst thing you could call any Moderate or Liberal. Racist. Being tied to any level of racism is the worst thing that could happen to a liberal white person. Moderates and Liberals are so frightened to come in contact with any resembles of racial bias. They rather speak blindly, then speak with awareness. So when presented with their own prejudices, my friends would rebuke their words with all vicar. Because they feared the truth; which is, we are all racist. It is natural. We all have racial bias. Even pandas.
The most important step, in evolving in race relations is to confront the truth. And learn how to overcome your own bias. Without this awareness, we will continue to live in the world of racial misunderstandings.
By not acknowledging their racial bias, my friends had the privilege to ignore my racial existence. They had the privilege not to think about race but to leave me having to live my race alone in our relationships. To navigate through their microaggressions and their ignorance, as they chose to walk ignorant and blindly in their white privilege.
White privilege is often misunderstood as whites being rich, well off and living on the hog. But white privilege is not being forced to live race. Having the choice to exist as an individual. Not having the weight of oppression to carry. This misunderstanding of white privilege was the final break in my friendship, with my high school friend. He use to be well versed in marginalized cultures and experiences. But it became apparent that his employment in the richest, whitest part of our city, had an affect on his social consciousness. The final break in our relationship was me no longer being able to handle his proclamations of being “colorblind” (which he would use as one of the reasons he did not feel the need to side with Black Lives Matter). I tried to point out that there was no such state of mind and in fact he has said many, very, color aware statements. But he did not take being confronted with his own words very well. He began to spout out the best lines of conservative radio. Then jumped off topic to denounce his white privilege. I decided there was no reason to attempt further communication, as it seemed I was now talking to a Fox News wall. And as he ranted out topic, he made it very clear to me, that he no longer understood his privilege.
These white friends in my life were unable or refused to acknowledge the fact that they have the privilege of living a life without race.
Many of my white friends seem shocked when they hear of my physical altercations. They usually respond; pearl clutching, proclaiming that they have never been in a fight. They seem to take a lot of pride in this fact. But they do not realize that this is a privilege of their whiteness. Most of the physical altercations I have found myself, came as a surprise to me and were unprovoked. Many of the fights I found myself in were not escapable, unless I just laid there and allowed someone to take my life. That’s not to say, whites are not assaulted for their race but their probability is substantially lower than a person of color.