I don’t care about your black friend. Or your black co-worker. Same goes for the lovely, articulate black guy you met in line at Starbucks the other day and talked with for five minutes while waiting for your lattes.
I understand that you, a white person who hasn’t had much genuine interaction with people of color, are trying to make a connection with me. I appreciate it. I know you mean well.
You’re doing it wrong.
You see, I know that when you meet someone who happens to be white for the first time, you don’t attempt to generate conversation over the bonds of your shared whiteness. You don’t gush to your other white friends and family about Todd in accounting and his lovely white wife and how much you wish you had their children’s straight strawberry-blonde hair. Your eyes don’t twinkle as you share the story of the time you and your boyfriend Brad went to a country music concert and how beautiful and soulful you found the people of the heartland to be.
See what I did there? I just stereotyped white people, just as you stereotyped me in an effort to “connect” by putting extra emphasis on showing how much you really, really, really like black people. Really, you’re the least racist person ever, I get it.
What you miss is the way you bestow individuality on those similar to yourself. You relate to them as people while not offering the same treatment to those who look like me. With other white people, I’m sure you don’t insist on dropping tidbits about every black person you know when you talk to them, nor do you make it a point to mention that David in marketing is black when you tell me about his recent trip to South America. I just wanted to hear about his tango lessons in Buenos Aires.
You see color before my humanity.
I understand. You mean well. We can’t change our upbringings or the fact that we might not have encountered people from another race until we reached adulthood. I know you want to show that you’re “okay” with me and perfectly fine with the fact that I’m now a part of your circle. You want to put me at ease, let me know you’re not racist, and that you get along with people who share my skin tone.
Here’s a tip about the best way to do that: Just talk to me. Leave out the special person of color mentions to show me how down you think you are. (Trust me, you’re not, and that’s okay too!)
I am indeed proud of my racial and ethnic background and cherish the African-American culture that shaped me. I’m also an individual — someone you might like to get to know as a person, not as an example of what you think my group represents.
Let’s try this again. Hi, I’m Shannon. I love shopping, makeup, writing, my family, and my Starbucks lattes. I adore R&B music and have a fondness for late 1980s/early 1990s New Jack Swing. I used to be embarrassed about my love for New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys, but like any good Generation X member, I wholeheartedly embrace those boy bands as part of the 1990s musical canon. And I’ll be one of those 40-year-old women screaming at their revival concerts.
Black-eyed peas and collard greens are a must on major holidays, but I could really go for some pho, pad thai, or bhindi masala right now — the spicier, the better.
See, I have diverse interests, like most of your other friends. Maybe even more than they do.
I recognize that you might have a question about something in the news or a cultural practice and that you might feel uncomfortable asking me. If you’re sincere and have taken the time to get to know me, I’ll extend plenty of grace. Lord knows I might need it as well sometimes.
And if you really get to know me, I might let you in on a few secrets and in-house conversations, you know, those things you only find out after coming over for dinner a few times or spending time with me away from work. That’s when the fun really begins.
But please, stop telling me about your black friend who we all know is really the black woman in accounting you chat with for two minutes at the vending machine a few times a week. She’s a colleague, not your friend. You don’t have to front.
Now if you tell me she likes Starbucks and 1990s pop/R&B/hip-hop/boy band revival concerts, then that’s my kind of girl. Let’s all get coffee.