I Broke Up With Friends Because Their White Privilege Hurt My Multiracial Family

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
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The race conversations with my friends began genuinely.

“I totally get it,” my friend commented on my social media post where I shared my article about a white stranger touching my black daughter’s hair … again. “Strangers always touch my boys’ hair. People are fascinated with curls.”

I knew better than to engage, but I did anyway. Her “We’re all the same” and “I feel you, girl” commentary irked me. I replied that a white person touching a white child’s curly hair, as in her child’s case, wasn’t the same as a white person touching a black child’s hair. Yes, both were annoying, but that was the only similarity. Because when the hands are white and the child is black, the touch is a racial microaggression.

That led to predictable follow-up commentary via a DM, the same-old nonsense I’ve heard for years. We all bleed red. We’re all the same race, the human race. Stop playing the race card. I have a black friend, so I understand racism. I don’t see color. Why is there a black history month but not a white history month? All lives matter. I’m over political correctness. Everyone is so damn sensitive these days.

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The same well-meaning but racially ignorant friends would post a peace-and-love Dr. King quote in January but then would leave a comment about “those people” and “black on black crime” on an article discussing yet another case of police brutality.

I’m all for race discussions. In fact, I believe that avoiding conversations about hard topics like racism only gives power to the evil that created them. Calling out systemic racism, microaggressions, and stereotypes and then confronting them head-on is a move in the right direction.

Because of my belief that we all should stay in conversations that make us uncomfortable, I would engage, time and time again. Plus, I know that if white parents get educated, they will be motivated to educate their children as well. I was changing the world and making it better, one encounter at a time.

But I was running low on patience and energy. My friend’s intentional unwillingness to change and complete lack of empathy was personal to me and my family. My mama bear mode kicked in.

One friend asked me to explain to her how her white daughter wearing cornrows was an issue. I spent a good 20 minutes typing up an explanation of cultural appropriation and why it is problematic. Within seconds of hitting send, the three hopping dots appeared, showing me she was typing a response.

“I don’t get it,” she replied. “They’re just braids. They’re cute. Why does it matter?”

Clearly, my friend wasn’t looking to consider another point of view and change her stance. She was looking to argue and defend her white privilege.

I followed up with links to a handful of articles by black women about the history and importance of black hair culture. I’m positive my friend didn’t read them, because she came back with the same questions of why-not-my-kid. Then she added that if her white daughter was called out for wearing cornrows, that was reverse racism.

I sighed. I had about a million other things on my growing to-do list. Should I bother explaining to her that reverse racism isn’t real?

And yes, I am well aware that if I’m fatigued from explaining racism to fellow white folks, people of color must be bone-tired.

I decided not to reply and instead used my time to make my kids dinner. But the bothersome conversation lingered in my mind for days. My friend was convinced that her daughter was entitled to wear cornrows, vehemently denying she could possibly be in the wrong. And when I patiently replied, answering her next question, her white fragility kicked into overdrive.

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At the end of the day, I don’t really care what hairstyle her kid wears. It doesn’t impact me, my life, or my kids. But, if friends are going to take the time to ask me a race question, and I take the time to answer, I expect them to at least take a minute to consider.

White people, myself included, are used to being top dog in almost every situation. It takes a lot of humility and consideration to listen to someone else’s experience and take it to heart. Listening also takes courage. Courage to look white supremacy, our nation’s racial history, and today’s racism in the face.

Inevitably, white guilt ensues, because it was white people who stole land from the Native Americans, created the Middle Passage and slavery, wrote Jim Crow laws, and are supporting Trump in building a wall and separating families at the border.

White people, collectively, have a lot to feel bad about. But at least some people are choosing to feel it and do something about it, with their social media posts, with their votes, and with whom they befriend.

And in my case, who I defriend.

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I can no longer deal with those who act like toddlers. You know, when your kid has had enough of your parenting, covers their ears, and proceeds to yell, “I can’t hear you!” They aren’t my friends. They’ve shown their true colors, and they aren’t for my multiracial family.

After two friends in particular just couldn’t let the race conversations go, attempting to bait me off and on for months, I broke up with them. I didn’t make a dramatic exit from the friendship. In fact, I took the wimpy way out. I ghosted them.

I’m mothering four black kids, and I have made the decision that I no longer have the time or energy to help white friends understand why we, for example, have chosen to depict Santa as black. Why we proudly wear Black Lives Matter tees. Why we acknowledge Juneteenth and shun Columbus Day.

I acknowledge that breaking up with these friends is ironically an act of white privilege. After all, people of color can’t leave racism. They live it every day. However, I’m not abandoning racism. I still call it out when it happens, and I welcome conversations about race.

Simply put, I’ve learned an important lesson. I can’t change everyone, nor should I bother trying. And I’m not ashamed that I bailed. I am no longer interested in wasting minutes on the mom friend who wanted to schedule a play date one day and then the next day, defend her whiteness — especially when it comes at the expense of my black children.

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