When we first moved to my mostly white area, I foolishly accepted the “you should take a colorblind approach to your friendships” lie. I’ve met a number of well-meaning white people. But I’ve also had my share of racist experiences — some intentional, others not.
Each time a white acquaintance and I had a racist encounter, I found myself increasingly reluctant to engage in interracial connections. With time, I’ve found out the hard way that there will be times that my interracial friendships require a little bit longer of a trial period. It’s not personal, but I have to do what I can to protect my mental health as a Black woman in America.
At this point, I think I’ve gotten it down to a science. And I would like to share what I have learned. The truth is, for folks of color, niceness isn’t enough to gain our friendship. Instead, we look for folks who make intentional decisions to be anti-racist in our interactions. Here are a few things your POC friends probably want you to know:
1. Niceness isn’t enough to understand my societal position.
Your friends of color may never tell you that we’re anxious about meeting your friends and families. But we are. There have been many times I’ve met “nice” white people who unintentionally exposed me to racial discomfort. I can’t count the number of white people I’ve befriended on social media only to realize that engaging with them meant dealing with their racist friends. Your families are no different. It’s scary being invited to your family functions for a wide range of reasons (including that we often have different food customs), but the biggest discomfort comes with the prospect of being the only person of color in a colorblind (read: racist) space.
2. We hate when you try to quantify our race.
Nothing boils my blood like hearing a white person critique my relationship to Blackness. Newsflash: No amount of education, proper speech, or wealth will erase the fact that I wake up and experience life as a Black woman every day.
That being said, there have been many times I’ve heard white people suggest they are “Blacker than me” because they listen to a certain genre of music, came from a certain type of household, or have a certain number of Black friends.
Living while Black is more than a performative reality. Blackness is deeper than rap, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), and good food. It’s as a descriptor that loosely describes those of us with indigenous ties to Africa. But in America specifically, it suggests a shared set of experiences related to American slavery, cultural resistance, and shared struggle.
I’d imagine other POC have similar perspectives on quantifying how Asian/Native/Latinx they are. It ain’t funny. Please stop.
3. You annoy us when you suggest you experience racism through osmosis.
While we’re on the subject, please don’t think your stories of watching or overhearing racism are equal to experiencing racism. I’m not saying it isn’t painful to witness your husband/children of color/best friend experiencing mistreatment. But believe me, it’s a million times worse to experience firsthand.
Please understand that you can experience consequences for your proximity to people of color (think of the idiots that call folks n*****-lovers and similar insults), but they aren’t about YOU; they are about us.
For us, racism is personal. You were just collateral damage. So don’t center it around how it hurt you. Want proof it wasn’t about you? Stop advocating for us/participating in our culture and watch how easy you can renew your membership to whiteness. (See: Miley Cyrus.)
4. For many POC, our race is an important aspect of our identity.
As a child, I felt sick to my stomach every time we discussed slavery in class. Our curriculum taught me to see my ancestors from a position of weakness instead of a position of survival and I did my best to distance myself. But one day, I realized the power in that lineage, and I haven’t looked back since.
The older I get, the more pride I feel in having the blood of slaves flow through my veins. However, after decades of “one drop rules” and imposed identification, many well-meaning friends think ignoring my race is the way to eradicate oppression.
Most people of color are proud of the strides our people have made despite continuous social barriers. My life experiences are greatly shaped by presenting as a Black woman. If you can’t understand that’s an important aspect of my identity, we won’t last very long. Chances are, many of your POC friends feel the same.
5. But for some, it isn’t.
Blackness is an important aspect of my identity. Still, there are plenty of POC who feel differently. The best way to know if racial identity is important to your friends is to get to know them and see.
But if you try to make assumptions about how important racial identity is to an entire group based on nothing but your one Black/Asian/Latinx friend, you’re gonna find yourself with your foot in your mouth.
In short, don’t try to tell one person of color they shouldn’t be offended by something because another isn’t.
Super important: Don’t be that white person who gets slapped because one friend said they could say the N word and they tried it in the real world.
6. Sometimes we’ll need a break.
Race is a really polarizing topic right now. Life as a POC means constantly interacting in spaces where our realities have been repeatedly denied by jerky white people. We don’t fault you for the sins of all white people, but you benefit from those sins, and if we notice you interact in circles with racism, we’ll lose faith in you. Remember, racism is personal to us.
There will be times your friends of color will need to vent to someone who understands without explanation. It doesn’t mean that we don’t care for you. We just need time to re-center and escape the reminders of white supremacy.
If you’re interested in resources for better interacting in interracial spaces here are a few AWESOME articles by writers of color to check out: