I Lost A Friend Over The George Floyd Protests, But My Son Learned An Important Lesson

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 
I Lost A Friend Over The George Floyd Protests, But My Son Learned An Important Lesson: Mother and c...

A friend recently called me and asked me what I wanted to hear from people about George Floyd’s murder. I explained to this friend that I didn’t want people in my circle to say or do anything that didn’t feel right to them. However, I expected some sort of acknowledgement that they were with us, with my family in this.

I needed to hear from friends in the days just after George Floyd’s murder, even if it was just an acknowledgement by way of a like or care emoji on Facebook. With that simple gesture, I’d know where they stood on the issues in front of us.

Another friend chose to send me an email, which read like a venting session. By the time I got to the last line of her email, my jaw was on the floor. Parts of it I mistakenly read out loud, in earshot of my teenage son. In the email, she explained how she needed to protect her family. I was confused because the last I knew, her family members were all white, so, what exactly could she be protecting them from? Being called a N* as she pulled off of the road to feed her baby? Being accused of stealing from a store? Protecting her white family from what? I cannot believe that the fear I have for my Black family during such times as these compares to whatever it is she thinks she’s protecting her family from. It just is not the same in any way at all.

As I read the last few lines again, aloud, my son asked “Mommy, what will you say to her?” I needed to comprehend her words, hear them as if she were right there in front of me. Not only was I still processing the lack of response from friends on Facebook about George Floyd’s murder, or the silence from my own family members about what was happening in our neighborhoods, but now I needed to figure out what I wanted to say to my son. I needed to say the right words. As his parent, I’ve always taught him to value his friendships, to show up for his friends, and to speak up when it matters the most. My response to my friend would validate exactly what I’d been trying to teach him over the years.

Stunned by his question, my response hung in my throat. I didn’t immediately know what to say. I hadn’t even formulated what I was going to say to my friend, but my son was waiting for my answer. I thought for a minute and responded with, “I don’t know what I will say to her.”

And that was the truth. I didn’t know what I needed to say to my friend or my son. I knew I felt angry after reading her email. But I also knew she had her own feelings about the situation, the national unrest we are experiencing as a country. Not only was I still processing what happened to George Floyd, but I was also mourning the death of my grandfather who died on May 25th, the same day as George, eight years prior.

As I typed my response onto my keyboard, I found myself in another kind of mourning — mourning the loss of a friend. Later that same week, I’d lose another friend, a casualty in the war for justice for all, for the protection of all of our families, for changing the story we tell our children. I want to call my friends the people who stand with me during the hard times, even when it’s hard for them to stand up, speak out and against racism, murder, and injustices.

“Well, it’s hard to put it into words why this email upsets me so. Part of it is because I thought we were closer than that. I thought she got it. I thought she understood why these protests matter. It’s incredibly hard to walk away from a friendship after being friends since middle school. But at the end of the day, this email tells me that our values are different.”

This is what I wanted to say to my son.

What I actually said was, “Friendships are hard to navigate. They can be challenging.”

His response: “So, you’d walk away from a friendship just because you have different beliefs than the other person?”

I re-read the words in my friend’s email from my cell phone, this time silently. “No,” I responded, to my son’s lingering question. I would not walk away from a friendship because we do not share the same beliefs. I want to be friends with people who force me to think outside of my box, who push me to go deeper in understanding why they believe what they believe.

But this fight, this movement, this call for change is much deeper than simply having different beliefs. It’s about having different values. Just as I would not want my son to be friends with someone who does not treat him as an equal, I don’t want that for myself either. My response to this email would forever leave a lasting impression on my son. It would color how he navigates his friendships when there is tension.

It was heartfelt, it was honest, and it hurt. The email arrived nine days after George Floyd’s death, and eight days after the protests began. It hit my inbox after a rather exhausting conversation with an old colleague and friend about how “people” don’t understand why these protests are happening. Why George Floyd’s murder was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I needed to choose my words wisely. I knew I could not be silent. In part, this is what I shared with my friend and the movement before us:

It is about standing up for the injustices an entire race of people (Black people) have and continue to face at the hands of white people (not just cops…people like George Zimmerman or Shawn, Barry, and John or William, Greg and Travis). It is about this scene in 12 Years A Slave that reminds us as Black women, that our bodies were never considered our own. It is about our collective American history, about the subjugation of Black America by white people. This movement is about shedding light on the privilege (both explicit and perceived) that white people hold and use time and time again. It is about equal access to healthcare, to a seat at the table, to a good education for my kids — one not subject to filling the “Black” quota in their kindergarten classroom. It is about how inaction speaks volumes, it is about the admission by white people that recognize that and outwardly acknowledge that our lives, that our children’s lives have been taken for granted, dismissed, and sometimes dismembered like Emmett Till.

While I did not share my entire response with my son, we live this out everyday. When we attend a protest as a family. When we invite his white friends to hang out with his Black family. We have friends, I tell him, who come and go throughout our lives. Not everyone will remain your friend from grade school onward, but how you show up for them will matter. How you choose to give and take in that friendship matters. My response to my friend, and the subsequent loss of a longtime friendship, taught my son that words and shared values matter. It taught him that in relationships there are cracks, and sometimes, the weight of it all can break that bond wide open.

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