Perhaps you’ve noticed that some of your Black friends have gone quiet on social media lately. Maybe there’s fewer text exchanges between you and them, too. Your white guilt and white fragility might be amplified because of it. You might be wondering if you’re doing something wrong, or not doing something right. Whiteness does that. It tells you that you need to centralize your feelings and shed some white tears.
Here’s the deal. It’s not about you. The Black Lives Matter resurgence, this movement, this necessary uprising, is about justice, awareness, and change. Activism is difficult, emotionally draining, mentally exhausting, relentless work. Your Black friends may very well be exhausted. They don’t have the time and energy to coddle your feelings—nor should they.
I know that sounds harsh. Allow me to explain. White people, including myself, are used to being believed, trusted, and catered to. Even when we should be focusing on others right now, our white privilege tells us that we need to bring the focus to ourselves—our feelings, our opinions, our experiences, our assessments. Some don’t do this intentionally. Centering ourselves is a reflex—one we’ve been conditioned to manifest since birth. However, just because your instincts tell you to focus on yourself, doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Over the past several weeks, as our newsfeeds were flooded with the horrific murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, my family began reaching out to our Black friends. My own four children are Black–so we were also having many conversations within our own home. Each adult friend told us the exact same thing. They are tired, first and foremost. Not just tired. They used the word “exhausted.” The other thing they told us? They are hurt. When their white friends err on the side of silence rather than reaching out, it adds salt to the wound. Silence is violence, after all.
The burying-their-heads-in-the-sand from some white friends and family members, the lack of empathy and willingness to walk in the shoes of another, and the outright ignorance and refusal is heartbreaking. It’s constant. “All lives matter” and “blue lives matter,” calling out “those people” as “thugs” who protest, references to “black on black crime,” and even those who swear they are “colorblind” and “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” There are those who say that there are only “a few bad apples” in police forces instead of acknowledging systemic racism.
When a white person spews hatred, attempts at neutrality, or parrots something they heard on Fox news or from Trump, it’s not surprising, but it is disheartening. The battle is never-ending. And unlike white people who can turn off their televisions and go about their lives, Black people cannot turn off the racism they experience. Whether it’s wearing a mask to the store to protect themselves from COVID19, going for a jog, sitting in their own apartments, having a BBQ with family, or any other normal activity, they are at risk of a white person sounding the alarm. The fragility is off the charts.
Some white people try to clapback at the Black Lives Matter movement with cherry-picked “peace and love” MLK quotes. Their answer is that people just need to be unified. Interpretation: they want Black people to stop speaking up and standing up. If we would just stop talking about racism, it will die down.
Here’s the deal. Harmony will not be achieved by ignoring the realities. We are a long, long way from holding hands and earnestly stating that there is “liberty and justice for all.” Is that uncomfortable? Yup. But there’s no shortcut to racial equity. We have to do the difficult work.
Black people are further burdened by white people who are clamoring for education. “Teach me!” white friends often beg. It’s one thing to offer a listening ear and empathy. That’s what real friends should be doing. It’s another to burden Black friends, co-workers, family members, and neighbors with the task of making white people ‘woke’. There are tons and tons of resources–including books, podcasts, documentaries, movies, conferences, classes, etc.–that are readily available. Using a Black friend as all-things-race-and-racism-Google is wrong. White people shouldn’t use “their pain” as “my gain.”
Yet many white people believe, because of white privilege, that they are owed a Black person’s experiences, explanations, and opinions. How completely exhausting it must be for Black people to have their white “friends” tugging on their shirts all the time, like children who want yet another snack.
Several of our Black friends have opted to take days, even weeks, off social media for the sake of their own mental health. There’s so much white silence from “friends”—and it stings, they say. Not only do they witness everything that’s going on in the news, but they live in melanin-rich skin that has been degraded for hundreds of years. Their culture is both continuously appropriated and criticized.
If you’re among the white people who feel shut out or ignored by your Black friends, you might consider turning your feelings into action. How about doing some self-work by reading one of the many incredible anti-racism books? How about sending a text to your friends saying, “I’m here for you. I support you. I’m listening”? Don’t demand they teach you or pamper your fragility. That’s not their job. That’s not real friendship.
Show up for your friends by evoking change in yourself and in your family. Don’t claim you love everyone–so why would you need to work on yourself? And please, please don’t use your Black friends as tokens in race conversations, imploring that there’s no way you can be racist because you have “one Black friend.” If you refuse to see your own contributions to the lack of racial equity, you aren’t being a real friend, nor are you helping dismantle white supremacy. Your friends need you. Don’t be another source of taking and draining. There’s no better day than today to get started.
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