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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

The trouble with white friends

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On an average day, 80 percent of the faces I see are white. I don’t really have any math to back that up, so perhaps I should say that amount just feels right, if we’re talking about the faces I see and speak words to on a daily basis. At work and at play, most of my co-workers and friends are white. I turn 31 in a couple of months, but this landmark revelation seems to have hit me only recently. If I’m honest, I’ve gone through a sort of second puberty the past few years, between somehow getting sober in 2012, beginning to write again in earnest shortly thereafter and coming to acknowledge and embrace my blackness in a way I never did before, there’s some crazysexycool self-actualization going down on this side. I’m just grateful to be alive to do any of the things I get to do today. That being said, my truly distorted sense of self from years past, these raspy echoes from a cavern of self-loathing and self-doubt that seem fainter now thankfully, can still affect me today. I used to think that being around a lot of white folks would somehow fix this “problem of me,” a problem I saw as rooted in my blackness. Whether it was their wealth, their beauty or their status, I genuinely thought that proximity to white people would rectify all of my inner turmoil. As such, I thought I felt less comfortable around most black folk, but those feelings were not facts. I’m fortunate to have pro-black, loving parents who were by no means perfect, except in their unconditional love for a son who’d gone off the racial identity deep end as a side effect of attending predominately white private schools for 12 years. Additionally, instances like a black coach in high school telling me and my Brad and Chad wannabe buddies “You can f*ck ’em, but you can’t be ‘em” were appeals that would go unheeded for a decade. When the time came, I didn’t even consider an HBCU — even though my parents lived right next to one — because I figured there was no way they’d want a “tom-ass-n*gga” like me up in there diluting their realness pool. Letting go of this adolescent delusion that everyone is so very concerned with what I’m doing has been a big part of loving and accepting me in the now. People have their own lives to live. And the last couple of years alone have been an education in how much differently the white people in my life perceive this world. In the wake of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, I have been let down by my white people countless times. When co-workers and people I’d called friends were taking to timelines to call black people animals and thugs while my hometown of Baltimore saw an uprising branded as a riot by the CNN industrial complex, I shouldn’t have been shocked. In some cases, the signs were there. Maybe I was their One Black Friend. Maybe they wrote a five paragraph long screed about how they could relate to George Zimmerman’s irrational fear of a black teenager and how slavery was long over and (black) “people” just needed to move on. White friends more concerned with a poached lion, a burned-out CVS in Bmore, or an unevenly applied 1st Amendment in the Constitution than the lives of people who look like me and mine has, at times, felt something like a betrayal. Be it in person or in a comments section, I have come to know privilege and callousness in a way that prior versions of myself simply weren’t ready or willing to process. And I’ve come to understand the importance of affirmation of self when the world refuses to give you a shred of genuine love. Perhaps the 18-year-old me, with his Hurley visor, board shorts, sorry-ass attempt at spiked (relaxed) hair and copy of Weezer’s Pinkerton might have held white people to too high a standard. I’d be lying if I said that, especially looking at the course of history, I didn’t grow resentful. But expectations can breed resentment too, whether it’s of Allies Of The Year, the white guy who writes about rap on the internet but doesn’t understand why people talk about race “all the time” or any of the other types who can retreat to their whiteness when the going inevitably gets tough. I never would have thought that in some cases, these letdowns, especially the shortfalls of close friends, would hurt more than being called a n*gger by a classmate in 7th grade. 2015 has seemed like the official year of white acquaintances and friends coming to me, usually through the innocuous *bloop* of a Facebook message, to lament the sad state of racial affairs and their feelings of helplessness. They want to be of service, because it’s quite clear that racism is A Very Bad Thing. But they aren’t sure how to go about it. They don’t know if it’s their place, or if they’re welcome in The Movement, or if they’d be doing more harm than good with a social media post or two. They are of course not bad people. They come from a place of well-intentioned love. I’m not sure that their good intentions or well wishes do me much good when I’m white-knuckling a five mile stretch of highway with an unmarked Crown Vic in the mirror. But here we are. “Am I next?” I might ask them, trying to mind-meld and reach out like one of the blue-gray kids from Akira to show them that this is kinda where an assist might be needed most. Maybe I envy people like Ben Carson or Don Lemon or Raven-Symone. The way I might be jealous of my cats when I’m rushing to leave for work with them staring blankly at me as I close the door, or a baby in a cart in front of me in line at the supermarket when I’m not sure my card will go through. Their minds are so fogged over with white supremacy that they don’t have a care in the world beyond the now. But if I’m real with myself, I know how tiresome the Sisyphean task of seeking out white approval and assimilation really is, and how harmful their bullsh*t is to any sort of cause in the name of black liberation. I used to be one of these black dudes who would emphatically declare “not all white people.” Now, I can get frustrated with even the “good ones,” especially since I have so many of them in my life. In the process of finding my voice and writing plenty about race, some have accused me of slipping into the dreaded territory of being labeled “anti-white.” I’d say I’m anti-white supremacy, but if all whites benefit from the system (“OMG, not all white people!!!”), then maybe I am anti-white in a way. I am no longer afraid to speak my mind in the presence of white folk, or to boost the voices and experiences of other black women, children and men, especially when our lives are at stake, lives that far out-value white feelings. Somebody’s gotta hand white people Ls, because as Cam said in Killa Season, this sh*t ain’t scheduled for us. Never has been, and the system is working as it’s intended to. For the grossly marginalized middle-class white people, egg avis in my mentions on Twitter, Good Christians and other “patriots” stuck in 1951 who lament President Obama’s supposed ruination of the DJ Khaled of developed nations, maybe it’s time you follow your own advice: if you don’t like it, go back to where you came from. Part of me wants to start telling white people to go back to Africa just to mess with them, but I’m afraid they might actually take me up on it and destroy the continent a second time. Many a night, I’ve been screaming “Where y’all at?” like Rihanna when the All Lives Matter crowd is totally silent on the police killing of a white person, even if it’s a 6-year old boy who looks like Macaulay Culkin in his prime. When it’s 1 a.m. and I’m staring at my timeline asking myself “How Sway?!” at the sight of another black man, woman or child murdered or beaten or humiliated, sometimes I can’t help but hear Bill Duke in Menace II Society asking “You know you done fucked up right?,” considering most if not all of the friends I have late night convos going with are white. How many of those nights have I gone to bed furious and dejected because whoever I did talk to just didn’t get it. Only to then go into work the next day and see mostly white faces who definitely don’t get it. My family has been a big source of comfort lately. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I didn’t feel like a part of my own family. That had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. And the black friends that I do have and love are the reminder that this is not all about me, that none of us are walking through this alone. I sense that upon reading this, some of the aforementioned white friends of mine may reach out, concerned and perhaps feeling obligated to help in some way, any way. I suppose the best advice I can give to the “good” white people out there would be to Get Your Cousin. Be it your racist uncle at Thanksgiving dinner or your “soft-spoken” roommate who talks openly about wanting to kill black people. Be it your professors, your employers or a complete stranger on the train. Because real talk, black patience and forgiveness are non-renewable resources. I saw a meme during the Baltimore Uprising that plainly addressed allies: “White people, I need you like John Brown: Either help me load my gun or get outta my way.” It’s good for LOLs sure, but I don’t see the lie. There are yet still those who get all antagonistic when I post yet another example of white privilege at play or write a piece exposing the post-racial lie. But at the risk of sounding unspiritual, Bernie Mac in House Party 3 comes to mind: F*ck ’em! Or more specifically, f*ck their privilege. White fragility seems a condition both acute and chronic, but this inability to handle the apparent stress of discussions on race and racism is not insurmountable. And it certainly isn’t my problem. This present version of whiteness is clearly in need of an update, and whether certain people want to hear it or not doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t hitting ACCEPT when prompted by the operating system that is the slow march of time. Just as it is not on a woman to tackle my male privilege, it is not my job, not the job of any person of color, to dismantle white supremacy and racism. Only white people can do that. My job is to love myself and love the blackness and brownness of others, unconditionally, as I would want to be loved even back when my choices and outlooks were disappointing. It might not seem like it now, but love will win out over the f*ck sh*t, and I’m learning it all starts from within.
Kasai Rex is a writer living in his hometown of Baltimore. Analyzing race, gender, and class in America and abroad, his essays and reviews have appeared on GoodAbernathy MagazineSalonVice, and Baltimore City Paper. You can follow him on twitter @KasaiREX.
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