Jan 30, 2015 @ 4:13 pm | By TheFeministGriote | 8 Comments
Back in August The Public Religion Research Institute published a study that really painted a grim picture of Americans social networks. That study showed that 91% of white Americans have an all white friend circle and only 5% of that circle consists of people of color. However, Black Americans friend circles are 83% homogeneous, while eight percent of that circle is white and six percent their friend group is of another race. As a person who navigates the world as a Black woman, I would love to ask the white folks in this study some nuanced questions about what is their definition of friendship and how does it look like in praxis in their life? I am willing to bet good money that these good white folks who were polled about their POC friend circle, probably have far less than five percent. My definition of friendship is who are three crucial people you would call if you lost your job, got some devastating news from the doctor, or if you found out that your boo was cheating on you and you needed to phone a friend, who would that friend be? I recently had a talk with a white woman who does diversity and inclusion work and she admitted that she has no POC as close friends. Again, this is a person who uses their privilege to educate other whites on their privilege, but has no real deep bonds with POC outside of business. I am of the opinion that this is very common within white America.
Being white in the U.S. allows one the option to opt out of diversity, while the livelihoods of POC in this country does not afford such an option. POC cannot limit our interactions with whites, even when we find these interactions to be triggering and in worst normalized cases, deadly!
The only way that stereotypes can thrive is in isolation from the other, when people purposefully keep themselves segregated and uniformed about the other. Once you bring folks together and they get to commune with each other in a healthy and organic way, in a way that does not tokenize the other, stereotypes dissipate. However, as a Black woman who is currently navigating interracial friendships with white folks, I can say that these friendships are hard. Interracial friendships present unique challenges and in many cases can be very emotionally taxing for the POC. Unfortunately, due to white privilege and white supremacy white people are not really prepared on how to engage with POC in a way that does not make the POC feel like a cultural broker.
“Racism is ubiquitous,” which means eventually there will be a time in the friendship where the white persons privilege will do harm, obstruct, or simply take up too much space. When these infractions happen, more often than not the Black person will have to call in, check, read, or correct, the white person and that is where typically the friendship ends, changes drastically, or in some rare circumstances, it survives and gets fortified! The reason these friendships come to an end, is because often times white people cannot emotionally stand being corrected by a person of color. White people struggle not to center their hurt feelings when they have been told they made a racist comment. In many cases white people view their hurt feelings akin to oppression. It also must be stated that it is not easy for a POC to call out/in a friend, who has made a racist comment. However, more often than not, because white people are so accustomed to Black bodies being in service to them, especially Black female bodies, we are seen as the mammy figures who must suture the white persons ego.
I am of the opinion that white people who have a robust POC circle should be more vigilant of their privilege than the white person who does not. Sometimes closeness can breed a dangerous form of familiarity. It is like the cisgender hetero woman who has a bastion of gay male friends, but thinks she can appropriate gay men’s lingo and speak for gay men. Proximity to Blackness is not an excuse to NOT police your whiteness.
Whites who are given access into POC spaces (yes being a white person with access to heavily POC spaces is a sacred privilege) and who have POC folks in their life who are willing to go against the cultural narrative that says, you can’t trust white people, must honor this privilege by making themselves malleable to correction. Being an ally is not an identity it is a process. There is no Maslow hierarchy of allyship. There is no level of self-actualization in being an anti-racist ally that renders you above reproach and critique. However, because being an ally is a process, I have included the levels of this process as I see it.
Like Meek Mills the rapper said, “there’s levels to this shit.”
Level 098- recognizing your white privilege recognizing there is NOTHING radical about a white person recognizing that there is such an institution called white privilege. You would have to tell yourself many lies and commit to an extreme level of willful ignorance, to ignore the fact that you have won the race lottery if you were born white on this planet!
Level 099-willingness to unpack your white privilege okay so you realized that you are well intentioned liberal parents, did you a disservice by perpetuating the violent mythology of color-blind theory to you and you have survived the discovering you have white privilege now what? Now you as the white person must unpack your duffel bag of privilege and educate yourself on how you profit from this privilege and how others suffer from not having this privilege. This means you have to read books (preferably by POC), attend workshops (preferably by POC), and get out in the world open and open your eyes and pay attention. Do not expect POC to be your designated teacher, you have to put in the sweat equity and commit to learning.
Level 101-willingness to scrutinize your whiteness and recognize that white people have a race and in doing so white folks should racialize their perceptions of themselves and each other. Scrutinize your whiteness meaning you need to complicate your definition of whiteness and how you see whiteness. Do not fall prey to the Abraham Lincoln disease. Abraham Lincoln was a segregationist, he believed Black folks should be paid to work, but also believed in the superiority of white folks over Black folks. So check your psyche and your unconscious beliefs where you believe that white people are inherently better, more skilled, smarter, more honest, and more human than POC.
Level 200-willingness to be an ally to POC/willingness to use white privilege to make space for POC to speak for themselves (note allies do NOT speak for POC, we have agency and can speak for ourselves). This is self explanatory!
Level 300- willingness to speak to other whites about racism and challenge other whites to racialize themselves and see themselves as part of the conversation on race. Also, on this level a white person MUST be willing to be corrected when their privilege rears its head and be committed to not positing their hurt feelings above this correction and NOT treating their hurt feelings like an oppression. Okay, this where things usually go left and where lots of damage is done to POC. First and foremost, POC have great faith and hope that white people not only can understand racism, but that they can also be great allies in dismantling systemic racism. It this hope and faith that keeps some of us POC willing to engage and sometimes teach white folks about racism. However, because all white people were socialized in a racist society, ALL white people are racist. Now, that is not an eternal state of being. Mistakes will happen this does not mean you are failure, it means you have a privilege and it reared its head and it needed to be brought to your attention. At this stage of the ally process, you should be less concerned about being called a racist and more concerned about remedying triggering racist interactions and comments. You must understand that as a white person you come to the topic of race from an intellectual stand-point and from a a place of extreme privilege. While, racism for POC is not theory it not intellectual, it is a lived experience that is sometimes fatal. Most folks do not like to be corrected, but correction is what makes us better and it also signifies that someone thinks you are capable of doing better than what you are currently manifesting. So, take the challenge lean into the discomfort for it is in that discomfort healing and understanding is waiting to greet you.
Level 400-willingness to divest from white supremacy (the use of white supremacy here has nothing to do with Neo-Nazi’s or the KKK. It is about being keenly aware of how global whiteness functions and how to be white is considered the default position and therefore means to be human and all others must qualify fore their humanity.) In lamens terms decenter your whiteness.
CEU’s (Continuing Education)-knowing that being an ally is a process and not an identity and like Chimamanda Adichie said, “racism should not ever happened so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
These friendships can work and can help to heal cultural and historical wounds on both sides. Friendship offers a different level of intimacy and partnership that romantic relationship often lack and struggle to maintain. In order for interracial friendships to work, both parties must be willing to address the power dynamics of the friendship and both parties must be willing to be vulnerable with each other about what they can or cannot deal with within the friendship space.
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Categories: Mind Over Chatter