I Expect More From My White Friends
I expect more from my white friends, I really do.
Due to systemic racism black and brown people are forced to understand their racial identity much earlier than white people in order to survive in a world that was not made for them. The first time I understood what being black meant was in kindergarten, when a teacher’s assistant put makeup on me for a class performance. The pale pink blush she lazily swiped onto my cheeks made me look ashy and the thin layer of concealer used to cover up the beauty mark on my chin could have been mistaken for Elmer’s glue. I was the only black person in my entire class.
When I looked at myself in the mirror right before the performance I thought: “I don’t look like the other kids. It’s because I’m black and they’re not. That means that some stuff that is going to work for them won’t work for me, and it’s because I’m black.” I was five.
This is a rather primitive way of understanding racial identity and race politics, but it is an understanding nonetheless. When I ask my white friends about the moment they really realized their whiteness they seldom describe an age before puberty.
It is difficult to catalog the ways in which racism has illustrated my life because it is a constant force, but it is important that I try to do so in order clarify exactly how I know this world was not made for black bodies.
When I enter a store I am almost always followed.
When I look at a magazine the person on the cover is rarely black.
When I go into the grocery store there is a “special aisle” for the food from my culture.
When a police officer asks to speak to me I panic.
When people realize that I am smart they are shocked and compliment me on being “so well spoken”.
When I learned about people of color at school it was almost always during a cultural awareness month, not during the regular school year.
When I ask for a bandaid I know it won’t blend in with my skin tone.
I could list several more examples of systemic racism, but that would detract from the point of this essay. I cannot escape, ignore, or eradicate racism by myself or in my lifetime. This is something that I, and every other person of color, will have to endure for the rest of our lives.
I expect more from my white friends because engaging with and fighting against discrimination and hate is a choice for them; people of color have no option. No form of activism is above another, but if my white friends care about me the way they say do, then I expect them to put some sort of effort into deconstructing the systems that make my life difficult. Is wanting my white friends to use their privileges to combat the very bigotry that hurts me too much to ask?
Again, how one chooses to engage with issues of prejudice and intolerance is very personal, but I expect my white friends to choose to fight this fight in whatever way they can, whenever they can. The social media posters, the protesters, and the people using other tactics are all doing their part; thank you for your work.
However, if you are my white friend but:
you voted for Donald Trump then you need to do better.
you lock your car door when a black person walks by then you need to do better.
you don’t call out your racist friends and family in order to avoid conflict then you need to do better.
you “aren’t into black guys” because it’s a “personal preference” then you need to do better.
you “don’t see color” you need to do better.
you wear cornrows then you need to do better.
you sing the N-word when you hear it in a song then you need to do better.
Dear white friends, I expect more from you. I expect you to choose to care about my people, and not just me.