Calling All White People, Part 29: Connection is the way, not collection

Calling All White People, Part 29

(A periodic attempt to mobilize white people for something other than supporting just other melanin-deficient folks and maintaining a status quo of a nation geared toward whiteness as the baseline and the norm)

By An Average White Guy

TODAY’S EPISODE: Are you connecting with Black people or collecting them?  

[To find other installments of “Calling All White People,” click here]

Fellow white people, we are really showing our asses lately, with everything from Michelle Williams’ fiancé Chad Johnson getting mad (and petty) when she brought up race in a discussion/argument to acting like intersectionality is some plot to screw over white women to calling police on a student (Paige Burgess) for putting her feet up in class to yet another fatal police shooting of a Black man (this time Jemel Roberson) that ought not have happened, especially since that man was one of those “good guys with a gun” that the NRA keeps saying we need more of.

And really, that’s probably less than half the white supremacy/racial ignorance nonsense I saw pass through my Twitter timeline over the course of a less than a week I think—and I really only skim my timeline.

I know to some degree it’s “just” a continuation of everything that’s bubbled to the surface of America once Trump gained the White House and many more white people than ever before decided to boldly and evilly declare that they run things and they get to dictate and if you’re a person of color, particularly a Black one, get the hell out of any spaces we occupy. But whether “only” a continuation or actually an escalation, this doesn’t make us look good. It’s going to be really hard to make any Black friends as a white person if more of us don’t rein our people in and put a stop to this white-induced racial chaos.

Of course, that brings me to another point, the real one I wanted to make in this post, which is to ask the (probably) mostly progressive readers of this piece—and maybe the non-progressive ones too—are you really ready to make any Black friends even if they’re willing to give you a chance? And yes, I mean Black, not just people of color, because the divide between white people and Black people thanks to racism is really the biggest, most gaping chasm of abysmal horror and despair I can think of right now.

And I’m serious about this “are you ready for Black friendship” thing: Even if you seek racial equity and social justice with a full and honest heart, you need to ask yourself if your connections with Black people should be anything more than as an ally or accomplice who is completely respectful but not necessarily emotionally close.

Because you see, there’s this problem a lot of us “well meaning” progressives have—and one that oddly enough even some racists like to pursue—and that is “collecting” Black friends.

Often, it’s that stereotypical “I have a Black friend” thing when anything racial comes up, which often really means “I sometimes say ‘hi’ to this Black person at work” or “Almost every morning, I smile at the Black barista who fills my coffee order.” Which is, of course, to say that many people who say they have Black friends really don’t. It’s not a point I need to belabor, because it really is such a tired, worn-out trope that won’t go away because so many damn white people actually do it.

But there is something more insidious and, while it may seem innocuous at first glance, kind of creepy: The urge that some white people have to actively and purposefully seek a Black friend. When, sadly, what they often really want is a human accessory. They want to have proximity to blackness but don’t really necessarily want to connect with Black people on an actual deep emotional level.

In other words, they want to “collect” Black people rather than really connect with them, which is pretty fetishistic and dehumanizing and already happens too much in romantic and sexual situations, which I’ve talked about before in various ways, like here and here.

For some, it’s a desire to feel accepted by the Black community through a single Black friend or small number of them, as if those people represent some kind of “all access” backstage pass to the Black world. For some, it’s a desire to be part of the group and, as too many white people want to do, use that as a justification for suddenly speaking Black vernacular English or appropriating Black cultural things or occasionally using the N-word. For others, it’s like attaining some kind of achievement badge. And there are a host of other reasons, but often (I’m not gonna say “most of the time” because I have no research on this…but still, “way too often”) those reasons for wanting Black friends aren’t pure ones.

That is to say, they aren’t truly organic reasons for seeking friendship. Y’know, like having mutual interests or making a natural connection.

Too often, the efforts of white people to befriend Black people feel almost desperate and needy, which isn’t good for either person in the equation.

So, first off, let me give you some advice, and the first thing would be to tell you to approach Black people the same way you do most white people. Unless you have a pathological need to be loved by everyone or have some other social awkwardness disorder, you probably don’t try to make friends with every white person you see, nor do you seek out a certain “type” of white person to befriend instantly. You most likely interact with most people on a generally polite level and if things click, you gradually test the boundaries of expanding the relationship to see if friendship is a viable or desirable goal.

I have myself made a few Black friends in my life (mostly workplace-based friendships but, honestly, almost all my post-college friendships have grown out of the workplace). And none of them started with me trying to “make a bestie.” They all started with light chit-chat, being respectful and all the usual jazz of basic human interactions. Black people are humans. It’s trite and dismissive to counter a racial argument with “but we’re all just humans” and pretend that the social construct that is race doesn’t have real impacts, but at the same time we really are all human and to treat Black people as exotic or otherworldly isn’t helpful.

But beyond all that, which shouldn’t need saying but based on my experiences and observations apparently does need saying, you need to ask yourself if you are really prepared to be friends with any Black people. For example:

  • Are you willing to not bring up that Black friend in interactions with other people as “proof” you aren’t racist or racially insensitive?
  • Are you willing to not  try to instantly gain credibility with other Black people by mentioning this Black friend completely out of context?
  • If this Black friend is confronted with racism in your presence, will you step up to protect or support them in that moment?
  • Are you willing to probably end up at some point having very real and possibly uncomfortable discussions about racism and white supremacy, including possibly that you yourself have just done something racist?
  • At the same time, are you willing not to automatically try to initiate racial discussions just because you want free education from a Black person or to appear “woke” to them (a term we progressive white people killed for Black people, by the way)
  • Are you willing to have your feelings hurt, such as when at some point your Black friend may very well point out that sometimes being around you is uncomfortable or triggering because you look like people who oppress them regularly in society ?

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but I hope it gives you some context. There is inherent tension between  Black people and white people overall because of white supremacy in this country (and frankly much of the world). Making a true friendship across this particular color line requires some commitment that goes a bit beyond the basics. It requires some fortitude and openness and humility. It’s not to be taken lightly.

And, also, it doesn’t mean you will be invited to the cookouts. But if you are, please refrain from bringing potato salad with raisins in it or anything like that.


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Looking for Black love in a sea of white apps

As they sometimes say: The struggle is real.

In this case, the struggle of being a Black woman trying to find love or at least the seeds of it in the dating pool.

I have been on BLK, Bumble, Coffee & Bagel, Hinge, Tinder, and Zoosk. Fifteen to 30 minutes for a daytime date, for tea/coffee, errands, or a walk around Portland. My profile descriptions are honest and brief and my photos are full of smiles and fun adventures. No group photos and mostly full-body pictures. I give depth and substance, always hoping for the best. Turns out men—white and people of color—are more interested in drinking and going back to mine or their place for sex than they are in my name, let alone my career or hobbies. Even as a self-proclaimed commitment-phobic non-platonic dating partner it’s been a bit much. If their misogyny isn’t suffocating me, their fragility or insecurities aren’t drowning me, then their lack of emotional stability generally seals the deal and ends the date abruptly.

I had been in a relationship not that long ago, so how did I get here? Maybe that’s the place to start.

On June 1, 2017, I became single after 17 months of dating a mixed-race, light-skinned fuckboy who was born in Maine and “raised” by his white mother. According to urban dictionary a fuckboy is the type of guy who does shit that generally pisses the population of the earth off all the time. The woman, also mixed race, who was sleeping with him contacted me that morning at 9:51 a.m. to apologize for being caught. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Turns out the cheating hussy’s friend sent me a message the day before, on Facebook messenger, telling me that the hussy and my then scum boyfriend had been sleeping together for more than three months. She said neither of them would tell me the truth and she could see I was a good person and didn’t deserve this treatment, so she needed to tell me. She even sent me a photo of the two of them from earlier that week, half dressed in his bed, as proof. I felt immediate respect for this stranger I would never meet in person.

Once the truth was out, the other woman couldn’t help herself. Her guilt and shame came pouring out with no immediate end in sight. She spent the next 24 hours spilling everything she could as I asked all the strategic questions I could think of. I wanted desperately to put some pieces together for myself about the last few months and our fuckboy’s odd behaviors. She was so eager to be seen by someone, her fingers did all the talking.

Other Woman: I’m sorry for what my friend sent. Never meant to hurt you. She said she sent you a message on Facebook? I’m sorry René. (I was in shock at first. I called him immediately to find out what on earth was happening. He was at work, no answer. Several moments later he called back and of course had all the answers ready for my interrogation.)

Cheating Ex Slimeball: You drove me into her arms, you became emotionally unavailable to me. When you decided you didn’t want to have children with me, marry me, or move in to my apartment I realized we wanted different things.

Other Woman: He told me to be patient but then I saw he wasn’t doing anything about it or talking to you. I didn’t want to be the other woman and I didn’t think it was fair to you. I struggled to tell you. I vented to my friend and she took it upon herself.

I had felt something was wrong for weeks before that day. In fact, 10 days before this incident I had even asked my then douchebag partner if there was something he wanted to tell me—anything would be fine so long as he was honest with me. I made it clear I could feel a change in “us,” and that I wanted to fix it. He denied my concerns and told me it was my fault I was feeling this shift. That I was dragging past relationships into this relationship and not giving him a fair shot.

I believed him, internalized it and thought nothing about him mentioning T.K. (aka “other woman”) more often. So much for slowly building a friendship with her over the last year. Needless to say, after I found out, I was beside myself. I informed all the people in my life that needed to know, got super drunk and high and I went to sleep that night wishing so much harm on him as I played all the possible moments of dishonesty in my head and heart over and over again. After about 48 hours I was a new woman. I was ready to get back on that dating wagon.

However, I was at my summer job in the Western foothills of Maine, so dating was on hold until I got back to Portland, the most culturally diverse place in Maine before Lewiston. Starting in early October I began dating again, an average of two dates a week. I know well that dating is a numbers game and it is rigged against me and women who look like me, so I let go of all my neurotic planning methods and tendencies and said “yes” to almost every date offered.

And as I said at the beginning of this piece, the dating hasn’t gone well and trying to find a Black man or any man of color has gone even more poorly.

I started talking to other women of color about their dating experiences and found the more I talk to my Black female friends—not just in Maine or New England but all over the country—the more I hear them saying they are having difficulties finding a partner, especially if they’re Black, and especially if they want marriage—in a way that our white friends aren’t struggling so much. I am constantly questioning my worth in the dating world in a way I don’t question my worth anywhere else.

In a country where Black men are roughly seven times more likely to be killed than Black women and Black men are twice as likely as Black women to seek marriage outside of their race, the reality of my choices feels so slim. OkCupid statistics reveal that Black women are the least desirable demographic in the dating pool, next to Asian men.

I have been on over 50 first dates since October; only two have been men of color and all of them have been in Maine. I am realizing I want to find a Black man who wants to love me and is worthy of my love. I am not completely convinced I have to leave Maine to find this, but with each new app or new unsuccessful date I am losing hope.


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Healing my heart: A quest for love

Allowing the heart to open up and let in the love that is offered from the world and the people who occupy it is a constant practice. I am a person with a fortress of walls. I have dragons and moats and oubliettes. People often get eaten by the dragons, drown in the moats and tumble into the oubliettes. A precious few make it through to the caverns of my heart.

I crave love so, I run from it—there is a part of me, (some days large, some days small) which believes I am not lovable. This comes from being given up for adoption as a child, growing up in a family that did not reflect me, having white friends who did not value me, and a society which tells me I am wrong simply for existing. I am also pretty weird and empathetic, so finding a place where I fit in has always been difficult. I have always felt like an outcast in every social situation I found myself in.

Over the past few months I have had the honor of finding people who do not make me feel othered. They are Black and brown and queer and straight, and spiritual and nerdy and weird and rad and fierce and I love them dearly. The only problem is, I am now in a space where I want to delve deeper into relationships, but I find myself lacking some of the necessary tools to forge the bonds I am after. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily, I am slowly wading into the waters of connection.

Receiving love from others begins with receiving love from myself. There four basic things that I do every day to help me to love myself and teach myself that I am worthy and capable of incredible love and compassion.

  1. I stretch. Every day…well, almost. I released a lot of tension and trauma during the four days I spent at the Shambhala POC meditation retreat at Sky Lake in Rosendale, N.Y. Every day we did yoga and not only did it stretch my body, but it helped to clear away the stress, settle me back into my body, become reacquainted with my breath. So, in the morning I wake up, stretch and breathe.
  2. I drink a jar of water. Making sure I stay hydrated allows me to feel energized and kicks my system into gear. It makes my skin and hair smooth and moves toxins out of my body so that I don’t feel bogged down. That and I want this melanin to stay poppin’ long into the future.
  3. I interrupt negative thinking. I tell myself that I am doing “such a good job” and that “I am so proud of myself” because if I don’t clap for me, who else will? I am incredibly hard on myself. My inner voice is foolishly abusive and so interrupting the sessions of abuse is helpful in creating a new narrative. If I am able, I try to identify the voice who is speaking: Is it my mother, boss, a mean teacher, the racist down the street? Who is speaking to me in such a cruel way? I will also correct the narrative moving forward. Often when I am stressed, I say “Fuck” loudly and with gusto. When this happens, I like to check in and see if “fuck” is really my mood, or if maybe something else going on. Usually I swear in response to something which triggers my anxiety, at which point I like to talk to myself about it. “Fuckkkkkkkk!” “No, LaLa, you’re fine. You’re not running late. You’re making yourself food which is important because you need to eat and nourish yourself. You are doing such a good job. You are fine.” This may sound silly, but it is important to be kind to ourselves, to love on ourselves. I try to speak to myself as a stern but loving parent to a child, because in those moments, that is what I am. I am raising myself.
  4. The fourth thing I do is listen to music. Simple, easy way to raise my frequency, work out my emotions and belt out a few tunes in the process (sorry neighbors!) It is no secret that music is therapy. Combine the right notes with the right chords and some killer harmonies and take me away. I have playlists which work me through a range of emotions, starting out sad or angry and ending contemplative or joyful. Music has been in my life since I was a child learning to play to violin, and it has stuck with me as my go to for healing myself and my heart.

The surest way to letting others love me is for me to love myself. It’s taken me 28 years to believe that I am worthy of love, and that my body is worthy of being cared for. I have just begun to look in the mirror and appreciate that I am getting older. Honor that I am on this planet to stay. There is something scary about that, committing to being present. Since I am going to be here, I’m going to be here for love. I have a difficult time connecting, but I am changing that narrative, one day at a time. Using these for tools as a base, I am adding more and growing each day.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash