Several days ago, I shared a personal insight on a social media platform. It went like this:
Uncomfortable revelation after 21 years in this very white space. I am not sure white women are capable of authentic friendship. I find too many of y’all only want connection on your terms. That’s not how friendship actually works, so I’m considering the few in my life.
As you can imagine, posting that on the platform formerly known as Twitter definitely created some conversations, both good and bad. It also led to some offline conversations with a few white women in my life, who shared their own insights as white women and their struggles with fellow white women.
Given that my work is relational, this is actually a really important conversation. Important enough that I felt it was worth writing about.
This uncomfortable revelation was brought about by a poorly behaving white woman in my personal life, whom I have no doubt considers me a good friend—but, increasingly, I can’t say that I feel the same way. Her behavior is something that I have seen so often in white women, hence inspiring my tweet of frustration.
Living in Maine for more than two decades now has meant a proximity to white people and white spaces that I never had before. The sheer demographics here means many of my connections are with white people, which is not surprising given that it was that proximity to whiteness that indirectly led to me starting the blog.
In my time here, I have made very few authentic connections with white women. Not for a lack of effort but more the realization that at some point, race matters. The few white women who I do have a deeper level of connection with are the ones who are on the journey to unearth how the culture of whiteness, especially when paired with patriarchy, keeps them tethered to falsehoods that deny their own humanity.
In other words, these women with whom I can go beyond superficial connection are—like me—seeking liberation. It is a desire for their own liberation and interest in a collective liberation that allows us to connect and transcend race because, while race matters, there is so much more to our respective humanity than race. This journey as I witness it allows my few white girlfriends to know enough to recognize when whiteness is flaring up in themselves. By recognizing it, they can typically avoid creating cross-racial harm by checking themselves without needing guidance or approval from their Black and brown friends.
Sadly, this level of awareness is not a norm and, as a result, cross-racial friendships as I grow older are becoming more uncomfortable and increasingly untenable. It isn’t enough to know the vocabulary of justice and recognize one’s privilege. It is important for white folks to know they are privileged, but it is equally as important—probably more important—to understand how racism and whiteness stripped you of your fullness before you even had a say. To understand the Faustian bargain that many of your white ancestors made to be allowed full access to whiteness and how it shows up within you as a generational trauma.
Racism has not only harmed Black people and people of color. It harms all of us, especially given how deeply intertwined racism is with capitalism and the decisions we make that are seemingly independent and yet are daily affirmations to uphold a system and culture of inhumanity. It is a system that creates a strong desire for the individual but not the community, and that is one of the direct ways in which I witness this playing out for white women. Despite the lip service paid to notions of community, too often they ultimately are only focused on their individual selves and, in the case of the poorly behaving white friend, is what has led me to my breaking point.
In Black and brown spaces, collective care is far more of a cultural norm. In Black American families, it is not uncommon to grow up and realize that some of your “relatives” weren’t blood kin but friends who became part of the family. Aunties and cousins who, while they may not have been actual relatives, were considered family. Friendships that endured and required showing up, even when it was not convenient or even comfortable, because that is what we do for the people we care about. I have both witnessed this and experienced it, even with my minuscule circle of Black and brown friends in Maine.
We show up for one another. Maybe it’s because we know that to some degree we are all we got. I rarely see that level of care and concern with white women, though, often because of family reasons, personal issues, or just busyness. The thing is, Black and brown women deal with those things as well. Often without the societal privilege that our white peers have. Kids, jobs, partners, aging parents, health issues—you name it, we got it too and we still show up for each other.
For white women, and really larger white culture, the inability to focus beyond the individual is a barrier to authentic connections. Which is one of the many tenets of white supremacy culture.
How can you authentically show up for others when you struggle to authentically show up for yourself? Several white women this week told me stories of their struggles with fellow white women and the common thread that I heard was that even with other white women, white women don’t show up authentically. Instead, connections are superficial and self-centered—to the point of feeling that it is hard for them as white women to trust their fellow white women.
That’s not good, how do you build or create a better world if you can’t show up? You don’t. Instead you replicate the same toxic dynamics that have us all in a vise grip.
Working on larger justice issues requires simultaneously working on ourselves to unpack and discard all of the baggage and toxicity of the current culture. It requires starting the work of healing our generational racial wounds and trauma. We cannot skip the personal work and think we can show up for the larger work and that things will be fine. They won’t be.
As for the white women in my life whose relationships I am reconsidering, while I am happy to extend grace, I also choose to protect my peace. While I am always willing to help anyone on their journey of breaking society’s oppressive shackles, you have to be willing to start the journey of healing that eventually will lead us to racial reconciliation, justice, and healing for all of us. Because, if y’all can’t show up for fellow white women and then you come to me or any other person of color with racial baggage on top of that, the prospects for real connection are abysmal.
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