Race lived or how I lost my white friends


“It isn’t even about white or black. how would YOU feel if none of your neighbors looked like you? if people stared everywhere you went?”– a tweet seen on twitter

In the minds of many white people, racism is a relic of an era long past since rarely do we hear of the KKK parading through towns burning crosses on the lawns of Black people. We assume that since the law bans outright discrimination on the basis of skin color that any talk of racism is hyperbole and a relic of tensions that need to be laid to rest. Or as a local friend who recently took offense to this article I posted on my personal Facebook page said “Racism can never end until everyone adopts an attitude of inclusion.”  The implication being that everyone including people of color just need to let go and racism will simply fade away and the fact that it hasn’t faded away yet is because we are holding onto our anger and hatred.

Then again, as a former friend who I wrote about last year in this space recently wrote to me: “Perhaps it was the scars of racism that prevented you from trusting me, maybe it was other reasons.” This would be the same “friend” who in an attempt to write intelligently about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman last year, wrote the following words in one of the largest papers in the state of Maine “His really dark skin means he’s dangerous. Her wide nostrils remind me of a monkey. As abhorrent as these statements are, they are thoughts I’ve had. It’s hard to even call them thoughts, as they occur so quickly and almost outside the scope of language. When I saw the Pew Research Center’s latest poll results showing that whites essentially think we don’t need to talk much more about racial justice issues raised by the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, I wasn’t surprised.”  This same “friend” didn’t understand when I ended our relationship immediately, no questions asked. But in her clumsy attempt to reach out recently, she blamed the scars of racism on our relationship going bad…never mind that with a friend who would deign to write such words about people of color, who the hell needs enemies?

No, in the minds of most whites, racism is personal and Blacks and other marginalized people of color should work it out, or get over it… never mind that even the most thoughtful, progressive and decidedly unracist white person often carries racist baggage as a result of the silo of whiteness and privilege that forms the operating lens for our culture.

 Beyond the personal matters of race and racism that make cross cultural relationships difficult to navigate is the very real systemic racism that impacts me and mine on a daily basis.

I bet you had no idea that preschool age children could be suspended from school, after all what could you possibly do at 3 or 4 that would warrant such drastic action? Whatever is happening, when kids are suspended from preschool, the overwhelming majority of the kiddos being kicked out of circle time are Black. Yes, little Black kids get kicked out of preschool at higher rates than their white peers. That means the school to prison pipeline starts sooner than elementary school, it means kids as young as 3 are pretty much screwed. By the way, Black girls later on are suspended at higher rates than all other groups. In other words that strong, sassy thing that popular culture likes to talk up when it comes to Black women is bullshit. Society doesn’t particularly like its Black women strong or sassy, and unlike Sheryl Sandberg and her ban bossy campaign, the impact  for Black girls goes beyond just our self esteem, it threatens our very futures. But racism is dead?

Moving on, access to care and access to quality care are just part of the systematic issues that lead to Black women having drastically higher rates of breast cancer in the US in 2014 than white women. Part of my educational background is in health disparities and I can say that unequivocally across the board, health outcomes are poorer for Blacks even when the socio-economics are equal to that of whites. In other words, being a college educated, white collar, middle class, professional Black lady won’t save me from meeting an early death.

Our children often face violence from the very people whose job it is to keep them safe, our wages tend to be lower, we have health disparities in a system that doesn’t care enough about Black life to ensure that we have equal access to healthcare. White people get a slap on the wrist for drug offenses that  Blacks have lost decades languishing in prisons for; upon their release society  relegates them to a life of second class status where even working the frylolator at McDonald’s is damn near impossible. A financial system rigged for whiteness meant paying higher prices for even our homes and losing them when the real estate market burst. I could go on, but these are just some of the ways in which racism is lived in modern times. Never mind the microaggressions that eat away at your soul and drain the life out of you, as you wear that mask every day hoping to stuff yourself down just small enough so that your blackness or otherness doesn’t become an impediment.

Finally you reach that point where you recognize that the lens of whiteness will never let you be good enough for full inclusion into their world and truth be told, you don’t want that life. So you rip your mask off and free your soul only to be told “It’s hard to overcome and fix decades of race relations when you dismiss a person’s thoughts as just shit, without giving them the benefit of reaching out and communicating.”  Once again people of color and specifically Black people are always asked to just go that extra mile, never mind that our very survival on a day to day basis is all about going that extra mile. Truth is that sometimes you feel a bit like Rhett Butler when he told Scartlett “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

As I settle into my new life which allows me to talk openly about race and racism without fear of alienating the people who keep my daily bread flowing, it pains me to say that that I  have lost at least three people who I had considered to be pals/associates/friends. In this post I decided to quote them directly so that there is no confusion among people I do know. The common thread in the relationships that have gone bad is my incessant need to talk about racism, my need to no longer hide or stuff myself down to make myself more palatable to people who have little lived experience with people of color and my refusal to go that extra mile unless I am being met halfway. Middle age has served as my personal catalyst for change and the knowledge that waiting for others to make time for that which is uncomfortable will never make change happen. As long as people are privileged enough to live in silos where the uncomfortable can be comfortably ignored, nothing will change. I want a society that values my kids as much as I value them. I need a world where I can stop living in fear of the call, the call telling me that some white man with a gun stole my son’s life. I need a world where the seeds of white supremacy don’t have my precious girl starting to doubt herself because her hair isn’t straight enough and her skin is brown.  So pardon me if cheap talk, page views  and empty dreams don’t stop me.

13 thoughts on “Race lived or how I lost my white friends”

  1. I am so thrilled to have found your blog! My husband and I are raising our mixed household of children here in uber-White Minnesota. I actually stumbled upon this blog by googling “how to raise a biracial child”. I have a 7 year-old step-son who is Black, and a biracial daughter who is 4 months. My son is here for the summer and is now making comments about wishing he had “peach skin” (he believes this is more descriptive than White) and blonde hair, which he has never done before. Standing at an all-White bus stop this morning, preparing to send him to day camp, he was visibly apprehensive. A few boys were playing on top of a rock, he went to stand on it and was immediately pushed off by the White boys, who were also pushing each other off, rather roughly. He came back upset. My husband and I didn’t know what to do. Do we tell him to push back just as all the other boys were doing, knowing that as a Black boy, he will likely get punished and singled out? How do we balance that with teaching him to defend himself? Further, his new sister is very light-skinned and looks White. Her hair is dark brunette, curling more every day. White people routinely comment on “how much hair she has”, which I know the sub-text of that is, “how does a White child have that much hair?” My husband is rather dark-skinned and while pregnant, I was preparing myself for her to be much darker than I, wondering how I would answer questions about if she was mine, etc. Now, as we were standing at the bus top this morning, sending my son to day camp, it occurred to me that no one will assume she is her father and how hurtful that must be. Race is a constant challenge and daily conversation in our home. Despite my “worries” about my husband and children in this world, they will never experience the privilege and caregree living I experience being White in America. I struggle with how to innoculate, prepare and send them into the world.

  2. This really hit me hard because I decided to end a friendship with “Jane” over repercussions of me ending a friendship with “Jill” because she was really racist towards me. Both Jane and Jill are white, and I’m black.

    I’ve known both women since kindergarten. We were BFFs, the three Musketeers, etc. Until junior year of high school & college application time came around. Jill flat out said I stole her place at “Ivy League School” and I only got in because I was black. She said it to our mutual friends & she accidentally said it to my face. After several months I decided to cut Jill out of my life. This resulted in a shit storm among our mutual friends because I was being mean & over sensitive. Jane in particular took me to task several times for being unreasonable, mean, not fair, etc. We sort of patched this up by basically never talking about it again.

    Recently I asked Jane if she remembered the whole incident with Jill. I told Jane that her actions were hurtful to me. Jane uncomfortably shrugged it off with “I understand you felt offended.” No acknowledgement of racism or existing anywhere in the any of that.

    I sat down and really thought about what it meant to me that Jane was unable to say something in the past had been racist or that it was legit for me to be upset. I don’t need that level of “aversive racism” or whatever in my life. It’s still painful and I think I made the right choice.

  3. I think it is very dangerous for people of any color to think that we should be done talking about racism. Humans need to learn from their mistakes and how can we do that if we do not talk about them, or allow ourselves to forget about them? I think many white people think “I am not racist – none of my friend are racist – therefore racism doesn’t exist or is only something low class white people participate in – or southern white people – or anyone but me and my circle of friends”.

    It is just too easy for white people to forget how deeply systemic the racism of our society is.

    It is hard to be constantly aware of (as a white person myself) this systemic racism because I am in this silo of whiteness being in Maine….so I am glad for people who do talk and write about it. There is somewhere I can go to get different view points and become more aware.

    It is one thing to recognize ones own racist thoughts, and attempt to examine why they exist in the first place – but it is a whole other thing to almost celebrate them through purging via a newspaper. It is like that person was seeking some sort of validation from other white people who have had the same thoughts.

    In any case, thank you for not just “getting over it and moving on.” and continuing to write about it.

  4. Hi, I hear you — Asian-American by way of NY and Portland ME where our daughter was born, married to Caucasian whom I met in CA art school, now living in Europe (small Southern university town in Holland).
    Culture shock included experience of overt racism:
    dirty looks, denial of service (although honestly, they don’t seem to like white foreigners either) and stereotyping (ching-chong,”ni-hao”) generally by groups of adolescent boys. Just the bad manners alone was surprising because in polite society, there’s usually a pretense of equality. And they weren’t isolated incidents. I really understand some of the fatiguing burn of constant anger and indignation. (I’m not claiming the kind of treatment you and others have experienced but let’s say my eyes have been opened.) I’m sorry you felt betrayed by thoughtless remarks by your friends. Unfortunately, she voiced what I see as the hidden thoughts of many well-intentioned people. It sneaks out in their attitudes and assumptions. My only answer is to personally let it go (hold on, I’m not saying you’re not justified in feeling that burn or that it’s not a reality) because it destroys whatever joy or productivity you can have in life. But stand up for yourself and fight the good fight. There is bad behavior on every side but you gotta clean the cesspool where you are. I love this word micro-aggressions because that perfectly describes the experience. My husband is treated well since he’s white and thought I was being racist for making observations about the Dutch until he heard some young men make extremely graphic and lewd comments about our daughter as they rode by on their bikes. People say you have to pick your battles. I don’t engage at that level because then I’ve formed a bond with these gross types but highlighting this behavior makes people uncomfortable especially when it’s not their world. I’m timing the day and hour my ladies Bible group have their fill of my war stories.
    They don’t realize how buffered their lives are but, as in politics, we need allies which make for strange bedfellows. Pardon me if I’ve said anything presumptuous.

  5. Interestingly, I feel like I’m losing my white friends, and I’m white (I have to explain repeatedly that living in a small or white-dominant town is not an option for us and going to a school / or even a restaurant etc where my son and husband are obvious minorities isn’t ideal for us). They can’t take my take on all things race-related (we are a tri-cultural family) and I believe that we MUST live in a neighbourhood where I’m the minority. As it stands our neighbourhood / schools are very polyglot in that they have a lot of different ethnicities represented (South Asian, Chinese, Filipino, African, Euro .. and, a lot of new generation … mixed kids/families.). When I go somewhere really white like Portland, Oregon, or parts of Seattle, I feel like something is missing – oh yea -> people of colour. I’m no longer interested in being anywhere where there’s white majority. It feels backwards and a bit boring (lacks a vibrancy of lifestyle and outlook) to me. If I could hope for anything for my black son it’s that he gets to live in a truly multi-racial, multi-ethnic fusion society where cultures are mixing and meeting and learning and making music and art and FOOD and so on – I feel like this is the future that makes sense in North America.

  6. “Regarding the way former inmates are treated, 90% of people with criminal records are treated poorly, no matter what color.”

    ^^^Actually, that’s not true. Studies have shown that when a Black male applicant with NO criminal history applies for a job [vs.] a white male applicant WITH a criminal history applies for a job, the white male gets routinely gets the job. So really, Black folks are constantly at a disadvantage, even when on their “best behavior.” The message is clear that Black life is not valued institutionally.

    Also, the assumption that white people “have no color” is inaccurate, and is really more of a testament to their position as the “default” that they hold.

  7. You make a very valid point. Regarding the way former inmates are treated, 90% of people with criminal records are treated poorly, no matter what color. After their release they have paid your debt to society, that’s not true they never pay their debt, society won’t let them. Just as many transparent people (that’s what I call white people, since everyone else is categorized as “people of color”, I assume the white ones have no color) are forced into low paying jobs.

  8. As a Mainer who’s lived outside the state for several years now (since going to college out of state), I tend to really idealize Maine but things like this bring me back to earth. I completely missed that article re: Trayvon Martin and it’s appalling that one of our big newspapers published those statements. I struggle to understand why some white people think it “progressive” (or something…) to air out crazy racist statements like that in some sort of attempt to recognize their own prejudices.
    Anyways, I’m sorry that you went through that with people you previously respected, and I just wanted to say that I really appreciate your commentary about Maine, and all the other topics you write on.

  9. This “friend” appears to want to have all the racist thoughts possible and then to defend them. How, exactly, did a newspaper see fit to publish such drivel?

    I find it fascinating that race, as a topic, is a blame aimed toward those of us talking about the marginalization that comes with it.

  10. Thank you for being yourself, for being willing to write, week after week, the truth of your life. I have been in Maine for 8 years, was in Boston for 30+. I don’t need to tell you that Community Change has been a stalwart for justice-minded people. So glad you landed there, and hope it goes well for you. Keep speaking, keep writing, keep loving yourself.

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