When My Best Friend of 7 Years Told Me She Didn’t Like Black People
First, Omasa Thrash (it’s an anagram) was this white girl with braces and an Amish sense of style. She was in my 6th grade science class in the new middle school in the new town in the new state and in the new country we just immigrated to. I didn’t so much look at her in the first few months. As my African prep school elitism led me to label the rest of my classmates as untouchable and less intelligent, I grew close to Omasa Thrash. And so it began.
Infatuation was an understatement. America has a way of reminding every heterosexual black boy since Emmett Till which basket his hand didn’t belong in. And so, with all guilty pleasure, Science became my favorite subject. And Language Arts. And Math. And any elective I shared with Omasa Thrash. The telephone was my best friend after school: “Hello, is Omasa Thrash there?” She grew into my closest friend, confidant, and prime love interest. The infatuation lasted that 6th grade year through our high school graduation.
Then, Senior year of high school, during Valentine’s week, our choir program was fundraising for our Spring Break trip by enlisting teenage lovers to buy each other musical messages called Val-o-grams. Omasa Thrash and I had packed up our materials and were standing in front of the choir room. The bell, signaling the end of lunch, had just rung and throngs of hormonal students were sluggishly making their ways through the hallways. Suddenly, Omasa Thrash, with all her white conservatism looked at me and said “Wisdom, I’m not racist but I just don’t like black people. They’re so…ghetto. But you’re one of the good ones…”
I noticed the curled snarl of her lips as sheer bigotry flowed from her tongue. I buried the pain of 6 years of pubescent love, now lost, deep within and preferred internal wounds to broken bonds. I wondered if everyone’s first heartbreak came with a side of white supremacy. After all, she hates…those ones…not me.
Finally, I became a good n*****, a calm n*****, a sensible, intelligent, awkward in a sorta cute way type of…n*****.”
Back then, when I was a nine year old immigrant to the states, it was the Omasa Thrashes who taught me that interracial friendships/relationships came at a cost, particularly at the polar ends of the binary: black & white. Simply because we love(d) each other didn’t mean we succeeded in altering the power dynamics of our society. The cost of our friendship was always me curating a story. Avoiding certain topics and diving into others. Narrating a path where our curiosities could exist in the equilibrium of ignorance and forgiveness.
Trying to understand relationships, the stitches in the fabric of society, in America without an explicit understanding of race, class, and other markers of identity only reinforces the erasure of second-class citizens in the United States of Amnesia. Even within intimate relationships, we still find ourselves re-creating toxic dominant narratives. It could be a black man routinely calling his bi-racial girlfriend a mulatto or a queer white woman asking her black friend to tolerate the ignorant statements of her predominantly white queer clique. Lines of difference are blurred and redrawn consistently but because of my own privilege as a heterosexual cis-male, I’ve always been the most sensitive to race.
Yet, it wasn’t until my current year abroad teaching in Johannesburg, South Africa that I realized the full psychological, socio-emotional havoc that 14 years of living in America wreaked on my mind. My experience here has also confirmed the extent of white supremacy on an ideological, personal, interpersonal, institutional, and trans-national level. In trying to escape the American nightmare, I found instead the reach of globalized imperialism on my first continent, my first home. It’s been twice-maddening and perplexing…and all the more enraging.
To heal through storytelling, I’m writing a book that wrestles with the realities of living in such a violent and colonized world titled Loving Is For Everyone. Follow this instagram handle, @Wisdom_Writes, for updates/excerpts from the manuscript and read occasional blog posts from the book on my weekly column at TheGoodManProject.com!