These responses are heartbreaking in their safety, their opacity, and their lack of vulnerability. Of course, I need all of those things from you. But learning isn’t an action. Listening doesn’t do anything to change the conditions that we live under. Belief doesn’t reach beyond your own internal life. Listening, learning and believing are all passive actions. Like offering thoughts and prayers after a mass shooting or natural disaster, listening and learning become ways to offer condolences without committing to the messy, crucial work of preventing tragedies before they come to pass.
In large part, Michelle and I were able to have that discussion and walk away with our friendship intact precisely because we had over 25 years of trust already established. I know Michelle in a way that it takes over 25 years to know someone. I know her heart. And after more than 25 years of friendship, Michelle knows me well enough to understand the necessity of my righteous anger and militant approach to racial issues. She knows that although this approach might be off-putting to some, I need in order to process the real and painful emotions that naturally arise from the experiences I am witnessing and living through. In many ways, anger has become the core of my coping and survival techniques. As Audre Lorde wrote in her book of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider: “My response to racism is anger. . . It has served me as fire in the ice zone of uncomprehending eyes of white women who see in my experience and the experience of my people only new reasons for fear or guilt. . . My anger has meant pain to me but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.”