The Year I Gave Up White Comfort: An Ode to my White “Friends” on Being Better to Black Womxn
As 2018 has drawn to a close I am in the midst of deep inner reflection. Not something I relegate specifically to the new year, but 2018 had its fair share of ups and downs and what sticks out most for me is an equal dose of both.
This past year I not only stood unapologetically in the full and complete truth of my identity but also voiced that truth, my truth, aloud to all those closest to me. Including a lot of White people. People who think we’re quite close when in reality they neither see nor support me as my whole, loud and proud Black female-identifying self.
So this is my ode to them and to all the other seemingly liberal White folx out there. My ode to you. The ones who think you’re doing enough. Who wholeheartedly believe you support Black womxn. Who have a Black womxn friend or two (and whether you admit or not many of you believe you’re woke simply for befriending us). Whether you think you’re colour blind or an ally. This is for every White hue-man in my life — past, present or future. Major newsflash ahead so buckle the fuck up.
Before I Begin
This is a good time to point out that you’re not going to like what I have to say. Not one bit. Your ego and White privilege will seethe. You’ll be inclined to label me angry — classic! — and wonder who the fuck I think I am to speak to you this way (I am my ancestors wildest dream, for the record). You may feel I’m ruthless for spelling this out so publicly, that I should speak to each of you in private. It’s all standard White violence, as to be expected, so if you feel you need to stay there by all means — do you boo.
But for those of you who truly give a shit, I hope this will give you pause and help you become empowered to show up for myself and other Black womxn in an authentic, nourishing, sustainable way. Lord knows it’s long overdue.
Giving Up White Comfort
In 2018 I had the nerve, as many of you would believe, to affirm my own Black womxnhood and demand that the mostly White people around me, do the same. In other words, I stopped prioritizing whiteness and White comfort and rather centered myself and Black and Indigenous womxnhood. The audacity!
Now, make no mistake I’ve been fighting racist heteropatriarchy most of my life in various ways, from college campuses to government agencies, but like many Black womxn, I had yet to truly bring it home to roost. To make my needs and boundaries clear to the White and wealthy community that I was raised in. One that has caused me decades, if not a lifetime, of emotionally violent racialized harm. And I had failed to do so for damn good reason — it was not and is not safe.
It wasn’t safe at 4 years old when the White “caregivers” at daycare would lock me outside alone in the rain. It wasn’t safe at 8 years old when my White BFF told me I looked like I had been dipped in poo. It surely wasn’t safe at 16 when my White high school sweetheart’s friends asked him how kinky I was in bed. Nor at 31 when my mom died and my closest friend didn’t support me “because I’m so strong” (read: strong Black woman trope). Still not safe at 33 when a White friend of 20 years admitted she had never thought of me as Black because, unbeknownst to her, White privilege allowed her to barely see me at all.
Nope. The community within which I was raised is a battlefield of White supremacy and I, as the only Black person, let alone Black womxn, in the mix did the best I could simply to survive. This is not an experience unique to me. But here’s a hard hit of realness White folx have the privilege of ignoring: as a Black woman, the majority of the time being your “friend”, hell even acquaintance, has meant my playing small. It meant biting my tongue and keeping quiet for your benefit and comfort at the detriment of my own.
Growing up in an incredibly White space, this means I’ve accrued a bunch of White folx who became my “friend” on the condition that I did’t challenge you or the system of oppression you perpetuate in and benefit from. And for a long time, I didn’t — constantly (albeit subconsciously) ensuring that the White folx surrounding me weren’t made to acknowledge race or racism in any way because it would almost surely result in violence. White fragility, microaggressions, White entitlement, gaslighting, triangulation, spiritual bypassing, White exceptionalism — you name it, I’ve endured it a million times over. Yes, even from you. Did you do so intentionally? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But impact trumps intention. Every. Damn. Time. And let me be real fucking clear: I’ve had enough.
If I talk a little louder
If I speak up when you’re wrong
If I walk a little taller
I’d be known to you too long
If you noticed that I’m different
Don’t take it personally
Don’t be mad, it’s just the brand new kind of me
And it ain’t bad, I found a brand new kind of free
- Alicia Keys
In that enoughness lies my biggest shift of 2018, and undoubtedly one of the biggest transitions of my life. In re-awakening to my work as a racial justice advocate, in once again aligning with my calling to speak up and out on the injustices of this world and witnessing the brilliant work of my fellow Black and Indigenous activists, I became unfuckwithable. At 34 years old I fully embraced my mission, morals and values and got clear that the racialized violence I endured at the hands of whiteness, at the hands of you, was no longer acceptable. I became willing to speak my truth, despite the pain I knew would ensue, and cut all ties with White folx, or any folx, unable or unwilling to stop causing harm and centering whiteness.
The result? Well, needless to say whiteness, aka you, didn’t like this at all and every fear a Black person has about calling White folx out became manifest. You’ve shamed me for naming racism while the people saying or doing racist things are absolved. After being attacked by a group of White women for calling out racism on a stagette, I was removed as the MC of your wedding. Some of you, whom I’ve known for decades, tell me you don’t know where you fit in as my friend anymore (i.e. — you can’t understand how to be friends with me if I’m not prioritizing your comfort). Many of you have and still harshly dismiss my lived experience of racism if and when I attempt to share. Some of you have distanced yourselves entirely, others are palpably awkward in my presence and more of you have taken to protecting your precious egos by talking shit behind my back (surely I must be the problem, not you).
I’ve had White “friends” reach out to test the waters because you don’t like what it says about you if I no longer want to be friends, but you have zero desire or willingness to look at your shit or change in any way; let alone give a fuck about what this experience is like for me or any other person of colour.
I get that redefining any relationship is hard, especially when it involves a complete overhaul of a power dynamic that you feel utterly entitled to. After all, you live in a world where, whether you like or not, everything panders to your supremacy. From beauty standards and healthcare to education and the judicial system — whiteness reigns supreme. And my colonial role as a Black woman is to avoid naming or rocking that boat, or suffer immense emotional, spiritual, mental and/or physical harm by your hand dare I step out of line. It’s a fucked up but entirely intentional scheme and your subjugation of my humanity renders any possibility of being able to relate to, respect or connect with me or my fellow Black bbs impossible. Well, I have no time for it.
Which leads me to the ultimate point of this here sermon — all White folx, friends of Black womxn or otherwise, you gotta do better. Like, way better. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: y’all are causing Black womxn, myself included, mad harm. ALL of you. Every day. Even and perhaps especially the Black womxn you call friends or family.
For those thinking “not me”. YES, absolutely you. Overtly or otherwise and in many ways unbeknownst to you. I know a lot of it is unintentional and I know it’s 2019 — not knowing about racial harm is intentional and entirely unacceptable. Your ignorance is violent. So, what the fuck to do?
How White Folx Can Be Better Friends to Black Womxn
There’s no one-size fits all and — reminder — Black womxn are people just like anyone else. Meaning we all have various life experiences, privileges, worldviews, triggers etc. and our needs and wants for friendship will differ.
What I will share are 5 suggestions for how White folx wishing to be my friend (or continue to be my friend) can begin to authentically engage with and support me personally. Key stress on begin. These actions aren’t a surefire way to friendship, because nothing is. But given the grave amount of harm myself and so many Black womxn have + continue to endure at the hands of White people (of ALL people but I’m starting with the most harmful), these are my current precursors to rules of engagement with any fairer skin friends moving forward. Take it or (as many of you will) leave it…
1. Admit You’re Racist — Whether you like it or not, intend it or not, racism is the status quo of whiteness. If you are committed to minimizing harm to myself and/or other Black womxn, then you will acknowledge and address your learned White supremacy and its consequences. If you can’t acknowledge that you belong to a group that as a whole has oppressed Black people to build + maintain your privilege and understand the power dynamics at play in our relationship as a result, you’re not someone I can feel safe with nor trust. This means education yourself and engaging in conversations about race, racism + White privilege (and not in a manner that requires unpaid time, energy and emotional labour of Black womxn), learning and using proper terminology (Google is your friend!), committing to doing better, owning and apologizing when you fuck up and cause harm — because you still will — and continuing to dismantle your White privilege for the rest of your days.
2. Do Your Inner Work — In addition to admitting your participation in White supremacist systems and all the ways it (and you) have caused Black womxn harm, there’s the deep, inner work of actually addressing your personal racism so you can not only identify the harm you cause us, but minimize it. I suggest the best way to begin is to engage in ongoing active education led by BIWOC, for example Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy Workbook, my Spiritual Activism workshops and Catrice Jackson’s 30 Day Crash Course for White Women.
Reading books is great but passive education is insufficient, especially in the absence of critical analysis from BIWOC. And sidenote — doing it solely through or with other white folx ain’t it either, nor is liking a post or two on my Instagram. On that note, if you follow me + my work but believe you’re somehow excluded from actually doing anti-racism work of your own — your privilege is showing! There’s no silver bullet and your work will never be finished, but it’s on you to do it every single day for the rest of your life. Or not, but that means you and I can’t be homies #sorrynotsorry.
3. See Me — This sounds incredibly simple doesn’t it? Yet I’ve found it unbelievably challenging for White people to do. If you want to authentically engage with me then you need to see and acknowledge me, as in allpartsof me. Not just the parts you like or want to co-opt. Not just the bits that you understand. Certainly not just the parts that make you comfortable. ALL of me. Including my Blackness. I am human, just like you. But the majority of White Americans don’t have any meaningful relationship with POC, so y’all be tripping and treating us like aliens. Listen up — I am a whole, dynamic, complex, multifaceted person. Shit ain’t hard (especially if you’re addressing your own racism). Listen to me. Acknowledge me and my experiences. Sit with me in my anger and do your best to appreciate how and why centuries of oppression would leave me so damn pissed off. Believe me. Even and especially when my experiences make you uncomfortable. SEE me.
4. Stop Centering Yourself — Not everything is about you. This may come across as facetious but it’s a simple truth pill many White folx have a tough time swallowing. If you expect me to educate you (unpaid / outside of my role as an educator) on race, comfort you as you process your racism, send you love + light supremacy after you’ve caused me harm or engage in personalized discussions about your hurt feelings re race (or my resulting boundaries), you’re making this entire thing about you. It’s not. If I no longer want to associate with you, maybe take a tick and ask yourself why that is and what that experience may be like for me.Conduct an honest review of our relationship, racial harms you’ve caused me and figure out if you can honestly and earnestly attempt to fix that harm — for my benefit. Not just yours. I’m tired and I don’t owe whiteness a dang thing, including an explanation.
Ceasing to center yourself also means you understand that you cannot and will never understand my experiences as a Black womxn because you have never endured oppression or discrimination on the basis of both race and sex (and if you disagree then we can call this whole “let’s try and be friends” thing quits right now). If there are things I’ve shared or tried to explain, or behaviors I’ve exhibited, that you simply don’t understand — have some fucking compassion. I am enduring a daily onslaught of hate and discrimination that you could not begin to fathom. If I say it’s about race — it is. Your attempts to tell me otherwise are violent and about your need for comfort over mine. Stop it.
Lastly, prioritize and fight for the needs, wants and comfort of myself and other Black womxn even and especially when you don’t feel you directly benefit — not just the times you feel it impacts you personally (like seeing Dr. Ford take the stand).
5. Support Me — There’s no such thing as “being” an ally, but you can choose to act in allyship with myself and other Black womxn as much as possible. That doesn’t mean hitting up a protest and posting it all over IG to ensure everyone knows you were there. Nor does it look like wielding your greater economic power (which you have as a result of White privilege) to try and absolve yourself of your racism or rectify harms you’ve caused. Financial reparations and acts of service can certainly be supportive, but they do not replace doing your inner work to address your racism. Salvation cannot be bought, and neither can I.
Support means nurturing and uplifting me emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. Checking in on me regularly. Having to constantly navigate White supremacist heteropatriarchy is painful and exhausting on a good day nevermind in the wake of, say, Jazmine Barne’s murder or the backlash from every single non-Black womxn re #muterkelly. Support my work to dismantle racist patriarchy, either by partaking in it yourself or helping me spread the word to other White folx. Support my humanity by, as a start, calling out other White folx who partake in racist acts towards myself or others, paying Black womxn, using any platform you may have to speak on or in some way address racial justice, withdrawing financial support of racist institutions and ceasing to associate with folks who refuse to do the work. If you believe you’re “doing the work” but your BFFs/hubby/clients/closest circle aren’t — you’re lying to yourself.
Still with me?
Good! I just spilled some majah tea, but there are some hard but incredibly important truths you needed to hear. I’m not asking you to become an activist (and when it comes to racial justice I don’t believe White people are worthy of the term) but you do need a willingness and capacity to face your discomfort and unpack your privilege. To unplug from the matrix of White supremacy and help us all, yourself included, get free. You will fuck this up. You will feel guilt, grief, anger and shame. Keep at it anyways.
Understand that the most unprotected person in this world is the Black womxn and to authentically engage with us means you must acknowledge the harms inflicted by White supremacist heteropatriarchy, including the personal harms inflicted by you.
Do more. Do better. And do it now. You’re already centuries behind. And always remember, if you’re anti-racism is not about centering and supporting Black and Indigenous womxn, whether you know us personally or otherwise, then its bullshit.
As for us, if you’re a friend then you’ll want to get know me again. This new me. The one who makes my comfort, not yours, the priority.
A note to my fellow Black womxn
We have no choice but to navigate White folx, whiteness and constant misogynoir, so we have a lot of healing to do from it all. It goes without saying that I in no way judge Black womxn who cannot or do not call out your White friends/bosses/whoever. It is a deeply disturbing process on many levels and is the source of much pain, loss and grief.
I am also acutely aware that my privilege has granted me the ability to cut ties with whiteness in a way many Black womxn cannot. Still, I would like to encourage us to prioritize our peace above that of White folx wherever and whenever possible. I get so many DMs from my fellow Black bbs asking me how. Stay tuned for my follow-up where I’ll share my suggestions for you to commence your journey to unfuckwithableness. And let me tell you — giving up White comfort feels damn good!