Confessions of a #FormerBlackFriend
An attempt at accountability…
I have allowed “ghettos” and “hoods” and “homies” and “niggas” to fall out of white lips. I have allowed “you’re not like the rest of them” to sit in the air uncontested. I have been inspected from hair to homelife upon entering white homes and I have shown white smiles to many a white face. I have been suburban dinner table controversy and housewives’ personal cause. I have been Black friend to many a white consumer. A marker of one’s ability to be down, I have been marketed and mass produced.
My earliest interaction with predominantly white spaces began with my private primary school education. My mother, completing her two Masters as a single mother, did all that she could to get me into the best schools. These sacrifices meant driving an extra half hour out of her way every morning to get to and fro between classes. That meant moving into Los Angeles from our middle class suburb to just outside of downtown. That meant gifted and talented lotteries granting access to better schools within schools districts closer to the beach. That meant my days in West LA were capped with nights in South Central. That meant having to call home at check points not in fear of the neighborhood, but the watch. That meant trusting me across the country in a Connecticut small town. But I was in the best schools.
My classmates of color were often positioned there in the same exceptionalism reinforcing lottery. Rarely did we all complete our time. The white kids more often than not simply knew no different. The schools were in their backyards; we were the ones who migrated from undisclosed other places. In middle school, the ominous MAGNET school was where kids from all over the district were bussed in — all students with the “highest potential.” In high school, this was a boarding-school based program for “students of color” in an (unofficial) New York City suburb just 50 minutes from Grand Central.
A running joke between my high school friends was that I was their imaginary friend. The possibility of my Blackness and Queerness existing in the same body was so outlandish, I was positioned as mythical. It wasn’t until college that I learned the term magical negro. Thank you Sociology degree.
From theater rehearsal to AP English class, I was called upon to speak for Blackness in ways I often felt honored to do. I wanted to be ambassador and spokesperson for my people. I allow demands for shuck and jive and smile and grin. I allowed mispronouncing of my name.
I left high school still hopeful. I believed in the possibility of at least a critical mass of Black people where my tokenism wouldn’t even be worth it. I believed I would have avoided the erasure of regulation. In college, I wouldn’t just be the Black kid, or the Gay kid, or the Tall kid, I would just be. I came into college hopeful.
It is important to note the skill set that gave me passage. Respectability can win battles despite its greater cost in the war. Learning and knowing and speaking in forced codes of access. Learning and knowing and not speaking. It kept my body scrutinized and self-aware. I attempt to unlearn it constantly.
College is dangerously presented and engaged with as some level playing field for all students “allowed” to enter. Higher education in this country is stratified and violent. Education remains a marker of success. I entered college feeling like a success. If all the violence I survived was preparing me for college I was ready. While issues of class, bodies, safety and race were constant, my “Black friend” status translated into “Radical/Political/Activist Friend.” It became a coded way to mark the distance in my interpersonal relationships. My blackness wasn’t inherently an issue but the caveat that came with it stood in its place.
I allowed these violences in an effort to “humanize” or “defend” Blackness. I taught myself to talk myself out of rages. To swallow the weight of my own being. All for white benefit. I foolishly attempted to play professor/master/teacher for Blackness while appealing to white attention.
One time, however, a friend said to me “Your Facebook has gotten Blacker recently…”
As a #FormerBlackFriend, I implore you to unlearn your wealth in position to white validation. Reimagine your possibility and being for you. Your successes should fall into your liberation. You are worth more than a token. Your Blackness is multitudes whether among family or if you are the only nigga in the room.
also see the #FormerBlackFriend tag on Twitter and join the conversation.