Recently, in a discussion about anti-racist work, we talked about how white “friends” seem to disappear when the topic turns to race. It is surprising to find out how much fear and taboo there is around this subject.
What did your parents teach you about race? Were there ever any conversations?
I remember when I was in High School in 1969 just before Woodstock and my brother started dating a young Black woman. He was a white progressive and Peace and Love was in the air. He had been a scholar, athlete and had paved the way for me—all my teachers knew him. I had a couple of conversations with the Girl’s Counselor who was very intent on finding out who that young woman was that she had seen him with at the fair. This was Middle America in one of those red states where the fair was a highlight of the summer social season. I was amazed as she so tactfully steered the conversation away from race. Was she blind?
At the time my mother questioned my brother and his black girlfriend, “What about your children?” “I guess they will just be zebra striped,” answered the black girlfriend. I was awe struck at her quick-witted response and it shut my mom up quite handily.
Over the years my attitude towards race has morphed and changed. Fast forward to 2014, I’m part of Racial Justice Allies of Sonoma County. I’m educating myself and facilitating a greater understanding of these issues for my white counterparts. I’m liking it.
In this era of Facebook friends, do you ever feel like you really have too many white friends? Do you find you can’t keep up with them all? Are you spending too many weekends at birthday parties? Engaging in superficial encounters rather than the meaningful interactions you crave? Here’s a suggestion.
If you want to find out who your real friends are, begin a conversation about race, racism, and white privilege. Trust me, you can clear a room in a matter of minutes. It’s as good as yelling, “Fire.”
And just like our good parents told us, those who remain are your
true friends. The others you really did not need.