An Open Letter to My White Friends

A friend I’ve known for a long time but haven’t talked to in years, slid into my Facebook messages yesterday to ask this question:

Hey you, can you look at my most recent FB post regarding #blacklivesmatter and tell me what you think? Am I missing the point or being naive? I’m feeling a battle brewing between me and a (white) woman in Alabama regarding my post. Thank you and wow, I hope you’re doing well! Miss ya!

I’ve been hanging out on Facebook more than usual lately because I literally–and I mean the old literally, not the new literally–can’t open Twitter without seeing the death report of someone who looks like me at any given moment. Facebook on the other hand, is more likely to be filled with adorable animal videos than reminders that I could be killed by the state at any time.

After I read the message, I sent the following tweets:

It’s not like I never talk to my white friends about race. This post is one of the most read posts on this site and was the result of a brilliant and informative conversation with a white friend. The conversation happened naturally, in the course of a coffee date, where we talked about many other things.

Only hours earlier, I had written a stream of tweets lamenting the recent phenomenon of people showing up in my Twitter DMs with random requests, without so much as a ‘hey, how are ya.’ I detailed an example from a friend who had done it right and taken the time and care to craft a request respectfully, and in a way that made me want to say yes. It seems as if people have forgotten or never learned that other people aren’t just waiting around to fulfill your requests.

As I and others have written about SO. MANY. TIMES: I or any other Black person do not exist to be your personal racism tutors, or provide “the Black perspective,” or grade your #BlackLivesMatter homework for your Facebook beef with your racist friend from high school.

WE. ARE. PEOPLE. LIVING. OUR. OWN. LIVES. (At least until they’re taken by the state).

When I read that message, I went from heading into a nice relaxing evening and looking forward to a family BBQ, to being enraged that once again, a white person’s ignorance has the power to ruin my mood unexpectedly at any time. Which is why I’m more and more selective with who I choose to spend time with.

It’s great that you want to educate other white folks about racism. That is exactly what we need you to be doing. But THINK before you go dragging the nearest Black person into your fight, about whether you’re doing more harm than good.

If our interactions from the past few years consist of “Likes” or “Favs” on social media platforms, maybe making requests for intense emotional labor isn’t the best way to rekindle the relationship.

I will continue to make examples of your mistakes as sign posts for the next person because I don’t have the time, or the energy to tell you one at a time. If you don’t understand that by now, then I know you haven’t bothered to actually pay attention to anything I’ve said online in the last three years. Your feelings might be hurt now, but you’ll get over it. (Or not). White supremacy is making examples of us daily and leaving a trail of black bodies in its wake. I’m done coddling white people and centering discussions of race around the protection of White feelingsEspecially for my friends.

I live in an incredibly white city, a majority of my friends are white, and I’m married to a white woman. I don’t have a regular safe space to ‘come home’ to where I can safely vent my frustrations. When my mom was alive and my sister still lived in Portland, it was different. No matter how stressful it was in the world, or how many microagressions I had to put up with, I could come home to people who could understand what I was going through.

Things are different now, and the past year and more has seen the stress of day to day Black life rise to new levels.

White friends, I need you to do better. I’m really tired of writing these blog posts. Consider every one of them to be an open letter on how you can improve. If you don’t want to end up in one, here are some tips for you:

  • Don’t engage in #stage3 behavior by expecting the nearest Black person to educate you on a whim.
  • Don’t call me up every time something racist happens to ‘get my take on it.’
  • Don’t engage in tone policing.
  • Don’t casually marvel about the painful lived experiences of marginalized people as if it’s some sort of theoretical exercise. For us, it’s our lives.
  • Do expand your universe beyond whiteness by following, reading and learning from the hundreds of thousands of sources available to you via the Internet and books. I even made you a list of people to follow on Twitter..
  • Do read and share freely any post on this blog (or anywhere else) that you find useful and educational.
  • Do amplify the voices of Black people who are speaking on topics you care about and want to learn about.
  • Do read the white people homework.
  • Do continue to educate yourself and others

The truth is, even if you do all those things, you’re still going to screw up occasionally. I’ve made my peace with that and you’ll have to do the same. A good friend of mine casually ‘complimented’ me once by saying she ‘didn’t think of me as Black,’ and that was after we spent six weeks in the same unlearning racism workshop!

White people are too steeped in white supremacist culture to completely unlearn it. To get better requires constant effort, in the face of impossible odds. But that’s the job. I think you’re up to it, or we wouldn’t be friends.

If you want to talk about race, come back after you’ve done your homework. Come back when you understand impact vs intent and which one is more important. Come back when you’ve learned how to manage your #whitefragility and can have a real conversation without making me take care of your feelings. Come back when you understand that getting called out because you made a mistake doesn’t make you a victim.

Come back when you have support network of other anti-racist white friends that you will inevitably need as you do this work. Come back and tell me how you’re contributing to dismantling your white privilege.

Then, maybe we can talk about race. But make sure you also talk to me about my cats, my garden, my wife, my business, my vacation, my book, my last bike ride, or the last movie I saw. Cause that’s what friends do.

8 Comments


  1. It was lovely. Always love hanging with my cousins. 🙂

    Reply

  2. I know it isn’t everything, but hanging out with you & Robert in the Windfire days & seeing how differently we were treated as a group than ie me with my sister taught me a lot about what to look for. 25 years later, I still am learning, but that’s not your problem.
    I love you & thanks.

    Reply

  3. Thank you for writing this, and your 5 stages post. I’m trying to write my own blog post about a sort of new founded hypersensitivity I’ve seen in many of my white friends due to the current political landscape. Your posts are providing me with a good place to end. Thank you again.

    Reply

    1. You’re welcome. Thank you for educating your friends.

      Reply

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