An Open Letter to My “White” Black Friend

hands three skin tonesIt is very easy, I’ve found, to look out and look around and see behaviors and interactions that are silently swept into the cyclical system that White supremacy has made out of our country. It is valuable as it is easy to analyze and self-educate in response to these observations. A habit equally if not more valuable to the resistance to oppressive systems, however, is the ability to look inward to analyze and learn from one’s own behavior. In practicing this, I am writing an open letter to one of my best friends from home. We’ll call him James for sake of confidentiality.

James and I grew up together – performing in many shows together all throughout high school, James was one of the very few students of color at Newtown High School and is a part of the friend circle that I keep in touch with on a regular basis. His family and mine are very close, as I’ve spent many nights at his home and him at mine. With his family’s upper class financial position, his predominantly white group of friends, interests in theatre and film, and other behaviors that (obviously) mirrored the friends he associated we (my friend group including myself) would refer to James as the “Whitest” person we knew despite being a Black teenager. This was not okay.

What I now understand that was actually occurring within this joke was the emphasis of White-defaultism in the image of intelligence and upper class. Taking that image and ascribing it onto James was both applauding this “whiteness” while also separating him from a group that experiences systematic oppression and stereotypical removal from these qualities. This excludes him from analyses of the stereotypes about his race – maintaining the schema we hold for the structures around his group. The mentality of the “White” Black friend also uses color blind ideology to separate James from his race and therefore commits a microinvalidation. This simple joke provides a strong and clear example of how implicit racism exists in our (White people’s) interactions – no matter how close and important the relationships with people of color are. This introspection is necessary to go forward and be better to continually push against the current of White supremacy. In what ways we allow ourselves to analyze our own behavior to learn from it?

4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My “White” Black Friend

  1. I applaud you for your honesty and introspection. Confronting our implicit biases is the first and arguably hardest step in this process of confronting the racism that plagues our society. It is interesting to think about where our standards for whiteness vs. blackness stem from, and how so many things that we say as a joke have deeper connotations when you analyze them. I think about the trite expression “actions speak louder than words” and realize that words do speak quite loudly in that these are how microaggressions manifest.

  2. Kyle-This is an interesting phenomenon, and I thank you for sharing. I have experienced situations such as these. Living in a predominantly white neighborhood, there were a couple people of color, and all of them were considered “white” based off of their interests, the way they speak, and who they are friends with. It is scary that these people are almost praised in a way that being like this is good, and you will be rewarded if you act like a white person.

  3. Wow. Thank you for sharing your introspection with such honesty. When socialized in a culture that does not encourage inter-group dialouge it’s so important to reflect on our own relationships to understand how we act when with people who are different from ourselves. While it may not be within our power to change the outcome of past actions, we can always learn from our own behavior.

  4. I cannot relate to the same experience that you have written about, but I have a friend at school who is openly bisexual and will confront individuals who say things to him when they are ignorant or just plain offensive. I have seen him get upset because some of his closest friends have told him he is a “raging homosexual” in a joking manner, which was still perceived of offensive. But yesterday, they were playing frisbee, and one of the males playing had mentioned how great their bisexual friend is at sports and how typically people who are homosexual are bad at sports but that he is breaking the stereotype. I immediately cringed when he was saying this and I now understand why. This mentality, just as you mentioned, of ascribing an identity to this person for performing a certain way that aligns with the White master narrative is not positive and is a completely microinvalidation to that person.

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