This Is Us

We Can’t Be Friends if You Ignore My Blackness

You don’t get to disrespect me and still keep me

Photo: Btihal Remli/Getty Images

We’re not friends.

There. I said it.

You and I are not friends anymore, and in the deepest parts of me, I wonder if we ever were.

Seriously. I question the things between us — the energy, history, past.

I thought I could tell you everything. All my sins and all my hopes. But there was always a piece of me that was out of reach for you — because you would not reach for it. You would not stand up, extend your hand, and try to grab this part of me that was always so heavy to hold.

The first time I talked with you about race, it was in the context of dating. We went to a mostly white school, and there I was, watching a sea of Beckys use the currency of their whiteness to steadily earn their ring before spring. There I was, consistently alone. You offered platitudes about God and his timing and him not giving us anything we can’t bear. If there was a spiritual explanation (usually one with the subtext of me not being enough), you found it and offered it as if it were a balm for my wounds. It was salt every time.

I tried to explain it to you. Sure, there may be a God with timing, but also, I am a Black woman with a Black woman body and Black woman hair and Black woman hips and Black woman courage and Black woman pride, and I just don’t think that Tad or Josh will ever be into me, and if I’m really honest, Croakies and Guy Harvey shirts will never be my vibe.

I tried.

To gently explain that there was this thing called culture, and in this place, I was the odd one out, that the math of this was real and felt.

I’m still not sure you believed me.

You insisted things were fine as long as no one meant any harm by it. The harmed be damned.

I talked with you about race again when people started touching my hair without consent.

I wrote a blog and painstakingly outlined how to exoticize is to dehumanize and how for centuries white people have denied autonomy to Black bodies.

You changed the conversation. Offering your turned shoulder after I offered you opened arms. You insisted things were fine as long as no one meant any harm by it. The harmed be damned.

I tried to tell you after that pastor treated me like a sex object. You reduced it to white feminism, believing sexism to be the only sin in sight. You couldn’t see the texture of the Jezebel trope in the midst of all of this even though in the corner of your eye, I could see you knew a white girl would have been treated differently. In this case, the man of the church could be wrong but not in the ways that hurt me differently from you.

I tried again.

When Trayvon was murdered. When Mike Brown was murdered. When I showed up in church next to you broken and afraid. You said something about understanding and wrong on both sides and how Black people also have to be a part of reconciliation.

I started to walk away from you then. Learning so much later than I should have how quickly you would divide the pieces of me in order to select the parts you thought were most palatable.

The parts that kept you as the good guy in the story.

My feet fumbled several more paces when Obama was reelected. I held so much joy and pride in my heart, and your face was all shadows I could not see through. I’m sure I would have been bummed if the other guy had won, but you. You and our church felt the need to pray for the soul of our country as if, in the hands of a Black man, it was certainly doomed.

In all honesty, I’m ashamed at how many years it took for me to leave your side. To stop craving your company and your voice in my life. We spent a year together as missionaries, and in that year, I watched those who claimed to love the same God as me demean the people we said we were serving. The side comments and disrespect to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Africa and South Asia.

There was a running joke. When the white male missionaries were asked to speak, they would play a game of how many Disney lyrics they could quote in a sermon. People would travel days to us, to hear us bring the Gospel to them and their mother tongue. They were met with the games of man-children and the judgment of white women who mentally logged how each one of them wasn’t enough.

I walked away then. When I realized it wasn’t just me. When I realized it wasn’t just my pain. It was gaslighting. When I thought I was the only one hurt by your inability to view Blackness with love in your eyes and kindness in your heart, I thought surely it was me—I must be doing too much or not enough. But when I saw you shame my sisters and brothers for their Blackness, for their culture and their beauty, I finally learned that it was not my Blackness that was keeping us apart. It was you.

I don’t think we’ll be friends after this. You texted me after years without speaking. You said you were sorry for everything going on. You wanted to check on me to see how I was doing. I left you on read.

You don’t get to disrespect me and keep me.

You don’t get to watch my brothers and sisters gasping for air after you called the cops because someone “looked sketchy” and keep me.

You don’t get to hear day in and day out about how the injustices in health, education, economics, and all other outcomes for Black people are rooted in policies that have gotten passed while you sat idly by and keep me.

You don’t get to stay silent when your other bridesmaid says something racist in front of me and keep me.

You don’t get to vote for someone who would pull me into 1750 to be his slave and who systematically denies my people justice in the name of so-called greatness and keep me.

You don’t get to cultivate a Christianity that silences calls for justice in pursuit of the illusion of peace while the oppressed suffer and keep me.

You chose not to believe me when I told you of my pain. You called me a liar. So you don’t get to keep me.

And as far as checking on me now — if you had checked on me eight years ago when I started talking about this, we might not be here. If you had believed me and checked on your racist family and your racist self eight years ago, we might not be here. How many articles have you had to read? How many books? How many photos and videos of the violence against Black bodies and the stealing of our lives did it take for you to want to be on my side?

If it took you seeing a video, you never wanted to believe me in the first place.

And for that, you lost me or never had me — I’ll never be sure. All I know is that without trust, there can be no love. You never trusted me when I tried to share my life with you. You broke my trust by choosing to believe anything and everything except what I was telling you while still daring to call yourself my friend.

Too much Black blood has been spilled for white sins, and I am not adding myself to your list of martyrs.

Over the years, I’ve let a lot of friendships die quietly into the night. The trouble there is leaving a door open for them to find their way back.

I’m writing to tell you the door is closed now. Sealed shut for my safety and my protection. I’m sure you’ll say something about forgiveness and Christ. I’ll remind you that too much Black blood has been spilled for white sins, and I am not adding myself to your list of martyrs.

If you need Christ to get through your battle with racism, by all means — go to him. Just know I am not the one tasked with forgiving the sins of the world.

Yours are much too heavy.

You and I are not friends.

Not because I didn’t love you.

Not because I didn’t try.

We are not friends because when you chose not to be a friend to my Blackness, you chose not to be a friend to me.

We are not friends because you wouldn’t be.

Spirituality | Racial Justice | Friendship

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