I just encouraged one of my white friends to talk to me about race. Over the phone, I asked her to challenge me as a person of color, and told her not to take offence when I challenged her back. I asked her to lay her deepest, most confusing thoughts on me regarding race, whether or not she thought they sounded ignorant. I asked her to create dialogue with me – because we need to be having these conversations. Progression is delayed if we move on anger instead of choosing to work together as allies.
I put my phone down a few times because I was angry. Not at her, but I was angry. I was angry because it forced me to reflect on how hard it was for me to accept my own beauty growing up – because my beauty is outside the European standard of beauty. I’m in a different category. It made me think of the sexualization of women of color, how many men view us as an exotic toy and how we’re expected to behave a certain way in bed because of this.
It forced me to reflect on just how much harder my life has been because of race and how I’m forced to shut my mouth because I don’t want to sound like I’m throwing myself a pity party. I realize what obstacles I face as a result of race, and how being a woman of color, I’ve always worked as hard as I can to get to where I am regardless of how many times I’ve felt broken. There’s no question about whether or not it’s harder for people of color in this world. Those who aren’t of color are privileged. Privilege isn’t a socially constructed statement to make ‘dominant’ groups of people feel bad. It’s a real thing.
In a way, it made me sad to hear some of my friend’s thoughts. I know her well enough to know she didn’t mean any harm – but it was disappointing to hear she didn’t understand why it’s offensive to “compliment” an African American female by telling her that her hair looks better straight, or why she didn’t understand that some of our posts when speaking about race at times is laced with anger. We’re all angry and we have every right to be angry. But this is why we need to talk; we both ended up crying by the end of the conversation. She was upset because she didn’t understand how to help and wanted to figure out solutions, but as much as she tries, she gets called a cracker. I was crying because of my own pain and the pain so many people of color have shared with me. This affects all of us.
How progressive are we when we show our hate towards the people that colonized us, who set the standards for us to live up to or who enforced invisible rules we subconsciously live by? We are not. Our anger is valid, but it isn’t going to be what helps the most. I encourage you to teach people about our differences and to have these difficult conversations. As much as it made me want to cry or get angry, we’re one step closer towards understanding what the other person needs. Because of our conversation, my friend’s a little step closer to understanding our pain – even though I know she’ll never fully comprehend it.
There are white people who want to end racism, and in order to do that we all need to talk about it openly. We need to revisit the concept of allies and what it means to work together towards the change we wish to see. I see it more and more every day: With every killing of a person of color we see on the news, we’re slipping back into the mentality where we think we have to segregate ourselves and fight alone. This way of operating might have helped us at times in the past, but we don’t need to do it now. There are people who want to fight with us.
I’m happy with how my friend and I handled ourselves during our conversation today. It’s a beautiful thing for us to be able to talk about something as heavy as race, and I know the more we have these uncomfortable conversations the more we’ll be able to create a safer space for people of color in society.