How much should race factor into interracial friendships?

[UPDATE: My friend asked me to delete the screenshots of our conversation, which I refused to do because I think they demonstrate why these conversations are important to have. As a result, we are apparently no longer friends. So, the polarization continues…]

My last post questioned why people aren’t using Facebook—the most popular social media platform—as an opportunity to engage in the conversation about race relations in our country, especially in an effort to help mitigate some of the increasingly contentious and polarizing effects.

A few of my friends responded and even messaged me directly, and it was really helpful to hear their viewpoints, ranging from feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where they would even fit into the conversation, to not wanting to detract from others’ valid points, to just never really considering Facebook as a platform for those discussions:

BLM texts 7-8-16

I also received a response from someone whom I’ve come to consider one of my best friends and closest confidants, which almost brought me to tears… tears of anger, hurt, frustration, and sadness.

At the start of our debate, I was honestly glad that she’d chosen to message me and communicate her feelings. But as our exchange progressed, I started to question the future of our friendship. I wondered how she could ever truly know me if she can’t won’t even listen to something that’s so much a part of me, something that shapes my actions and perspective every single day of my life.

I’ve pasted screenshots of our conversation (I’m green, she’s blue; transcription here), because there are several issues raised that I think merit additional discussion (but some of it’s just too damn crazy to touch), and I’m curious about how others would’ve handled a response to her claims.

Seriously, please comment and help a sister out, because I’m still baffled.

Towards the end, disengaging from the conversation was all I could do. I felt as though I was wasting energy, and I didn’t want to say anything more out of anger that I might potentially regret. I’m still learning that sometimes setting boundaries is the best way to keep the peace.

So I walked away and tried my best to enjoy a carefree weekend of camping with my friends. But I couldn’t stop replaying this conversation in my mind. Eventually, I came to the realization that what upset me most was the lack of respect not for the facts or my opinions, but for my reality.

I feel like I’ve given her the respect of trying to understand where she’s coming from, and I appreciate her opinion. What I can’t reconcile is her apparent unwillingness to consider that my passion for this issue is borne from an entirely unique experience.

She mentioned that I probably think she can’t relate to where I’m coming from, and that by thinking that way, I’m racist. Well, whether it’s racist or not (I don’t think it is), I absolutely think she can’t relate, for two reasons:

  1. She’s not black.
  2. She’s not even trying to hear what it’s like to be black.

That doesn’t mean her opinion isn’t valid; it is.

Still, even though I will never be able to fully relate to two very crucial perspectives in this conversation, because I’ll never be either of them—a White police officer or a Black man—I do care to try to hear and understand each side. Is it so much to ask or hope for the same from someone who claims to love and care about you?

So what role does race actually play between friends of different races? Until now, I didn’t think it was that important. Not as long as everyone is willing to explore the issues that affect us, acknowledge when there is an imbalance, and come together to have respectful and meaningful conversations to do what’s right to correct the problems.

On a more personal level, how do I stay friends with a white person who tells me that Black Lives Matter is “a fucking cult”? Someone who wants to “punch me in the fucking face” when I “spew shit out of my fucking ass” because I have “NO FUCKING CLUE what the actual facts are of the cases I’m worked up about”? Someone who goes out of their way to vehemently deny something even leaders of the group they’re supporting have acknowledged is problematic?

“Certainly, the reaction from some of my community members here, as I called a emergency meeting, is, you know – they’re friends. And they’re respectful. But they said ‘chief, where were you when two young black men were killed? You didn’t call an emergency meeting then.’ And so that was a dose of humble pie for me, if you will, to recognize that we each have to recognize the perspective of one another… we have to respect each other’s perspective but at the same time, recognize that we have to find a place to put our pain and still come together in solidarity and to keep our community safe.” — Cameron McLay, Pittsburgh Police Chief

So never mind that I’m not talking specific cases, but rather a historical trend (which she denies exists) of which Black Lives Matter is just the most recent tipping point (aka cult), which wouldn’t even have happened if Obama hadn’t become president (but she “doesn’t give a fuck about him”).

Never mind that by saying she doesn’t deny racism exists, BUT it’s not as big of an issue as we’re making it out to be… she’s doing the exact same thing that she’s accusing me of when I say I feel for the officers BUT blaming the entire Black community for a lone gunman is not OK. (Except I feel like her denial of the validity of an entire movement is a bit worse than me trying to approach something rationally…)

I honestly have no idea what will happen with this friendship. It’s something I’ll be thinking through for a while. Maybe our views on race should’ve played a bigger role in our friendship from the beginning? Or maybe there’s a way to separate our differences on this issue to keep it from affecting how we get along moving forward? Knowing myself and my penchant for living in my truth, I don’t see the latter being very realistic.

Regardless of what happens, I’m still grateful to each of my friends for sharing their opinions with me. They helped me to realize that as a person of color—living each day being judged instantly by the color of my skin, whether or not non-colored people admit it or are conscious of it—it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in my own perspective and feel impatient with those who seem complacent.

That’s exactly why we need to talk, especially with friends. Respectfully and genuinely sharing our truths, in an effort to better understand where we’re all coming from, white, black, and everything in between.

But if the respectful part is missing and the friendship starts to hang in the balance… well then, I sincerely wish you luck with that.

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2 comments

  1. Elisha · · Reply

    T,
    this person can have a different opinion than you without telling you she would like to punch you. the level of emotional immaturity is astounding. my view you are lucky to see this outpouring of vitriol now.

  2. […] conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement. She figured that since I’d recently experienced first-hand the fallout of what can happen when friends fail to maintain respect in their dialogue, I might be a calm and […]

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