In answer to the Day 11 Question “Are You The Black Friend?’”
Being part of the first post-civil rights generation, and growing up in a middle-class environment built by parents who took every advantage they could for their kids (integrated schools, etc.), meant I was largely programmed for Black Friend status from a young age. It was our generation’s duty to increase understanding between races and bring about greater world peace (insert “Kumbaya” track here) by showing how, even though we’re different, we’re still the same. We were the ones who had to show whites that we’re all human beings together.
This reflects something I read in an article recently with regards to the recent Jan Brewer finger-pointing situation: Often the burden of achieving racial harmony is placed solely on the backs of people of color. Here’s the thing though: It’s one thing when you’re FIVE and your white peers are asking questions. It’s another thing when you’re FORTY-FIVE and they’re asking the same damn questions.
Sure, black folks are part of the mainstream in a way they never were before. We’re on TV, everybody speaks some form of hip-hop slang, there’s even a black family in the White House. But when it comes to real (and really basic) shit about black people’s bodies, lives, and personal histories, I find that most white people, even those who claim to have lots of education and a liberal mindset, are all but encouraged to remain completely ignorant. In that respect I wonder how much has actually changed in 40 years and whether my efforts were really worth anything in a society that still insists on viewing people like me (and the Obamas, and I suspect many blacks who’ve responded on this site so far) as exceptions to the rule, the rule being that blacks are and always will be different, separate, never the same. NOT American like whites, NOT human like whites.
Needless to say, I have had to deal with a lot of anger and bitterness regarding this.
Within a few weeks of my returning to school (which is in a very white state, and the program I was in was about 96% white), I made a conscious decision not to be The Black Friend, at least not in the way I was for most of my life prior. This has cost me both socially and professionally. Paraphrasing from that article again: When people of color decide they don’t exist to serve whites, whites feel it. I have been known to post links to Derailing for Dummies and Tim Wise’s site: Read this, get up to speed, and then get back to me, okay?