Turns out I have friends who have racists in the family.
About 30 or so years ago, I worked with a vivacious and gregarious woman (White) at Boston City Hospital right before it became the Boston Medical Center. She was moving from Dorchester to a house she had in South Boston. She regaled me and our colleagues about the decorating decisions she was making but it was clear that I wouldn’t be invited to see the home. Someone, her husband, her kids or her neighbors wouldn’t be welcoming. It wasn’t that I was anxious to visit her but it was unspoken between the Black and Brown colleagues that this wasn’t going to happen. (It would have been nice to see the finished décor – I heard enough about it.).
About 10 years ago, my husband and I were invited to a holiday party at another White colleague’s house in S. Boston. We were greeted at the door by an inebriated White woman with the words, “I’m letting in the Black people.” (My capital B, not hers I’m sure although she did emphasize the word black – drawing it out to sound like Bbbbblllaaaccck!) Turned out she was a drunken cousin visiting the hosts. I won’t go into detail about other racial gaffes at that party but afterwards, my husband and I created a signal to give each other when it was time to leave such situations.
About 3 years ago, I was invited by another friend (White) to participate in a writing group. She felt sure I’d enjoy their feedback and that it would be helpful for my writing. (It mostly was.) She told me, later, that they’d been concerned about my participating in the group, about whether I’d fit in – sight unseen. Had she told me this before the group started, I wouldn’t have joined. Who has time for such scrutiny based on your background & identify? I did meet with the group for a little over a year, and then my schedule got too busy to participate. They were nice people and interesting writers but every now and again, the thought that they’d hesitated for my inclusion grated a bit.
This year because of the Trump campaign and ultimate win, I’ve learned that still other white friends (and we are friends because I’ve been to their homes on more than one occasion and they’ve been to mine) have family members who voted for Trump. This causes my various friends a lot of trepidation. There are gatherings I won’t be invited to because of these family members who are racist despite having received a lot of material bounty and white privilege in the world.
One friend explains that her husband’s sister will be visiting on the night of the final debate. This sister-in-law has not seen much of the world outside of the small Midwestern town in which she lives. Therefore, though we watched the 2nd debate together, they can’t come to the final debate because they don’t know what would happen. Another friend is wealthy. Her wealthy sibling and some of their friends have all sorts of opinions about Black people even though they don’t know any of us personally. They get their information about Black and Brown people from the media. They can’t distinguish my ordinary, elegant, and law-abiding Black self from my brethren who have done stuff heinous enough to make the news.
At lunch recently, yet another friend of several years recounted that her brother, a fireman, felt passed over if anybody Black or Brown got a promotion to a job he’d applied for in his department, despite the department having been nearly lily-white for decades.
Sigh. Sigh again.
- I don’t hold my friends responsible for their relatives. We don’t choose our birth family.
- Trepidation or not, as White people, these friends will be fine/fine/fine* under a Trump presidency even though they really do care about the issues that they champion.
- There is no one in my family or friend circle that I could not introduce to any of my white friends. No one. There is no family gathering that I could not bring them to. Not a one. Hear that? None!
And now, I’m done.
*as Mary J. Blige sings in “just Fine.”
This was a thought provoking piece that brought to memory moments that I was reminded that I’m the black person in the room. I imagine I may experience this more with the Trump election seeming to caused people to remove their cloak of civility.
Like you I will continue to include all my friends of all backgrounds as guests in my home
I can only control my environment and my way of being in the world. So, I’ll keep doing my thing. I’m glad you will be the great host I know you to be. Anyone who misses your loveliness would be denying themselves some serious wonderfulness (and great food). Thanks for taking time to comment.
Incidents such as these, have happened so often that even before Trump won the vote made me to be the Black professional with “work-white-friends-that-you-socialize-only-at-work” so that I don’t have to hear creative excuses for relatives, neighbors, and “the best bud, from out of town.”
Sounds like you’ve come up with a good plan that works for you. I do have white friends who are true friends and won’t let go of them. That we meet in a controlled or curated environment on their part has become more apparent. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Come enjoy the insane atmosphere here in South Carolina. I live in the blood-red heart of SC. Being unsure about “friends” has become a weird game in my head.
No thank you. I’ll let you handle SC. I’m trying to be good to many people, courteous to others and neutral to the remainder. Keeping it moving. I actually prefer when people reveal who they are. Then I know where I stand. Thanks for taking the time to read and make a comment.
Say so…since 2008 I have excused myself from the Italian-Portuguese-Irish “family” events for the uncomfortable ambiance created by one attendee who ALWAYS brought Politics with him as his +1 guest. The cords of my swan song came during a conversation with the Italian matriarch when she began a sentence –that is probably still hanging in the air over the dinner table–with, “black people just ought to.” At this time I’m not aware of any relationships with whites that would take me to their homes; I’m opting I to keeping it public and professional. Thanks for sharing this important view of the progress-blocking behavior of the privileged-friends-in-our-corner who tolerate racism and keep it on the down low.
The phrase “Black people just ought to…” is fraught with danger. No one who’s outside of the race can say what we should do. Within the race it is also a fraught phrase with someone assuming they know best. We are people with myriad experiences, styles, etc., we just want to be able to be and not be judged or categorized because of the skin we’re in. At least that’s what I’m sayin’. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It means a lot.
I wouldn’t be surprised if people of color threw up their hands and said, ” I just can’t be around white people anymore.” I admire you for not projecting frustration or hurt feelings on someone who is a friend/loving/caring and white.
I can’t do that because all white people aren’t the same and many of white people aren’t really white or at least are only recently identifying themselves as white people. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.
The more things change the more they stay the same or get worse. The hatred and racism that has been somewhat subdued is coimng out in full force. What is so crazy about it that they feel it is okay like it is their right to act this way. Very scary.
I am presently on an assignment in Westwood, where I am the onlllllly person of color. I have not been in that type of working environment in a very long time. Let me tell you, I feel strange being here. At best they are courteous. The director, just this week (after a month of being here, said Good Morning, i was like ,oh Good morning. I had already told myself that if he looked side ways at me one more time that I would what… well I had decided that if he didin’t speak nor would I. I guess I won that battle in the office, because I saw him at Starbucks this morning and neither one of us said hello. Go figure.Don’ matter to me cuz I can do the same thing.haha.Still what is this country we live in of immigrants going .The whites actually think they own the place.might have a race war one day ,.the classes are disappearing , and the minorities are increasing in numbers. They scared ,so they resort to this behavoiur. IDK
Peace and Love to you Cuz!
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I have many more positive experiences than negative ones but the negative ones stand out.
One thing I’ve decided is to say hello to everyone unless they’ve actively dissed me previously. I was raised that you say hello to everyone. When I first came to Boston, I found that no one said hello first – so I stopped for a while and then I decided later that I wasn’t going to let other people’s styles change my style. I say hello. Whether people return the greeting is on them. Racism is deeper than that. It’s when people see all of us as the same and think they are superior. Sometimes I think the only think that will change any of this is an alien attack where the aliens only see as as humans with no differences.
Thanks for reading and giving a thumbs up.
I have had a friendly relationship with a white doctoral student. We have been in several classes and end each semester at a bar for a drink and dinner. We had an intense semester in a research class with themes of white privilege and power, and oppression. This is a 2-part class, but at dinner she unselfconsciously announced that she wouldn’t be taking the second part because she was tired of “all the social justice” stuff. My thought: How nice that you can decide you don’t have to deal with it, when I have to think about the diminishing prospects for myself, my young black relatives (especially the males) and connections beyond familial ties. And then: How sad that not a single thing from the class will affect her worldview as an elementary school educator?
This is a sad situation especially for an educator. It’s similar to how I’ve felt when a friend and family members has been dealing with a malady or illness. If they can live with the illness, I can bear witness and stay through the treatments or visit, etc. Some people abandon anything difficult. Like yous aid, as a white person, she has the choice not to be part of this reality. Too bad. Cause one course, one touch isn’t enough. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I’m with ya on the “JUST FINE” outcome of these sad experiences. I witnessed racial discrimination fairly recently as well. In fact it was during one of our writing session with Naomi at the Roxbury Public Library branch. One of the writers, a precious and sensitive white female) a magnificent writer by the way whose name escapes me at the moment was devastatingly taunted by one of the black female writers in a strong racist manner. I felt soooooooooooooo uncomfortable with the hate and antagonistic words and body language toward the white writer from the black female whom obviously, by her writing, had been deeply hurt by just too many white folks. My question how to we address, acknowledge and deal with racism when black folk do it as well????
I always pick my battles. Is this person a part of my life? Do I care that they are better? What are the consequences of my giving them feedback? How do I like to be given feedback? At this point in my life, I decide who and how and how deeply I’m going to engage. The only person I can ever truly control is me and I wrestle with myself a lot. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think it I were part of a class, I might talk to the instructor about how I felt and how I hoped she would address the student about the situation.
Yeah, I have white friends that I still call friends IF they know/understand my racial heritage and experiences in the good ol’ USA as a black woman. And even these white friends slip up sometimes with stupid remarks like when they see a fair black person with straight hair as “beautiful!” And then I have to STRAIGHTEN them out that a remark like that is based on their white, stupid-ass, entitled beliefs of what is defined as beautiful or who is best to do a job. And if these white friends can’t take my wrath or more importantly, can’t acknowledge their wrong thinking, then we’re no longer friends.
Ah… the slip-ups. They do happen. Some you can ignore. Some you address. And some you end it there. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I’m enriched by reading your writing, Candelaria, even though its been too long since I did so. Speaking as a white male, the behavior of some of the caucasians mentioned therein, fills me with shame. This is but one variation on the ‘sin of separation’ [which also includes a callousness toward the downtrodden and dispossessed] “that must be driven from this Earth. This I affirm as my purpose”, to quote the World Teacher, Maitreya. In the meantime, I’m heartened by your self-assurance. It makes clear that you possess the self-awareness to know that your class, sensitivity, talent and intelligence eclipse any & all such detractors you may have encountered in your travels.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. We all have tribe members of whom we are ashamed. Our other tribe – the Tribe of Good People, has to keep on keeping on.
You’re welcome, Candelaria. Thank you for sharing your truth with us and for being an effective teacher for me.
I see storm clouds gathering; but Black people have weathered many storms in this country, and we will get through this one as well. Besides- the flip side of disparagement is new opportunities, and I plan to take advantage of this ‘half-full’ glass with renewed courage and conviction.
“Sooner or later my best [white] friends will put me on the truck.”
Toni Morrison during an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross
Thanks for taking time to comment. I love the Toni Morrison quote.