Conversations with white friends
I began this blog prior to the murder of George Floyd. It wasn’t until that fateful day and sleepless night, that day of unsurmountable pain, that day of regret, fear, anger and loss, that day we as a nation wept together, that I realized I’ve been living with a lie. Holding onto a secret is like having a key to a kingdom but if there is no one to share it with only loneliness lives there. I did it to protect myself from being hurt as anyone would do but at what cost to my authenticity as a woman of color. I wanted the love and attention without feeling like I was selling out to myself and to my heritage so I played along. Can these two principles exist side by side? Can we be our “whole black selves,” as singer/activist Tobe Nwigwe would say, in front of the White man? The answer is NO. Of Course not.
We liberate ourselves amongst our own in the Black community, while dividing our culture between us and them. This lifelong theatrical performance consists of one main character who has perfected the ability to use all of his or her senses in a constant dance for survival. From birth, African Americans develop acute instincts in response to certain behavioral cues from a predominately White society. These patterns become embedded in one’s psyche and remain there until it is time to pass them along to the next generation of actors, both black and white.
Who I am is actually not who I am.
I have lived as just a simple human being off stage and also as a very BLACK socially acceptable BLACK woman who is BLACK educated and speaks BLACK well while on stage. This is who I am because this is the world we live in.
Now don’t get me wrong, Mother Earth has blessed me with the distinct pleasure of being loved by many great white men and women as they have also experienced the honor of my crazy ass loving them back. Having said that, society or what I refer to as “the strangers,” still sees the color of my skin first, almost always in fact.
If I rush in, I can sometimes smother this group of people staring at me, by using my personality as a weapon to distract from my skin tone. The objective is to break through a barrier that can’t be avoided which as you can probably imagine is extremely difficult but because of this “handicap”, I have no choice but to try. It is one of many magic tricks Blacks perform when trying to communicate with the opposite race as they are frequently preoccupied with the overwhelming presence of our exterior. Despite this challenge, the intent is to open up channels and create dialogue where Black and White, men and women can speak freely about life’s most difficult subjects. As I found out with some of my closest friends this level of trust may not exist.
We met when we were seven years old on the playground at school during recess. Boy do I miss those days, innocence—so beautiful, simple. Children are the best, not the ones who kick the back of your chair in the movie theater or on an airplane, I hate those little bastards, but the other kind of children, the ones that see color but assume it’s because you’ve been in the sun all day. The ignorance of being seven, I love it.
It was the early 70s and despite the breakup of The Beatles and a US invasion of Cambodia, all we wanted to do was play, all day and all night. We didn’t give a rats ass about anything else.
Can we go back, please? I want a do-over, actually America NEEDS a do-over. This country has soiled itself and could use a bath. We have spent 400 years in the mud but expect all of our dirty deeds to be washed away with spit and a toothbrush.
Jennifer and I experienced 2 odd occurrences in those years that we still marvel over today. One, my family and I had coincidentally moved onto the same block as my new friend Jennifer and two, we also had the exact same bicycle with identical markings on the seat. What were the chances of that happening?
The friendship grew and with its usual ups and downs we eventually lost touch as I went off to college and she began to raise a family. Some years later we reunited and it was as if time had not stopped at all. She looked great, married a cop and had 2 children, while I continued to hoe around and party. (True story, Lol).
I miss those days too frankly, the 90s I mean. It’s so hard to meet men in this online world of hooking up where no one looks like their picture and for some strange reason these 6ft. 2in. tall guys, who have a masters degree in psychology, a six pack worth of abs, make over $200k a year, love dogs but are still desperately looking for a date. There’s no way men that perfect can’t get laid. It’s all bullshit.
Anyway, shortly after George Floyd was killed, I get a call from my dear friend who I deeply love only to hear the tears in her voice as she had expressed to me her sadness over the killing of an innocent man. She was also quite distraught over the bomb that exploded afterwards and the wave of destruction that followed. We commiserated as I too shared in her despair.
And so in this moment she asked me—what happened? Not what happened today or yesterday. “What the fuck happened” to this country? She reminded me of our 70s style childhood which led into some pretty successful partying in the 80s and our ability to keep fun as the main objective in our formative years. She reminded me that despite the fact that she was White and I was Black, we had more conversations about her being really short and me being really tall.
Jennifer reminded me that hate and disdain wasn’t part of our experience as friends and how betrayed she feels by a community she loves and then, she flat out asked me why? Why Madelene? We stuck our toes into the deep end of the pool, entering into a territory no one can return home from. I cautiously reminded her that if we go there, it’ll have to be with mutual trust, zero judgment and pure honesty.
I began by clarifying this so-called historical event as some have described it is as more of the same in the Black community. This murder isn’t new and I reminded her that I had lived my life right next to hers but with black skin. I had not shared with her the days walking home after school with her frightened me at times because I was a little brown skinned girl in a predominantly white neighborhood. I had not told her how uncomfortable I was in our teens when we went to a party and I was the only Black person in the room (the stares and looks were terrifying). I had not shared with her the most precious facets of my undeniable being my most intimate moments as a child, and she was my best friend.
Realizing I was Black, and I don’t exactly remember the day and time, scared the shit out of me. So frightening it is, most of us find it too horrible to discuss. We walk alongside each other like we’ve just seen a ghost, looking around every corner to see if the boogeyman is there. Dude, it’s so weird, this skin, damn this skin sometimes but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well maybe sometimes, does Bradley Cooper like Black girls? Cause he’s fine as hell.
We are imposters, living a double life as a means of survival. Our Blackness generates a purity, a consciousness amongst ourselves but becomes a lie when around dissimilar communities. We live within the confines of a special set of rules as if to appease and pacify our White brothers and sisters and truth be told, their fear is real. They know we’re pissed off and so we walk quietly, speak softly and keep our heads down so as to not frighten them as we pass each other on these unpaved streets of fractured America.
But you know what Jennifer? I’m afraid too. Everyday I sit silently, worrying about my family and friends who while minding their own business are subjected to repeated abuse and constant attacks. We are all living amongst groups of people who would rather cut off their right arm and a couple of toes, than to live in a country with people who look like me.
Jennifer then asked me what she could do to exact change. She said she was frustrated by the opposition shutting her down when she makes attempts to do the right thing. It was the damned if you do, damned if you don’t policy. I agreed that this is a problem but we have a long way to go and I explained to her it was going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Generations of bad behavior can not be healed with a coke and a smile.
I kind a feel like I fucked up in the conversation because I wasn’t more accommodating but God damn it we’re always coddling motherfuckers. Trying to make them feel better about living in the racist country they created. The mind fuck on that one is a trip. So let me get this straight, European colonizers kidnapped West Africans from the great continent, shackled them to a ship, stripped them of value, raped and dehumanized a civilization of Queens and warriors into mounds of flesh, and then left them with a reminder that they will always be named after their slave master.
I wonder what my real last name is?
The conversation awkwardly continued as Jennifer confided in me the existence of her uncontrollable tears as she weeps at night over realizing the experiences we shared as children were fraught with error. An uncalculated step through a wormhole……a dreamscape where we both woke up in 2020 America and realized our childhood was a joke. Or is this the joke?
My heart broke as I absorbed this kind and gentle woman’s pain but could not offer any relief. And then, the biggest light bulb moment on planet earth happened as we both realized there was actually an answer to this complicated issue. This new discussion over how to be part of the solution and not the problem…… just don’t be an asshole. Boom. Done.
Here is a short list of small gestures we can all do to bridge the gap between races in America.
- Look a Black person in the eye, smile and say hello. If you can’t find one, Latino and then Asian also works.
- Buy a sister a cup of coffee while you’re waiting in line at Starbucks. And shame on both of us for going to Starbucks instead of supporting the mom and pop coffee shops.
- Give to the UNCF… just kidding!
- Learn how to dance. We love it when White guys can dance.
- Coach an inner-city baseball team. We’re letting disenfranchised youth stray away from America’s favorite past-time. (Thanks Tommy)
- Buy from Black owned businesses.
- Support any change a white person is willing to make. We all have to start somewhere.
- Take a class on Black history, you’ll be surprised how wrong American history is.
- Stop believing all white people are evil. They are not. In fact, some of them are kinda cute and have really pretty eyes. Thin lips but pretty eyes.
- Look a White person in the eye, smile and say hello. If you can’t find one, Latino or Asian will do.