I was having a conversation with one of my White friends a few weeks back and she was really on her “privileged” horse.
Privilege tip means she was making “strong” recommendations about what Black people and other people needed to do in order to make their lives better, which translates to me, a Black person, as assimilation.
Change ones culture to look civil in the eyes of White people = assimilation.
Her laundry list was comprised of some cosmetic things like fixing up their neighborhoods (so White people won’t be afraid to go into them), altering the cultural aesthetics of said Black and Brown communities to resemble suburban and upper middle class White communities, not looking so “scary” (my words not hers), and not being so loud. Everything noted needed to be done to appease White fragility and unwarranted White fear programmed into many White people from birth.
After starring at her for about 5 minutes trying to find the right words, examples, and tools for this surgery… I went in.
We had a different kind of talk. I lead with a question. The first question I asked her was if she’d ever given any thought to the fact Black and Brown people are sick and tired of getting all gussied up to come into White spaces? I asked her had she ever considered most Black people are safer in Black communities than they are White communities. We don’t have BBQ Betty’s and Pool Patrol Paula’s telling us where we can or cannot go. Nor does anyone tell us we’re not wanted in our spaces. Oh yeah, not to mention the police harassing us, following us in our cars, or White store people following us thinking we’re stealing merchandise all the time.
I told her about my personal experiences going into restaurants, networking events, and even work and being the only Black person. I’m always uncomfortable, it’s expected of me. I just suck it up and keep moving. And I really gave it to her about my experience at the hotel in DC while work for the very federal agency responsible for policing my civil rights (but they really don’t). Going into White spaces opens us up to experiencing trauma. I’ve lived in all White communities and had to deal with all the weird looks and slights because they were angry and uncomfortable that I’m there.
I let her know that I, like many Blacks and Brown people, are always uncomfortable. Whiteness expects us to be uncomfortable. Whiteness has no concern about our comfort. The only group who’s comfort is of concern is Whiteness.
I’m tired of being uncomfortable — well, not actually. I can never be “tired” of this kind of discomfort because most everything I need and some of the things I want/like require me to cross the line.
That invisible line that exists when those of us forced to assimilate for survival need to navigate our cultural comfort to discomfort of the default, whiteness.
Her wheels turned. It never occurred to her that Black and Brown people might feel uncomfortable navigating the default Whiteness. Whether it’s fine dining or going to buy a new car or home, we know we must dress the part, talk the part, sound the part… and even then, it still may not be good enough.
Lastly, I told her White people need to be uncomfortable.
I told her she needed to get Black friends and go to their communities. Break bread in their homes. Visit their places of worship (often). Enjoy concerts in their communities. Go eat soul food in the not-so-nice parts of town (it’s bad for you, but so is too much screen time, our water, our food, and unsafe sex — but we still indulge). Go to an all Black event. Practice being uncomfortable. She needed to immerse herself in Black and Brown communities and Black and Brown cultures, intentionally.
Her Privilege and Need For Comfort Revealed
I asked her how to recount how many times I had been to her place, and how many times she’d invited me. It was a lot. I then asked her how many times had she been to my place. She stammered. She couldn’t name a time. She never gave it a second thought until I mentioned it to her.
She wasn’t bothered by it the fact, or curious about my life.
And that was the point I wanted to make.
Subconsciously (without saying a word), she automatically assumed because I was Black, I perhaps lived in an unsafe place or perhaps my place wasn’t to up to her high and mighty White, sanitized standards. I didn’t eat people. I didn’t have bugs or bed bugs. My bathrooms were clean. My home was clean. I lived among the default, but she never took the time to find out where or how I lived. We have been friends for years, yet every get together planned was planned with her comfort and dietary needs in mind.
I never rocked the boat. I thought I was being a good friend.
I also never invited her to my place. I got enough upper crust vibes from her to know she wasn’t curious enough about me, therefore; she was probably afraid to come to my place. What she didn’t say mattered. But it was cool, I was used to it.
The only thing that was important to my friend was her comfort.
Being Uncomfortable Can Be Rewarding
I have had lots of associations and connections with nice, genuine White people, but I’ve only had one White person, a man named Mark, who came to my home and at Thanksgiving dinner with my family. We watched television afterwards, ate more food, and I made him plenty to go plates. He had no trepidation about being in our midst. He was treated like family.
Mark probably came a little uncomfortable being in the home of Black people, but he left as our new family member.
He would have never had the experience if he hadn’t taken me up on the offer I extended. Mark was our mechanic, and I valued him so much I wanted to show him how much I appreciated him. One of my love languages is food, so I wanted to cook him a good meal and present him with a gift. He reminded me of my dad with the quality and expertise of his work. We still stay in touch to this day. My friend Mark was made uncomfortable, and he was richly rewarded.
Your Feelings Are Not My Concern
My other friend did what some White people do when you call them on their privilege (cry and make excuses, deflect, etc.) but we worked our way through it, although I felt like I was pacifying a little baby. It was upsetting to her, but I quickly nipped all the dramatics in the bud. I told her I really cared about her, but for this one time, I did not care about her feelings or her comfort. This exercise was about other people who are always uncomfortable to make sure she and other White people with mindsets like hers remain in their comfort zones.
She got the picture I was painting. We spent hours going through all the ways I’ve changed my life to coddle Whiteness so that it can feel safe. We agreed that from now on I’d suggest meeting places and we’d take turns visiting each other’s homes and communities. My friend apologized profusely for not being more considerate and showed she was committed to do the work of deprogramming her subconscious biases and mindsets about people and communities of color. I told her White ain’t always right. She agreed.
Her discomfort is a must. Seeing what it feels like regularly is a wonderful privilege checker. For a short uncomfortable time period, her Whiteness will have dishonor of seeing and experiencing what Black and other non-white people see and experience every time we cross that invisible line.
That line from carries us from otherness to the White spaces.
In order for Whiteness to get over it’s fear of the “other,” it must confront it’s fears and the lies told to them about the other being inferior, scary, bad, etc., otherwise we will never end racism. We are more alike than we are different.
We all lose jobs and get fired. We all experience death of loved ones. We all have favorite past times. Some of us have very similar life experiences. Many of us have the same talents, skills, and abilities. Some of us love religion whiles others of us — not so much. Some of us use drugs while others of us are recovering addicts. We all need food and water to live, and if we aren’t rich or born rich — we all are likely going to be working until we die. Many of us have problem children, and some of us have the perfect family. Lots of us will divorce, and others of us will stay married happily ever after. Whether we want to believe it our not, we rely on one another for our survival.
We all could learn a thing or two if we’d stop judging our differences, making assumptions about certain unprivileged groups, and get uncomfortable. Especially White people. As long as you’re comfortable and have the privilege of forcing others to conform for your comfort— you’re not growing.
I’ve been to the country-western bar and learned how to line dance (it’s like the electric slide but with different music). I’ve gone into various communities of color to visit museums, experience foods, and enjoy other cultures. I’ve smoked cigars with old Cuban men, and drank beer with Germans in American-German pubs. If a festival has food and authentic cultural events, I’m there. I love going to immigrant communities to see how they engage with each other outside of the purview of Whiteness.
It’s a beautiful thing.
We are more alike than we are different. Skin color and community location should not be a reason for Whiteness to fear us. We want you to come to our worlds. It makes our lives less stressful when you come to us too. Experience the culture. Make yourself uncomfortable. Learn about Black people and other People of Color in real, authentic settings.
Perhaps you’ll make a new non-White friend for life. You never know the color of the man or woman who may be in charge of saving your life.
If you enjoyed this story, you may like this essay by Carol Lennox, a White woman raising a Black son, immersing herself in Black communities and making Black friends. It’s a great read, I strongly recommend it.