“Growing up just outside DC, my mom remembers me coming home one day from Congressional School in Falls Church VA at 4 or 5 years old crying. “I want to be brown mommy. White isn’t special. White is boring.”
I don’t remember what prompted that comment other than knowing my best friend Neah was black and that I must have recognized the difference between her appearance and mine then. I wanted to be like her.
If there is one thing every token black friend knows, it is that we are not to provoke serious discussions of racial issues among our white crowd. We should only offer an opinion on such matters when invited to do so by our white peers. Further, we should ensure that the opinion is in line enough with the shared opinion of our white friends, as to not make it too awkward or ostracizing. It doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be this way. Many of us are eager to share our stories, and we have been waiting for the invitation to do so.
My excuse? Since that time above, it never entered my mind that my best black friends were different than me. “Race” wasn’t a topic I raised because I didn’t see it. I would protect and defend them in any situation just as I would my family. And that is precisely the problem. It is that ignorance and my sheltered upbringing that has kept me from opening my eyes to the realities of our world past and present and from being a better and more understanding friend and person.
I have really struggled with guilt of late for never asking those questions. For not knowing their experiences, their concerns, how they feel – not on a given day – but because of being black. How could I call myself a friend, when something that no doubt is important to them and impacts their lives was something I never brought up? I was and am so sorry. So I asked. I apologized and it was appreciated but that isn’t enough.
I will ask again and again, especially during this movement about how they feel. And I will continue to talk about race with them – over dinner, a bottle of wine, on a long drive – to understand the experiences they’ve had big or small, how it’s made them feel, and what I can do to help.
So while I typically use Facebook for sharing photos of my travels with my family, I use it now to ask you to please:
1. read this article from “a token black friend” in Boston, MA.
2. and to start or continue asking these questions of your black friends and family.
Because while progress since the 60s in America has been made. We (blacks, whites, and every minority) have a helluva long way to go to eradicate our ignorance and prejudice and pave the way for a more free and fairer world.”