I cringe because I know it is coming once the conversation starts going in the direction of race. “My best friend is Black,” “I have dated a Black guy,” “you don’t know anything about my background, I have helped (fill in the blank).” These excuses are the usual responses when a White person is challenged about their potentially problematic behavior or language. Black and brown people will not be the pawns used to explain away something that we would not accept had we been present. I tire of the excuses that seem to be sitting in your back pockets, ready to be used as if they will somehow make all of the comments not only allowable but also acceptable. Many times, those who weaponize their Black or Latinx friends in response to critical comments from minority groups tend to not wonder if this action is acceptable at all. It is a mechanism stemming from being uncomfortable in a situation that makes people feel as if they are being “a racist.”
I get it. It is tough. But the idea that a person can’t behave or speak offensively because they have friends from minority backgrounds is equivalent to saying that a person can’t be sexist because they have daughters or are married. It doesn’t make sense and is an attempt to stop conversations. Black and Brown people are not monolithic, and when you attempt to use a differing opinion as an example to negate what another Black or Brown person is saying then you are trying to pit us against each other to prove who is right or who is “Blacker or Browner”. Stop it. There is a gorgeous spectrum of color, religion, experiences, and more within Black and Brown bodies, and if you are using those friends then the assumption is that you do not truly understand that spectrum.
Pitting us against each other has got to stop. We are human. We will make mistakes. When you acknowledge the mistake instead of pushing the relationship you have with Black and Brown people in front of you learning and trust occurs because you have acknowledged your mistake instead of tokenizing and using your friends’ identities and learning and trust-building occurs. It is tough because many people who have friends from marginalized communities feel as if that friendship means no work has to be done and that is incorrect. You can have a Black best friend and still use problematic language. You can have a gay brother and still say homophobic things. You can have a father in a wheelchair and still have a very ableist mentality because “if he can do it, why can’t another person?” It needs to be understood how damaging it is to thrust your relationships in front of others as proof of your “wokeness,” instead of acknowledging that maybe something you did was wrong.
During these conversations, it is time to take a critical look at your relationship with that person. Do they talk to you about race and the experiences they have? Do they challenge you when you have said or done something wrong, or do they laugh it away because they know you will get angry, and for them, the friendship is worth more than the conflict? How have you handled situations when other people were saying problematic things? Did you join in, laugh, or stop them? These are questions to ask yourself because, many times, if your friends from marginalized communities aren’t being honest about what they are experiencing, then your relationships aren’t as deep as you say they are. I will be honest: when people tell me they have close Black friends when we are talking about race, the first thing I will do is check their Facebook page and look at their pictures because I always find it interesting that they say they have numerous friends who are Black, but none of them are shown in their pictures. If you have friends that are Black like you say you do, then I should see pictures of them. I should see proof that your life is interwoven with theirs. This post is also for those who do have a ton of friends of different races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, abilities, and so on. You should know the fights that your friends are consistently going through because we need you to be better. We need to know you are fighting for us in uncomfortable conversations, not using us to get out of them. We need to know that how you defend yourself is not by throwing us in front of you to be the martyr.
PS. Please do not tokenize Martin Luther King Jr. Do not tokenize the I Have a Dream speech. Do not use him against Black people who are protesting to show the “right” way to protest. Do not use him, do not use him, do not use him.
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