One of the hardships of being Black in America is not only having to navigate majority-white spaces but also having to navigate close relationships with non-black people that are created in those spaces. This includes relationships with our closest friends who are not black. Many people want to ignore the presence of race and how that affects a relationship, however, it is harmful because of how the ideas of race and acts of racism are embedded in our everyday lives. In the story presented below, I explore the hardship of navigating these relationships between black and non-black people. This story is completely fiction and is representative of one extreme situation. However, hopefully, it can inspire others on how they can be an “ally” to their Black loved ones.
*This story uses explicit language including racial slurs*
. . .
Dashawn has his hands firmly on the steering wheel. His whole body is stiff and even though he is the only one in the car, he still feels the tension in his veins. He tries focusing on the road but his nervousness is making it difficult. He knows he has to do this but it doesn’t make it easier. Nobody likes confrontation and nobody likes losing somebody who has been so essential to them for so long.
When Dashawn finally arrives at his destination he stops the car, but he doesn’t get out. He puts his head on the steering wheel and takes a deep breath. People always make it seem so easy to cut people out of your life. People you have loved for so long. People who have helped you through your worst moments and who you have helped with theirs. Sometimes, though, those people are not meant to be in your life. Sometimes, they are not the right person for you and that is okay. Dashawn knows this. It’s the conversation he’s been having with himself for a month. So, with a final deep breath, he lifts his head up and steps out of the car.
Just looking at the house makes him nauseous. The place he half grew up in and now he cannot stand the sight of it. He wants to just turn around and run away but he knows he cannot. He goes to the front door and knocks.
“Hey Dashawn,” say’s Mrs. Wilson with a fake smile. Dashawn now knows all her smiles were fake. He just wishes he was always able to tell.
“Hello, Mrs. Wilson. How’re you?”
“Well, actually I’m just fixin’ up some dinner. How’re you? How is your family? You haven’t been around much recently.”
He wishes he could tell her why he hasn’t been around recently. Wishes he could call her out on her bullshit. Wishes he had known this whole time that this lady who has made him meals so many times over the years was just as bad as the others. He had felt safe here and now he will never get that back. But he isn’t here to start drama. He’s here to make his peace and leave. He deserves it for himself.
“I’m good. Mom’s good. She’s letting me drive her new baby so I can’t stay too late. I’ve been really busy with school and stuff.”
“Oh, that’s good! Well, I bet you’re looking for Alex. He’s out back in the barn tending to the horses.”
“Okay, thanks! Bye Mrs. Wilson.”
That’s probably the last conversation Dashawn will have with her. But knowing what he knows now, he doesn’t see it as too much of a loss. He heads through the house and through the side doors to the barn. He knows this house like the back of his hand. So many memories etched into the walls. He knows he can’t get nostalgic now though. It will only make what he has to do harder. He passes the living room. The place where this all started and he’s reminded why this is necessary. That memory makes any nostalgia he was feeling vanish. He gets to the barn and calls out to Alex.
“Dashawn? I’m back here.”
Dashawn walks toward the sound of Alex’s voice at the back of the barn. This barn has sort of functioned as their hangout over the years. This was their escape and now it’s Dashawn’s own personal hell. When he finally makes it to Alex he’s tending to one of the horses.
“Hey, you haven’t been around much lately D. What’s up?”
As soon as Alex asks that question, Dashawn’s heart starts beating uncontrollably. He almost doesn’t want to do it but he knows he needs to. He needs to do it for himself, for everybody he loves, and for his morals.
“I kind of need to talk to you and it’s important bro.”
“Okay. Let me finish up with the horses real quick.”
Dashawn waits for Alex to finish grooming the horses. He wishes he could just blurt it out. The build-up to this moment has been nerve-wracking. He’s been going over what he’s going to say in his head and he still doesn’t know. He still doesn’t know how he’s gonna deal with losing one of the most important people in his life and he wishes things were different. But he knows what it’s like to be one of the only black people in this small Virginian town and he knows how the people here feel about him.
Alex finishes up with the horses and they move to a different area of the barn.
“Okay man, what did you want to talk about?”
Dashawn takes a deep breath. He knows he can do this. He has been trying to practice for this moment but it is so much more terrifying now that it’s actually happening. It may seem dramatic but Alex has always been his best friend. Never did he imagine the day when he would need to do this. He makes eye contact with Alex and decides to get straight to the point.
“Alex, bro I’m sorry but we can’t be friends anymore.”
“Dashawn stop playing. What do you really want to talk about? You’re acting weird.”
“I’m serious. It’s a cliche man but we really are just from two different backgrounds. It didn’t matter when we were younger but now things are different.”
Alex’s body immediately tenses. Dashawn can tell he’s taking things more seriously now. He’s seen this behavior plenty of times from Alex in the past. Growing up in his family hasn’t been easy and Alex only knows how to deal with his emotions in one way. Anger.
“What the fuck do you mean we are different? Why is it a problem now? We have been friends since we were ten D and now you want to stop because we are different? Yeah, it’s gonna take more than that so your ass better really start explaining now.” Alex’s voice is low and Dashawn can tell he’s trying to hold his anger for him. His face is red and he’s breathing so heavy it feels like the only sound in the barn. Alex gets angry a lot but that anger is never directed toward his best friend.
“Alex we cannot keep pretending that your family isn’t racist as shit. I hate coming over here now. I don’t feel comfortable and I don’t like how you refuse to call them out for it. You just chuckle along Alex and you should be doing more considering your best friend is BLACK.”
“They are farm people. They will always be stuck in their ways. I can’t change their minds, I can just be better than them.” Alex is confused. This is what this is about. His family is not even that bad compared to the rest of the people in this town.
“That’s not enough bro. If I can’t trust you to call out your racist ass family how can I trust you to be my friend? How can I trust you to have my back? How can I trust that you do not say the same things when I am not around or have the same thoughts? Am I different because I’ve been rocking with you since we were 10? Alex, I am still black. When your family is racist it not only affects me but it affects my community and the people I love. For years I thought your family was mine, that the little comments were harmless but now I see the truth and I see you being complicit.”
“D I have always had your fucking back!” Alex cannot believe his best friend sees him like this. He cannot believe he is about to lose the only person he can open up to in this town. Alex remembers meeting Dashawn. It was pretty boring actually. They met the way most ten-year-olds meet — during recess in Ms. Greer’s 5th-grade class. Dashawn was the new kid and with coming to a small Virginian town of course everybody had already heard of him before he stepped foot into the classroom. It was a big deal when anybody moved to town but a new Black family was more exciting. It was the talk of the town. Several kids had already taken interest in him that day. They had asked him his name and where he was from. Everybody was just excited to meet someone from a far off land. They only became friends because Alex and Dashawn were chosen for the same kickball team. Alex had always been the best kickball player in the grade and Dashawn claimed he was the champ at his old school so of course, they bonded. And of course, that friendship lasted 6 years but look at where they were now.
Their friendship made sense to Alex. It always had. But this didn’t make sense to Alex. What was wrong? Why is Dashawn doing this? Why now? The people of this town have always been like this. It’s no secret that most people are at least a little conservative. Alex didn’t think he was but he knew his parents were. But that’s just how they are. It’s harmless. Why is Dashawn so upset? Why is Alex losing his best friend?
“Not when it comes to this. You don’t understand what it’s like being me here.”
“What do you mean being you?”
“Being black.” There was silence. The tension in the air had gotten thicker and all that could be heard was their breathing. Dashawn knew Alex did not and could not understand because it wasn’t affecting him. It wasn’t affecting his family and his communities. He cares about his best friend no doubt but some things are just deep enough to end a friendship.
“Are you saying we can’t be friends because I am white?”
“No. I am saying we can’t be friends because I am black and I deserve better. This town has a lot of growing to do and so does your family. There’s too much going on in the world for me and you to sit here and contribute by allowing your white family to be ‘stuck in their ways’. They need to get unstuck and you need to push them to do so.”
“So you really are ending this friendship? Just like this?”
Dashawn thinks about it. But then he remembers why. It was a few months ago when he was here having dinner with Alex’s family. Dinner had just finished and Dashawn was helping Mrs.Wilson in the kitchen with the dishes. Nobody ever helps her so he tries his best when he comes over to lend a helping hand. While doing the dishes he had to use the bathroom and decided to go relieve himself real quick.
“I’ll be back Mrs. Wilson.”
So he went off towards the bathroom but on the way, he passed the living room where Mr.Wilson was chatting with Alex’s uncle. Nothing was out of the ordinary until he heard what Mr.Wilson was saying.
“Yeah those fucking porch monkeys man,” Mr. Wilson said with a deep chuckle. “They think they can come here with no land and make something of themselves. My family has been farming here for so long and so have other families. Those niggers don’t stand a chance.”
Alex’s uncle chuckled. “Yeah, man. It’s crazy.”
Dashawn couldn’t believe his ears. He had known Mr. Wilson was conservative but he was always respectful towards Dashawn. When he decided to take a closer look into the living room he saw Alex sitting on the couch and not correcting his father. Not standing up for Black people while his Black best friend was in the other room with his mother. He knew then. Dashawn continued into the bathroom and afterward left early saying he wasn’t feeling too well. You wouldn’t feel too well if you heard those things either. That was the last time he had been in this house and that’s when he had known his friendship with Alex was over.
“Yeah. Our friendship is over Alex. I hope you and your family can grow but I cannot grow if I am friends with you. We should just chill with other people.”
“Okay,” Alex says, unable to look Dashawn in the eye.
Dashawn walks out of that house for the last time and he knows he made the right decision.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You.
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