I have lost more friends to racism than anything else. To clarify, I have lost more white friends to racism than anything else. I am a white man who did not see this coming several years ago, because, like pretty much everyone I know, I learned about slavery and the Civil Rights movement back in school. I don’t recall anyone who ever disagreed with the belief that “racism is bad” and that “Black people deserve to be treated equally.” While we were taught that the Civil Rights movement granted Black people equality, and while some of us began to observe that there were still inequities within our society, I still believed that there would be plenty of common ground amongst us white people when it came to addressing racism. My Black friends, of course, knew better and tried to tell me…and here I am. My exhaustion, frustration and anger in no way compares to the experience of being Black in America, and so this writing is not intended for folks who aren’t white. If you are white and reading this, and if you are someone who truly cares about ending racism, know this: we, individually and collectively, have a lot of blind spots and can be extremely exhausting to deal with.
I am Gen-X and grew up watching Geraldo Rivera and Montel Williams address White Supremacy on their talk shows in the 80s and 90s. At that time, it was easy to identify white supremacists as they were openly wearing KKK robes and Nazi symbols and it was easy, as a white person, to say “I am not them” and “I am not like that.” We could label those “fringe” organizations as racist and bad, while still benefitting off of a systemically racist society that many of us white folks didn’t even know existed. On top of all that, I am Jewish, and believed I couldn’t possibly be racist because “we were oppressed and enslaved too.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, I had a group of friends that represented every race, religion, and sexual orientation. They would share with me their experiences, which were quite different than mine, especially when dealing with police and other white people. I watched Rodney King get beaten over and over again on TV. And worse, I saw the officers who beat him get acquitted. Then, I watched much of Los Angeles burn from the riots that ensued. From experiences like these, and from a study of Sociology, I also realized that just as not all heroes wear capes, not all white supremacists wear Klan hoods.
Following the riots and after college, I did what many white folks in Los Angeles do: I went on a spiritual quest, tried out other religions, got into yoga, and learned about crystals and the Law of Attraction. While this was all intended as a means to better myself, my underlying ego desired to know things other people didn’t and to believe I would someday transcend this existence above those who didn’t know any better. Are there technologies and rituals and mindsets that expand our knowledge and existence? Yes. Are most of us utilizing these tools correctly? No. And, are marginalized people free enough from their own daily concerns about survival to develop their own study in these areas? No. In fact, most of what I learned and most of the rituals I was taught to practice, were stolen from the traditions of those who have been oppressed. For the most part, the people whose ancestors created the “cool new things” I was learning about, we’re the very ones being harmed by my practice of those things. How were Black people, for instance, being harmed by my learning about the magical healing of crystals? Because instead of seeing and acknowledging the reality of what they were dealing with and working to dismantle it, we white folks believed ourselves to be exceptional, superior, and beyond even looking at their reality. This is mostly where I have lost “friends;” in their reluctance to actually acknowledge someone else’s lived experience and our contribution to it.
The white woman who grew up in the South Bay and said I should know that “racism is a ‘story’ because we create our own reality,” the white man who said that he should be able to wear blackface as a costume because he was showing appreciation for Prince, the white woman who told people not to donate to Black Lives Matter because she “uncovered a ‘hidden agenda’ with the DNC, the white woman who claimed to “see above the race war,” (“race war” being white supremacist terminology) and on and on. None of these folks were listening to the collective of Black people or their experience—only bypassing and gas-lighting what has been shared ad nauseum, for decades. In fact, the woman who claimed BLM was a DNC front even patted herself on the back by declaring she had been “sharing Black people’s posts for weeks.” For weeks.
Then, un-ironically, the feminist white women who applauded my efforts in helping men to hear women regarding #metoo, accused me of being a misogynistic and divisive mansplainer when I shared the words of a Black woman asking where their support had been when it came to justice for Breonna Taylor and several other Black and Black-Trans women. What seems to be most-disheartening in all of this, is that the solutions seem so simple. They have always seemed simple: Listen to the people who are being affected. That’s it. However, what has become ingrained in who we (white people) are, is the need to be exceptional, or be perceived as exceptional…as saviors. After all, THE savior of all saviors, had to be turned into a white man.
All of these interactions happened in just the last two weeks, are a fraction of what I have experienced over the years and yet still minuscule in comparison to the emotional violence my Black friends have had to endure. From this, though, I have gained just a tiny bit of insight into why we, white people, are not trusted. It is not as simple as “do better.” Most of us have no idea what that even means. The real request is to care more, listen more and give up the need to be “the one,” “the savior” and “the winner.” There is no secret, other than: No one is winning anything as long as my friends continue living with the fear that they might be murdered for simply existing in darker skin.
Watch Author Matthew Solomon’s KTLA-TV interview where he discusses how to have open and honest anti-racist conversations.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please support our mission and join us as a Premium Member.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Shutterstock