The problem with this discussion and the whole notion of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in the face of racism – it places white people in the position of grappling with the horns of a dilemma. If we keep this uncomfortable discussion going you have to choose between maintenance of your desire to be thought well of (Im entitled to think as I choose about OTHER black people who aren’t YOU while genuinely feeling that those opinions don’t extend to YOU, black person that I am friends with) vs the hard truth;
You as a white person are free to think as you like about whomever you want. That is really not at issue and your being uncomfortable at being told how and what to think about whom is justified in my opinion. Lets not derail the discussion chasing that rabbit around. Honestly, I don’t like being told what to think or how to feel either. But let us continue to drag this elephant out into the middle of the room, squarely under the spotlight and let us now agree in front of each other that it IS in fact an elephant. Again, you are always free to think as you like about whomever you want. There is a cost associated with that however. Do not ask me to believe that you feel differently about me because IM not like THEM. Do not ask me to believe that you aren’t racist because Im looking at what you do, not listening to your disclaimer.
The reality is that your feelings about other black people that aren’t me are in fact feelings about me, because Im as black as they are. I recognize that by refusing to be silent about this issue, Im raising the stakes. In my refusal to leave ‘well enough alone’ Im forcing the issue. Your feelings of irritation, of shame, even of anger – are irrelevant at this point. The time for choosing is at hand and although we’ve spent many years hoping that we would avoid this and that these weighty discussions would be raised and dealt with by other people in other more important, more convenient venues – well, the time has come and like it or not, we… you and I are those people.
Yes there is a solution. Its not an easy one and yes – there is a cost associated with that as well. You see, It costs me something to pretend, to walk around the damn elephant most of my life and to try to balance my coffee cup on my knee because the elephant is too damn big to use as an end table. Im tired of pretending – and lets face it, so are you. It cost you something as well – the price of silence and not calling you on your shit has meant that you don’t truly know me, not for real – like an iceberg the bulk of who I truly am remains below the waterline of our interactions, our relationship. Im guarded around you nearly all of the time. The person you see and THINK you know represents a very small part of me. Because the cost of my silence is that I believe that you secretly see me as you see them and as a result I cannot trust you, not truly.
My feelings about you, and/or white people that aren’t you are really my responsibility as well. I have to own that. You know what else? I understand that and I have walked away from my family members that espouse hatred. I no longer have ‘friends’ that are racist as a matter of self preservation. I wont have it in my house, my Leather family, in my circle of friends. I know the range and the strength of my power – I cannot force other adults of my acquiantence or relation to believe, to do differently. But I always have a choice as to what I believe and what I do – and it is my belief that my life is better without hateful people in it…and when it comes to that, I will draw the line. Why is this my truth? I believe that there is a toxicity in racist thoughts and ideology that has long term effects on the body, mind and soul that cannot be ignored and will not be wished away regardless of the righteous justification of the person holding the idea. The hue of my skin may serve as protection against sunburn, but it is no defense against the molten toxicity of unresolved internal angst, anger and rage.
So, in response to your unspoken question, Im not angry – not at all. I cant afford it. And neither can you, whether you realize it or not. No, yours isn’t the face contorted in rage on the black and white pages of old LIFE magazines, shaking your fist at the advances of integration. You aren’t manning high-pressure fire hoses aimed at protestors and your dog isn’t trained to attack people of color. And because we have those historical high watermarks of the most reprehensible and visible facets of racism, none of which you support or espouse – perhaps you may feel that most of this ‘talk’ of racism is a case of making a mountain out of a molehill, of taking things too seriously. Let me assure you that is not the case. Not at all. Your off the cuff observations about Mexicans, about people of middle eastern descent, about Jews or anyone else who isn’t like you – it comes from the same place and carries the same impact as the water from the firehose, the contorted face, the bite of the dog.
To truly make a dent in this thing, if we are truly going to make a change in this world, right the fuck NOW – you have to choose. Choose to stand up for what you truly believe in. For some of you, that will mean nothing whatsoever. You don’t want to change and you don’t have to. And in the words of the old Irish blessing, if He cannot change your hearts may he change your walk so that we may know you by your limping fucked-up gait. For others of you the cost that is on the table is that you must commit yourselves – to teaching your children differently. To speaking up instead of going along quietly. To rocking the boat and if it comes to that, walking away from those friends and even family that continue to embrace hatred. We no longer have the luxury of ignorance.
For my part, I commit to the tearing down, the dismantling of the emotional cardboard of what passes for friendship these days. I commit to personal authenticity, to walking in truth, to speaking my truth and for those that choose to either call me friend or want to walk together for a time with me to see if we can truly be friends – I open my arms and my heart. Get with me, talk to me – Im here and I will NOT reject you, I promise you that. But understand that Im going to be real with you and I expect your realness in return. No more lies, no more hiding and there arent any easy answers, I know that. We must build where we are – right here and right now.