I grew up black in a very white neighborhood in a very white city in a very white state.
As such, I am a lot of people’s merely black friend.
Being the only black friend is a gift and a curse. I am black and I love having friends — gift. But I am also, at any given moment, expected to be a translator, an ambassador, a history educator, and/ or a walk-to, talking invitation into “I am not racist” province. It’s a lot to handle. Consider what I mean about that curse?
So when I insured the animated short-film “Your Black Friend, “ I felt so assured. Clearly, I am not alone.
The film, which was written, designed, and narrated by Ben Passmore and is based on his mini-comic of the same name, is a brilliant, freshening style to examine whiteness and racism. The comic and animated short are an open-letter from “your black friend” to you, their well-meaning white friend, about bias, alienation, and what it means to be a good friend and friend.
It’s funny, honest, and heartbreaking in equal measure. And speaking from personal experience, it captures the experience of being a black friend to white people pretty much perfectly.
So if you’re a “woke” friend and ally, here are some things your black friend wants you to know.
1. You’re going to have to get uncomfortable.
It could be something as obvious and upset as a racist gag. Or something as “benign” as your aunt indicating you cross the street when she sees a group of black children strolling by. But either way, if you want to be a good friend and a real ally, you’re going to have to speak up. You’re going to have to have those tough conversations with people you care about.
It’s not easy to tackle strangers or people you love, but if you don’t do it, you are part of their own problems. Sitting out isn’t an option. No one said being an ally is easy.
2. “Your black friend would like to say something to the racist lady, but doesn’t want to appear to be that ‘angry black man.'”
“He knows this type of person expects that from him, and he will lose before he begins, ” Passmore says.
Black people can’t always react or respond the style we want to. When I am followed in a department store, pulled over for no reason, or gazed at while picking up dinner at the fancy grocery store, I can’t stop what I’m doing and yell, “YES, I AM BLACK. NO, I AM NOT A CRIMINAL YOU SMALL-MINDED, BIASED ASSHOLES.” Trust me, I want to. But especially when police are involved, I have to be calm, respectful, and obedient.
That’s where you come in. You, white friend, need to speak up and say something when I can’t. If you are not at risk , nor considered a threat, you have a certain quantity of privilege in these situations. Use it to demand answers, speak to supervisors, or if things truly get dicey, pull out your phone and make record.
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