What Means a Friend?

As I was reading Brittany Cooper’s thoughtful post The Politics of Being Friends With White People over at Salon today, I paused to think about my own experiences over the years with white people. When I was in third grade, my best friend in Mrs. Beck’s class was a white girl named Lisa.  Well, I guess we were friends. She sat in front of me in class and we’d pass notes back and forth, and most days, she’d ask me to brush her hair. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen, and I loved to play in it. (As a child, I wanted to be a hairdresser, and I would try to “do” anyone’s hair that was brave enough to let me. My sister is still mad at me for burning her hair with a marcel iron when I was nine.) I don’t remember much else about our interactions, but I do know that I loved her with the kind of love that only third grade girls can have for each other. One day though, we took our seats in class and she scooted her seat up and turned away from me when I spoke to her. A deep sense of dread overcame me, and although I can’t quite remember the entire exchange, I knew that my blackness and her whiteness had become an issue in our friendship.

Let me explain: In my Georgia hometown, the desegregation of schools came a bit late. In 1977 I was eight years old, and I was bussed from neighborhood school to a nearly all white school 13 miles away, and I say “nearly” only because there were a couple of Vietnamese students that lived in the area and attended the school. The goal of the school desegregation movement for my school board at that time was 70/30, 70% white and 30% non-white for the predominantly white schools, although I don’t recall any white kids being bussed to the all Black schools. Regardless, it was a traumatic transition for me; I left the comfort of my mom walking us to school every morning and having personal relationships with my principal (the beloved Mr. Caldwell) and my teachers, to being a statistic.  I felt alone for the first time in my short, sheltered life. My sister, two years behind me in school, would join me soon, but until then, I was on my own. Like Brittany, I didn’t fit in anywhere: I was a shy bookworm and used more Standard English than not, so the Black kids thought I “talked white,” and the white kids couldn’t get past the color of my skin. I was smart, but shy, so I withdrew into myself until Lisa decided she wanted to be my friend.

What I remember most about the end of that friendship was not only the loss of my friend, but a profound sense of the universe shifting beneath my small brown legs.  I’ve referred to this moment in other contexts as The Moment I Realized I was Black. Of course I knew I was Black, but I didn’t KNOW I was Black. In other words, in my Black working/middle-class neighborhood I was loved and protected, we knew everyone, and they knew us. So much so that if we got in trouble two streets over, our parents knew about it before we got home. We had so many aunties and grandmothers I can’t begin to name them all. But most of all, my humanity was never in question; I knew exactly who I was, and everybody was Black like me. My blackness wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, or even to pay much attention to. It just WAS. However, upon my arrival at Britt David Elementary School, it became readily apparent that my blackness was a problem. I was different in a way that had been illegible to me, and my growing knowledge of the racism that existed outside the safety of my neighborhood shattered the bubble I had previously lived in.  I was Black, and at Britt David, Black wasn’t beautiful at all.  Black was a stereotype, a nuisance, an oddity to be dismissed or denigrated. I wasn’t sure what to do about that, but I knew that at some point Lisa realized I was Black, or maybe it was that someone told her that she shouldn’t be my friend because I was Black. The particulars don’t really matter, but I remember clearly when she told me I wasn’t “allowed” to brush her hair anymore.

I was hurt when Lisa rejected me, and don’t think I had another white friend for several years after that. I wasn’t sure I could trust them not to reject my blackness and I didn’t want to be their “Black friend.” Thankfully, over the years I connected with other nerdy Black girls and boys and forged other friendships, and it was only when I went to college that I began new friendships with white people. I can honestly say that now I have two close friends who are white women, and race is something we discuss often and earnestly.  I am thankful that they are women who understand the politics of race, gender, and sexuality, and that our conversations on these topics are ongoing and always self-reflexive.  I do believe that it is possible to be friends with white people, but I also know that those friendships are forged by truly recognizing the humanity of others, and the ways in which societal, structural, and systemic racism shapes our interactions with others.

Practice What You Preach: Musings on ABG, CFC, and Accountability

First, here’s the link to Andrea Plaid’s awesome response to ABG’s no-pology.  Let me say this upfront, I’m not a huge fan of this show, it’s just not my thing. However, I have watched the evolution of it, including the calls for support earlier this year when ABG’s creators needed funds to finish episode eight, I think.  Regardless, I KNOW that their LGB and especiallly T, fans stepped up to the plate and supported this show and its creators. So I am appalled at their lack of sensitivity and awareness and downright dismissal of our reactions to this most recent offensive episode.

I am even more disappointed in the CFC’s defense of the show and it’s creators after this no-pology was received.  I followed the comments on Facebook and was pretty surprised at their refusal to really call out ABG for their refusal to even acknowledge the wrong had occurred. I am reminded of several posts in months past where they’ve called out white women, Black men, homophobes, racists, sexists, misogynists, Tyler Perry, other cultural critics, and who knows who else for their privilege, foul comments, lack of accountability and awareness of these same folks’ racism, sexism, etc.  Still, they seem to have given AGB a pass.  Why? Because she’s Black? Awkward? A friend?  I don’t know. What I do know that is that AGB should not be given a pass because you like the show. They should not be given a pass because they’re Black, because as we all know, Black folks can be prejudiced, sexist, trans- and homophobic too.  So what happened to the Crunk? There was nothing crunk about their response to the response.  Opening a dialogue about these issues with ABG is one thing, but dismissing your own followers for calling you out on your own refusal to really take them to task on issues that you take everyone else to task for is something else.

As a Black lesbian feminist I respect your right to do whatever you choose in the service of your own activism. However, I also expect that you practice what you preach, especially with “one of your own.” I’ve followed the CFC for the past couple of years, so I’m a little shocked and disappointed and after reading the comments on your Facebook page, I know that I’m not alone.

With my apologies to Audre Lorde, “Anger is an appropriate response to [trans and homophobic] attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.”  We cannot expect folks like ABG and others like them to change their attitudes, language, or behavior towards other marginalized groups if we give them a pass because we think it’s funny.  In fact, it makes us angry when we see these things continue to happen.  I’m angry, and although I’m not a fan of the show anyway, I’m angry because a group of feminists doing work I respect seem to have lost their crunk.  So I beg you, get crunk with the same righteous indignation that you show when Tyler Perry continues to denigrate and demean Black women in his movies. The same crunk that you’ve shown when you’ve called out folks like Tracy Morgan, or racist white feminists.

Otherwise, someone is going to have to pull your crunk card.

In solidarity,

Sister Outsider

Feminist Resolutions for 2011

  • Speak up, stand up for myself and others, and always ask questions
  • Read black and other women of color feminist zines
  • Educate myself, and inform others about why feminism is relevant
  • Smash the patriarchy
  • DIY, recycle, and buy local
  • Be a riot grrrl
  • Fight all oppression I encounter
  • Participate in consciousness-raising
  • Combat rape culture
  • Support my local  women’s basketball and other women’s sports teams
  • Love my body and encourage others to love theirs
  • Boycott, resist, and protest when the situation calls for it
  • Maintain awareness of the ways race, class, gender, and sexuality intersect
  • Analyze my motivations and be proud of my choices
  • Volunteer at a domestic violence shelter or as a clinic escort
  • Validate my fears and feelings
  • Listen, support, and love

I will also be continuing my work as a board member at our local Pride community center, in hopes of smashing the male-centered ideologies that have permeated our local LGBT community.