What About Your (White) Friends? On Evaluating Your Relationship With White Folks Amidst Critical Times

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When I was in high school, the standards of what we considered a “down” white person was super minimal. If you were what is now considered a cultural appropriator, you damn near got a pass for being an emancipator, and I distinctly remember when one of my white classmates made his transition into “white chocolate” status.

He started off as a regular, country music-loving white dude from a rural outer layer of the city. Over the course of our high school career, he morphed into a gangsta rap listening/slang talkin/“brown sugar” chasing baby Michael Rapaport. The Black girls in our class either found his new appreciation of “coffee” as validating or disgusting. The Black dudes in our class respected his athletic prowess (especially for a magnet school student) and what we felt to be a close view of whiteness on a familial level.

For me, he was the homie and someone I always wanted as the quarterback during flag football games in P.E.

I vividly recall the moment the way I looked at him changed. We were on a senior class trip and he tried to “hook up” with one of the Black girls in our class he had a flirtatious relationship with. When she declined his hormonal advances, he slid a note under her hotel room with a condom attached that read “thanks for nothing”.

I remember her feelings being hurt as she genuinely believed they had a solid friendship. I remember some of the brothers in my class having a “this muthafucka here” type reaction. We didn't fully have the language at the time to describe what felt so vile about that incident, but we knew it didn't feel like respect for Black womanhood.

At that moment, our white homie looked like any other white man attempting to use his “Black card.” In this case, he tried to swipe his “card” in exchange for sex and became belligerent when it got declined.

That moment would certainly not be the last time I would see a white person attempt to use their proximity to Blackness for selfish gains.

Over the course of the last two decades, my relationship with white people has taken on various forms. Some have been “colorblind” drinking buddies. Some have been fellow radical artists. Some have acted as progressive agents of change who appeared to lobby on behalf of oppressed people. Some have been blatant opportunists who sought to use me as a co-conspirator in their attempts at culture colonizing when they confused me with one of those Black folks that would not check them.

For persons of color the need to distinguish between white allies, accomplices and white folks seeking to siphon everything out of us in this critical juncture in American history, is heightened. The lines are possibly blurrier than they have been as we are simultaneously closer and more divided.

But how can Black folks accurately assess if the white folks they are sharing their lives with are in their corner for substantive reasons or if our Blackness is just being used as a prop of performative allyship?

For me, it has become simple. If a white person that I have any type of relationship with cannot or does not acknowledge the reality of white privilege, institutional racism, or structural inequity, I cannot in good faith consider them a friend. An associate, maybe. Someone I can small talk awkwardly with during a meeting on Zoom, possibly. But a friend? Nah.

Friendship looks like more than a person I can exchange pleasantries with. It looks like someone who has my best interests at heart in the same way I have theirs.

That's my personal measure. For other Black folks, it may come down to which of their white friends can recite the most Megan Thee Stallion lyrics. That ain't for me to pass judgment on (well not entirely).

But in the spirit of offering unsolicited advice to my people, if your white friends and associates can rest comfortably in remaining complicit as your livelihood is decimated by systems they benefit from, you might wanna reevaluate how close you really are.

Because the day may come that whatever they are trying to procure from your Blackness runs its course, and you are left with a “thanks for nothing.” Your humanity, dignity and friendship are worth more than fair-weather opportunism from someone who likely has more access to opportunity than you do

About the Author

Donney Rose is a poet, essayist, Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, advocate and Chief Content Editor at The North Star. He believes in telling how it is and how it should be.