Am I your only black friend? Before you answer, let me add to the question. I don’t mean George from accounting who knows all the ins and outs of last week’s game. I don’t mean the security guard you wave to every morning on your way into work. I mean, do you call them to have lunch? To complain about your kids, your spouse, your boss? Have they been personally and specifically invited to your home?
The problem with well-meaning
I have a lot of white friends, and during the past week a number have reached out to me to see how I am doing. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I deeply appreciate that they are thinking of me and my children and how we are reacting in this debilitating time of social unrest. But to be honest, what I would like them to do is reach out to their other friends. Specifically, their white friends. Because right now I need white people to speak to one another. I am wrestling with my own issues at this time; I cannot carry the burden of yours.
How do I feel? Tired. Worried. Anxious. You know what I am not? Surprised. None of my black friends are surprised. The possibility of this type of violence is not surprising to us. We may choose not to speak to you about it because you haven’t ever asked.
Well-meaning people say a lot of well-meaning things. “I can’t imagine how you feel” is right there at the top of the list. Have you tried? I’m asking because I know I don’t need to be Jewish to be distraught and outraged about anti-Semitism. And I know I don’t need to be gay to be disgusted and terrified by homophobia. So why is it so difficult for you to even imagine what it feels like to be black? This is just one reason why Black History Month shouldn’t be a single month.
Why I want you to see color
And then there is “I don’t see color.” Don’t you? If there are “too many” black people at an event, in a room, in your town or your school, do you notice? Does it make you feel uncomfortable, even just a little bit? You see color. Do you give more credibility to information coming from white colleagues than from your black co-workers? You see color. You do not have to wield a baton on a bridge to be a person who has racist thoughts.
Most of us at one point or another will make sweeping assumptions based on race. These range from the mild (all black people can dance, play basketball, etc.) to the more pernicious (black men are dangerous sexual predators, black bodies can withstand greater levels of violence than white bodies). Having racist thoughts does not make you a racist, but failing to question your racially-based assumptions does.
When you say I don’t see color, you are not doing me a favor. It’s as if you are telling me my brown skin is something you have to work to look past, to excuse even, in order to see my humanity. I want you to see my color as much as I want you to notice anything else about me. So please, go ahead and see my color. See me.
Dawn Porter is a documentary filmmaker. Her film John Lewis: Good Troublepremieres in theaters this spring.