Recently a long time friend started a conversation with me on race. I have thought long and hard over the years about race and how it has impacted everything around me. As a black woman, I had felt relatively or thought I was relatively immune to the racism impacting so many of my fellow black Americans. I tried to be a chameleon and actually believed if I walked the walk and talked the talk I would fit in, I would become one where race would not matter. I could be “color blind.” I thought by developing white friends, going to a mostly white university or by even dating and marrying across racial lines, I would remain unscathed. That day we spoke of race was a day I realized I had failed.
The scene is set and as I close my eyes, I know exactly how it will unfold. It begins innocently enough with us speaking about the current state of affairs in the world, the past election and where we suppose we are all heading as a country, as a world. I voice my concerns for myself and others like me who are feeling threatened in a time of racial upheaval. I speak in a calm tone hoping she is listening and able to express a modicum of understanding. Instead my words hit upon deaf ears with my friend becoming threatened and questioning why all minorities are blaming whites for the state of the affairs. She goes on to state her desire to return to a time when race is not such a big issue. To me that means a time when blacks are subservient and will not dare bring up such a topic or risk bringing about their own demise. Needless to say, I take offense however remaining calm. Her words quickly turn to tears as she wonders what else white people can do to prove they are trying to help. We allow the conversation to transmute itself into something more benign all of the while I can not shake the restless feeling that something is seriously amiss. I feel a need to scratch deeper but allow time to soothe feathers. I also feel a need to absorb what has happened and what has been said. This is my friend of several years. This is someone who would come to me at a moment’s notice. This is the one who I share so many intimate details of my life and yet here is a place I cannot reach. I hear her anguish but at the same time feel my own. I am angry and feel as if once again someone is asking me to explain and absolve their guilt. It is in my knowing that I understand the centuries of pain and despair felt by my ancestors and when she tries to compare finding her roots to me finding my own, I am even more angry. I watch the fury in her eyes and the adamant behavior signaling she feels right and exact. I realize this is the priviledge she has and she fails to understand how it impacts her and those around her. She wants me to forget and go thru life pretending as if it does not matter but to me it does. It matters maybe now more than it ever has. It matters enough for me to have to pick the scab off of the wound and dig to the deeper part of the infection. I know I have work to do on myself as well as my relationship to the world and those around me. I trust it will be difficult and I trust I may lose loved ones along the way. For me, it is now or never.