I am a Black woman, and the majority of the people I am closest to are white, white women to be specific. They are the ones I call chosen family, the people for whom I would drop whatever I am doing if they are in a crisis, the people whom I call upon for daily love and support. It’s a messy, confusing way to live, and every now and again, I interrogate myself: “Why does this pattern persist? What does it say about you? Are you colluding and distancing just as much today as you were prone to do all those years ago?” I am the product of a white supremacist suburban upbringing, the product of advanced placement classes, horseback riding lessons, violin recitals, and predominantly white classrooms. Some things that I chose, but others that were chosen for me. I learned to survive immersed in whiteness, and I managed to all but erase my blackness. It has been a slow process of discovering and understanding my blackness, of undoing this erasure. Socialization in Black spaces has been important for this; developing friendships with Black women has been a key part of this; learning to desire collective Black liberation has been integral. There are vestiges of my white supremacist upbringing still to do this day. One of the consequences of that upbringing is that my instinct is and always has been to attend to the emotions, wants, and needs of white people.
I started thinking about this yesterday, as I reflected on how I was engaging in social media in the wake of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile murders at the hands of police. I observed and realized that most of my posts, comments, and efforts to engage people to think were addressing white people. Why am I attending to white people at a time like this? Even if all I’m doling out is rage, and tough love, and truth bombs, I’m doling them out for white people, and white people are taking up my focus and attention at a time when I ought to be attending to MYSELF and to the OTHER BLACK PEOPLE in my life who are also numb, hurting, enraged. I started observing how other Black people were engaging, and realized that many of them were paying white people no mind. Their focus was on sending reminders of love and hope and joy to other Black people. Their focus was on attending to their own, grieving the dead, but also loving on the living who are still here and who still matter and who desperately need to be buoyed and bolstered to be saved from despair. Times like these make Black joy and Black love an imperative, elixirs that will heal and fortify and rejuvenate and save us from stirring up crazy shit, because how can you not want to stir up crazy shit at a time like this?
What am I saying, to myself, and to other Black people who love white people? I am telling myself to take a step back, and inviting you to do the same. This week especially, but maybe for longer than that. Certainly, the white people in your life are demanding your attention, as they are fucking up their efforts at allyship, but trying so hard, and struggling so genuinely to see the way forward, to step up in the ways that are necessary. But know that you are not responsible for them, and you do not have to respond to their bids for your attention. Change the channel. Mute the feed. Step away from social media, and step into Black spaces where you can get your life, at least for a little while.
The other part of being a Black woman who loves white people, and is loved by some white people as chosen family, is that shit gets even more confusing when folks start reaching out to offer comfort and assistance. It is one thing to receive that type of reaching out from white people who are my chosen family. It is another thing to receive that type of reaching out from white people who are acquaintances at best, friends estranged for years in other circumstances. You have to understand, that Black people are being gaslighted as fuck during a week like this. And this can’t not mess with our psyche. I find myself on the one hand, wanting and expecting my white friends and acquaintances to reach out, to check on me, to offer help and support. Because that’s what chosen family does in a time of crisis. And yet, I also find myself intensely irritated when they do reach out.
Here’s the thing, white people whom I love. Non-black people whom I love.White acquaintances that I only hear from when shit like this happens. I DON’T NEED YOU RIGHT NOW. You are not who or what I need.
I am not saying you don’t have a role to play or work to do, because you sure as hell do. However, I do not need you, personally. Second however, I do want some things from you. I want you to talk to other white people. Not, like, casually, “shit ain’t this sad,” but really initiate dialogue and argue and fight and risk burning some bridges, because until people start turning their backs on you, you aren’t doing enough.
Yes, there are some things I need and want you to do, if we ever are going to see some comprehensive change and an end to ruthless, intentional police killings of Black people. I need you to do those things if we’re ever going to make some progress so that we can move on to address the other one thousand indicators of systemic racist oppression.
But, in my grief, in my pain, in the joy I pursue to keep me from despair, I do not need you, or your comfort. If we are not chosen family (and maybe even if we are), I do not need you to reach out to me and ask me if I’m okay. How the fuck could I be okay? I do not need you to reach out and let me know you are thinking about me. Think about your own damn self, and your parents, and your uncles aunts and cousins, and your friends from high school. Think about the people in your life who are lacking an analysis to understand what is happening this week, and reach out to them.
Reaching out to me with generic laments and prayers of comfort and “I’m thinking about you” is so not as useful as you want it to be. Know that you are doing that for your own damn self. You are mostly in the way of my process. Either you are doing your work as a white ally all the time, in which case you will hear this and find some resilience to know that our love and friendship can withstand my ‘harsh’ words, or you are an opportunist, a voyeurist, pouncing on Black pain, thinking too highly of yourself in your efforts to swoop in and offer comfort, prayers, and reassurance that you will ‘stand with me.’
If we are chosen family, and this is NOT the first time I am hearing from you on this issue, and we are people in relationship with another on a daily basis, do reach out, because that’s what family does for one another. But please, do not to make it personal if I tell you that is not what I need today. Our relationship and our love is real, and it can weather this shitstorm of divisiveness that is unavoidable during events like these.
If this is the first time I am hearing from you on the issue, you are too late, and you are in the way, and you have more work to do. So do it. I need you to. I want you to. But I don’t need you right now.
**The words above are mine, and I tried to inject them with nuance. They are probably still lacking sufficient nuance, and may not ring true for other Black people who love white people. I also may recant my words tomorrow, but that’s what it means to be human. That’s also what it means to be fucked with by systemic racism to the point of not knowing who you can trust. On that note, cheers.