“But I Voted for Obama”: Challenging White “Friends” Who Are Complicit in Racism

One of the biggest challenges associated with this sudden racial “awareness” is having to decide whether or not to call out your “well-meaning” White “friends” and associates or just mental note and move on. 

I had a recent such exchange with a colleague who frequently calls me “friend”. She has texted to “check on me” in the wake of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders; she regularly asks about my experiences as a Black woman in the workplace; and she generally exhibits what most people would describe as a curiosity about “The Black Experience” in general. While I initially engaged what I saw as a genuine positive interest, what I have come to learn about this particular acquaintance, is that she is far more “cultural tourist” than concerned “friend”. She has repeatedly failed to speak up when mutual acquaintances have made racist comments in our presence, always followed up by her privately asking me if I am disappointed by her failure to do so. Listen, if you are willing to privately express your disdain for racism to me but publicly remain silent so as not to offend your racist friends, you are complicit.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the MAGA hat-wearing, KKK card-holding folks who are the problem. Clearly identifiable threats are the easiest to avoid. Like land mines, it is the hidden threat that poses the most danger. More often than not, I choose to mental note and move on, especially with people I consider casual acquaintances (colleagues, neighbors, etc.)…but the moment you call me “friend”, my expectation increases. That’s right. In these turbulent times, the price of Black friendship has gone up. 

Be wary of the “friend” who:

Reminds everyone that they “voted for Obama”

Has BLACK LIVES MATTER plastered all over their social media

Has called or texted to “check on you” privately but has said nothing publicly

Eagerly offers empty words of comfort and performative displays of engagement

Yes, the “friend” you know wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight. They are the real threat to progress. 

If you say you are my friend, I am going to need you to do what friends do–be uncomfortable, inconvenienced, exhausted, misunderstood, outright offended, and most importantly, be willing to examine the ways in which you not only benefit from but perpetuate systemic racism. It is not enough to “not be racist”. You must be actively ANTI-racist. I expect you to back up your words with action, and not just random ideas and talking points you gleaned from cramming through think pieces written by Black women. 

In fact, one of the first ways you can demonstrate your anti-racism is to stop benefitting from our labor. 

Stop asking Black people to call you out. Call yourself out.

Stop asking Black people to educate you. Educate yourself. Last time I checked, Google was FREE.99

Stop asking Black people to hold you accountable. Hold yourself accountable. 

We will not coddle you or your feelings, either. Black women, especially, are TIRED of “saving the world”. The “Trust Black Women” memes are cute…but WE 👏🏾 ARE 👏🏾 TIRED. In case you missed the Dear White People memo, Black people don’t owe you shit! 

We are literally fighting for our lives.

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