“Do I treat you like that? I mean if I do will you tell me?”
The conversation had turned in a very unexpected way. My friend, my white friend, was asking me questions about my weekly column in the school paper where I detailed what it was like being a token at a PWI, a private white institution. At issue was a column I wrote about commodification and consumption of other cultures and how that plays out at our college.  My friend, my white friend, had brought up my column and I was prepared to defend myself and my experience when all of a sudden she asked:

“Do I treat you like that? I mean if I do will you tell me?”

She was one of the first people I met in college. We worked together, were on the student run help line, and generally had fun just hanging out. So when she asked me if she treats me like “that”, like a fraction of a person, I paused. 

At that time, I had grown adept at calling out injustice and standing firm in what I experienced but I hadn’t yet reached a point where I could articulate a more just or loving alternative. I was all rage and anger and pain. The idea that I could find people, white people, who were willing to see me as the wonderfully complex Black girl unicorn that I am had never even dawned on me. 

I wanted to just say no, because I was so touched by the question. She read my words and not only did she not question the validity of my experience but she recognized my scars from the war I was fighting to be  fully recognized as a human on our campus. But even more than the recognition, she wanted to make sure she took care not to hurt me, because we were friends. 

I thought about it, and not once had I ever been less of myself to accommodate her, or felt that was part of the terms of our friendship. My friend, my first white friend could see me. So no, she didn’t treat me like that. 

These days it seems that everyday some episode of racialized violence is added to what feels like a perpetual livestream of images detailing the victimization of Black and Brown people. And when I reach my wits end with the whites, I think back to my friend, my first white friend, and remember her seeing me. Then, just for a moment, I focus on a more just and loving alternative, that starts with seeing each other, with recognizing the humanity in someone different from you. And in that moment I can take a break from all of my rage and pain to visualize more justice in the future. 

Advertisements