I’m not your ‘safe Black friend’

Im not your safe Black friend

Kimberly Stelly, kstelly@lmcexperience.com

Are you a Black person who has been called “whitewashed” or an “Oreo”? Are you the Black friend people feel comfortable saying racist things to despite your pro-Black politics? Do your non-Black friends say they’re blacker than you when they know a song you don’t know? The friend people ask ridiculous, racially insensitive questions to, because they’re not worried about you being aggressive?

Then you might be the “safe Black friend.”

As uncomfortable as it is to be in this position, it can be far more uncomfortable to call people out for disrespecting your sense of blackness.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud anyone who speaks up and can defend themselves against this ignorance, but it’s not always an easy thing to do.

People, who don’t always make it a point to call out their problematic non-black friends, aren’t inherently self-hating. They are not more tolerant of racism, stereotypes and homophobia than your average “social justice warrior.”

I’m not denying that there are some Black people who hate themselves, but sometimes it’s just hard — and emotionally exhausting — to have to defend your community against harmful stereotypes.

It’s hard being the token minority in a group arguing for why your community deserves the same economic, social and political freedom as their white counterparts.

Some, like myself, are less inclined to speak up because confrontation makes them physically ill — I will do anything to avoid making people feel uncomfortable. 

Perhaps this speaks to some sort of cowardice. Or it speaks volumes about the relationship between privilege and Black discomfort.

Black people are taught to speak up about injustices, big or small. However, in other instances, they are taught to make themselves smaller so their identity is easier to “consume” for those in a position of privilege.

And Lord help those who don’t pick up on when their friends are being racist. There are things that have been said which made me uncomfortable that I now realize why I felt that way, it was more subtle racism.

Some forms of discrimination are considered so miniscule that both the perpetrator and the victim don’t even know it’s happening. But when you do realize it, you find there’s pain littered throughout the process of discovering, and hey, maybe your friends don’t like you for the reasons they’re supposed to like you.

Maybe they want you to be cool enough to show off, but not dangerous enough to get mad at them for it or cause a scene.

Most people think if a Black person speaks up enough about being uncomfortable in racially tense situations, you’re far better off because at least you’re voicing your discomfort.

What often happens is these people are seen as constantly angry, and people censor themselves around them but don’t really change their thought process.

If you stay silent, you let the discomfort override any feeling of friendship or bonding, except you’re choosing to suffer quietly. While staying silent about the

things that bother you isn’t ideal or advised, it’s hard not to wonder where the responsibility of the person inflicting the damage is.

Maybe instead of blaming Black people, who choose or refuse to speak up, stop putting unfair, racially insensitive and ultimately harmful labels on them. Stop referring to your Black friends as “the angry one” or “the Oreo.” Oh and please stop using us to piss off your families, Our existence is not for your entertainment.

Get to know your friends, for who they are, not who you assume they are.