Dear White Facebook Friends: 10 Ways to Get Yourself Blocked by a Black Person Like Me
Whether it is the Eric Garner case in Staten Island, Michael Brown in Ferguson or Tamir Rice in Cleveland (to name a few), it's been a brutal year for African Americans when it comes to police brutality. Many of us often take to social media to express our frustration and mourn the loss of black people who have died unjustly at the hands of cops we feel might have exercised more restraint had the victims been white.
Facebook is a venue where many African Americans express their feelings about racism, but like clockwork, these posts evoke the most racist commentary from white friends we ordinarily wouldn't suspect of holding racist views. I've run into this a few times when I posted status updates on race, but this status on December 5 really brought out the worst in some of my "friends."
When I wrote this status, I was reacting to complaints I've heard from many activists around the country about how white people show up at marches and rudely speak over black people who are trying to address how police brutality is hurting the black community. Writing about police brutality as often as I do hits close to home, because I realize that another reporter could very well be writing about my own death at the hands of an NYPD cop. The times I have been passed over for jobs simply because I am black, and having people not respect the fact that I have to deal with racism all the time, was all contained in that status update.
But instead of trying to understand where I'm coming from, some of my "friends" accused me of being racist and divisive. It seems they'd rather do that than challenge a system that lets rogue killer cops go free. I've experienced these kinds of reaction so often that I am going to block many of these people, ending what I thought were solid friendships. Many of my black friends blocked white friends on Facebook during the George Zimmerman trial and the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, because they discussed issues of racism that made their white friends feel "attacked."
I think the main issue is that most white people have no idea how much race plays a role in their black friends' lives, and they react in the most selfish and self-centered ways imaginable when confronted with our realities.
So, before any more white people out there lose black friends because they say something racist or insensitive, please read my list of why black people block Facebook friends when the discussion turns to racism. Either you'll open your mind and recognize your white privilege, or keep it closed and lose some black friends.
1. Telling black people they are being divisive when they discuss racism.
Black people aren't the problem; a white supremacist system that allows cops to kill black people at disproportionate rates is the issue. So is racism in employment, education, housing, law enforcement, etc. It takes a toll on us, and we don't have to use language that makes white people feel comfortable while articulating that, either. Black people discussing racism and the white privilege that disenfranchises us is not divisive.
If you really need to talk about it, it is probably best to message your friend privately to discuss his status if you have questions about the tone. Calling him divisive in public, especially during a time of racial turmoil, isn't the best idea. Remember, there are few spaces where black people feel safe discussing racism. Facebook is one of them. Respect their space. If you don't like what they say, that's on you.
2. White people telling us to let them speak about black pain during our time of mourning.
Well, white people, when black people organize rallies, they aren't opportunities for you to yell chants and feel all good about being white liberals; marches are also places of mourning, something many well-meaning white people do not understand. That is what I was saying in a recent status update. One friend replied in the worst way possible:
Yes, I blocked and unfriended him as his replies got worse and worse.
3. Don't tell us we're spreading hate.
A good friend told me that my December 5 status was the same as spreading hate. Well, no it isn't. The fact that white people feel uncomfortable about the racism we say we talk about and experience is not because we're spreading hate. If anything, your discomfort is a small dose of what black people feel as we try to live our lives in racist institutions that deny our existence as human beings. If you don't want to learn why that is, you never really were our friend.
4. Telling us to call white supremacy "social injustice."
Black people are not here to make white people feel comfortable during talks about a racist system that benefits them. Please read my post where I give examples of white supremacy.
5. Parading your interracial relationship gets you no "ally" points with us.
I notice that during conversations about racism, many white men will try to leverage their "we're all human beings, let's stop making this a race issue" argument by saying they have a black girlfriend, so they understand what it is to be black in America. These same white "allies" tend to use pics with their black partner as their profile pic. These same white men and women tend to believe dating black people gives them anthropological expertise into the psychology of being black.
For them, eating fried chicken, living in Harlem, listening to rap music and reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X gets them their Black Card. Well, no, it doesn't. Flaunting that arrogant, "I have sex with black people, therefore I am black," attitude gets you unfriended.
6. You voted for [name a politician] because he or she is black.
Black people have been accused of this by white friends who felt they voted for President Barack Obama just because he is black. During the 2008 election, many African Americans were overwhelmed with pride because our racist nation, despite itself, had enough fairness to elect a black president for the first time in history. Black people have every right to feel jubilation. Such moments are rare for us. But that doesn't mean we don't have our reservations about Obama.
Over the past six years, there has been plenty of intellectual discourse within the black community that has strongly critiqued Obama over what many feel is his lack of concern toward the black voters who were responsible for electing him to the White House. Facebook has been a playground for many white people who claim liberalism, but balked at Obama's qualifications to be president.
Listen, if you don't like Obama because of his policies, fine. But suggesting we will elect any black person to office because he or she shares our skin color is the fastest way to the unfriend zone. (FYI: You'll notice Herman "999" Cain got radio silence from us.)
7. You're being racist.
As I've explained before, black people don't have the skin complexion to be benefactors of racism. Though Facebook is a considered a public platform, a person's page is his or her private space. What is also important to remember is that there are few spaces where black people feel comfortable expressing their experiences with racism. Social media tends to be a space where black people decompress. Sometime, it doesn't feel comfortable, but never should a white friend accuse a black friend of being racist simply for expressing that the color of their skin prevents them from navigating spaces that lead to upward mobility.
Keep in mind that black people, because of the color of their skin, are eligible to be victims of racism, whether they want to or not. White people are eligible to be perpetrators and benefactors of racism, whether they want to or not. Expressing that is not racism; it is white supremacy. Telling a black friend he is being racist for discussing white privilege is a very quick way to get yourself in unfriend zone. Black people deal with enough racism denial all day as it is. We don't need it from people who claim to be our friends.
8. Saying Michael Brown was a thug.
I've seen many of my white friends on Facebook say that Trayvon Martin was more of a victim of racial injustice than Michael Brown because of the convenience store video that captured Brown roughing up a store clerk. Regardless of what you think of that tape, the reality is that the circumstances behind why Brown was shot have nothing to do with that tape. And there has been plenty of debate about how unjust the grand jury process in Ferguson, Mo., was. By calling Brown a thug, you are essentially suggesting that he deserved to be shot and killed, and that the officer was completely in the right. The word "thug" has become so freighted with race that you're better off leaving it out of any discussion about black people.
9. Telling us our experiences with racism aren't real.
After a black person posts a status about how much racism they experience at the hands of white people, be it at work or by police, the worse thing any white person can do is reply that the person is being "emotional" or exaggerating his experience. Doing this suggests that black people lack the intellectual depth to appreciate or comprehend their experiences with racism. You are essentially ignoring your black friend's experience with race. Your best bet is to open your mind and listen to his experiences, not deny them. If you think hearing about his experiences with racism makes you feel uncomfortable, imagine how it feels to actually experience it.
10. Insisting that white people deal with racism, too.
No, white people, you don't. If you need an explanation, read my first "Dear White People" piece for a dose of reality.
Basically, if you want to learn how to support black friends on Facebook, take a tip from Cera Byer, who wrote on Salon, "White male Facebook homies, you can do this, I believe in you. Be your best: your best brother, partner, parent, friend. Be open to being flayed, hurt, embarrassed, wrong, and stay open. Stay compassionate with yourself and with those around you. Start with holding 'Just because it doesn’t happen to me doesn’t mean it’s not happening,' and go from there."
Your black friends will appreciate it if you do.