We have all heard the stories or lived them: that person on Facebook who is a loud, bigoted, uneducated and ignorant voice — a racist friend you haven’t talked with in years or an embarrassing homophobic cousin who makes posts that are contrary to another person’s lifestyle, simply because they do not agree with that person’s humanity.
For me, it was different. My best friend from high school dumped me for being an activist. This is someone with whom I went through the awkward transition of middle school to high school — boyfriends and breakups, acne and algebra.
We were not on bad terms when it happened, although truthfully, I am actually not even quite sure when it happened. It was the winter of 2014, and America was in the midst of another civil rights movement as the events in Ferguson, Missouri, continued in a downward spiral.
I talk about racism on Facebook. I do my best to educate, talking about how my lived experiences coincide with the data. Systemic inequality is a mean phrase, and it is even meaner for those who live through it.
In December of 2014, I went to wish my friend a happy birthday on Facebook, only to find that we were no longer friends. I texted a mutual friend to ask whether or not she knew anything about this situation before I confronted my now former friend (because why overreact when Facebook is just being glitchy?).
I subsequently got a text from my old friend, whom I passed notes with in chemistry and giggled with through Spanish, telling me that my posts about white supremacy and racism “got to be too much." She later admitted she found them “annoying," even though she cares “deeply” about the subject.
I’m still very bothered by this, likely because being dumped by someone I know quite well and who used to be dear to me, all because my posts on racism, white supremacy and anti-blackness made her, a white person, feel uncomfortable, does not equate to her caring about the perils of racism, like she thinks. Being uncomfortable and deleting someone for talking about these things is a selfish act done only to help one’s own self.
Our text conversation consisted of her trying to justify why her actions were correct and necessary, and me trying to explain that this is part of a larger problem. She did not want to hear what I said. She did not think she was wrong. And as hurt as I still am, it would take her understanding the enormity of her actions for me to forgive her. But she probably won’t, because racism will never personally affect her. It's a hurtful betrayal, perhaps more biting than the hate mail I’ve gotten from strangers.
Well-meaning people often think that because they have a black friend, think (certain types of) racism is wrong or do not consciously hate people of color that they are not perpetuating racism or any oppression. This Good Person complex is harmful in actually eliminating racism (or any “ism”) and makes creating equality difficult, because very, very few of us think or want to think about how we could be complicit. Well-meaning folks can themselves be racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, etc., a) without intending to, and b) without harboring negative feelings toward marginalized groups.
People work pretty hard to keep their friend groups, Facebook feeds and even their own minds clear of things they disagree with. This psychological phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance and happens (subconsciously) when information makes us so conflicted and uncomfortable, that we are willing to do anything we can — even lose friends and deny objectively factual information — to get that information away from us: out of sight and out of mind. Indeed, it is the “good” and “normal” people who must be complicit in order for this to continue on any level, be that individual or systemic (think about slavery, or Jim Crow, for examples of this in action).
Something I want both my former friend (and anyone else willing to listen) to know is this: It does not harm you to listen to someone talk about how racism and oppression destroy lives — be it their lives, or those of many people in the Unites States and worldwide. Conversely, people are harmed by oppression virtually every day. When someone speaks, listen. If they seem angry, consider why.
If you would not delete someone for talking openly about their infertility, their cancer, the death of a child or parent, rape or other issues, both systemic problems and individual — ask yourself, why would racism be an OK reason to stick one’s head in the sand? If it is uncomfortable to read about it often, can you imagine how uncomfortable it is to experience, both directly and indirectly, in everyday life? Choosing to end a relationship rather than quietly unfollow (something the unfollowee would never know about) is a statement, and it is more closely related to that bigoted family member we all have than it is to someone fighting for the rights of all people.
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