I grew up black in a very white neighborhood in a very white city in a very white state.
As such, I am a lot of people’s only black friend.
Being the only black friend is a gift and a curse. I am black and I love having friends. But I am also, at any given moment, expected to be a translator, an ambassador, a history teacher, and/or a walking, talking invitation into “I am not racist” territory. It’s a lot to handle. See what I mean about that curse?
So when I saw the animated short-film “Your Black Friend,” I felt so seen. Clearly, I am not alone.
The film, which was written, designed, and narrated by Ben Passmore and is based on his mini-comic of the same name, is a brilliant, refreshing way to examine whiteness and racism. The comic and animated short are an open-letter from “your black friend” to you, their well-meaning white friend, about bias, alienation, and what it means to be a good ally and friend.
It’s funny, honest, and heartbreaking in equal measure. And speaking from personal experience, it captures the experience of being a black friend to white people pretty much perfectly.
So if you’re a “woke” friend and ally, here are some things your black friend wants you to know.
1. You’re going to have to get uncomfortable.
It could be something as obvious and upsetting as a racist joke. Or something as “benign” as your aunt suggesting you cross the street when she sees a group of black kids walking by. But either way, if you want to be a good friend and a real ally, you’re going to have to speak up. You’re going to have to have those tough conversations with people you care about.
It’s not easy to confront strangers or people you love, but if you don’t do it, you are part of the problem. Sitting out isn’t an option. No one said being an ally is easy.
2. “Your black friend would like to say something to the racist lady, but doesn’t want to appear to be that ‘angry black man.'”
“He knows this type of person expects that from him, and he will lose before he begins,” Passmore says.
Black people can’t always react or respond the way we want to. When I am followed in a department store, pulled over for no reason, or stared at while picking up dinner at the fancy grocery store, I can’t stop what I’m doing and yell, “YES, I AM BLACK. NO, I AM NOT A CRIMINAL YOU SMALL-MINDED, BIASED ASSHOLES.” Trust me, I want to. But especially when police are involved, I have to be calm, respectful, and obedient.
That’s where you come in. You, white friend, need to speak up and say something when I can’t. If you are not at risk, nor considered a threat, you have a certain amount of privilege in these situations. Use it to demand answers, speak to supervisors, or if things really get dicey, pull out your phone and hit record.