When I blocked the conversation on Facebook, that person continued to send me text messages.
Recently I went through another round of unfriending on Facebook. It keeps things tidy, the arguments thoughtful, and my head from exploding.
This time around I just got rid of any white person who felt passionate about “certain political topics,” but wasn’t showing up for people of color, as we watch the meteoric rise of fascism in America and police violence. I’m not obligated to educate anyone for free, especially if they don’t appear to be absorbing what I’m saying or having the tough conversations on their wall with their peers.
While I’m big on people unfriending their racist relatives, it’s also pretty common knowledge that white people with problematic views are more inclined to listen when their problematic views are challenged by another white person. Right now is a fragile time period for people of color, and it’s OK to recognize that and also feel uncomfortable with the inaction you may witness from others.
But somebody got mad. SO MAD.
So intense was their disappointment with my decision that they messaged me night and day. I went to bed trying to explain to her why her inaction would hurt me and make me no longer want to be her internet friend, and woke up to more of her explaining HER FEELINGS to me, instead of just taking responsibility and accepting my decision. When I blocked the conversation on Facebook, that person continued to send me text messages.
“That’s probably the main reason why it’s usually common courtesy to not make politics common conversation. I’m not saying it’s wrong to talk about the issues at hand, but they shouldn’t make up friendships.”
Actually, that’s EXACTLY what your friends of color are asking from you right now. I’m not even asking. I’m demanding. It is the bare minimum.
It’s politics to you. It’s survival to me.
She clearly doesn’t understand that silence equals complicity, but I’m tired of teaching. Statements like this make the sea between us swell to the size of an ocean. But maybe just stop texting me, since I’ve already ended the conversation and I’m tired.
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s superficial to believe who someone is based on their social media account.”
If it’s superficial, then why are YOU blowing up my phone? I am fighting for my humanity. You are fighting for the tiny space in my life that you have decided you are entitled to occupy.
Does this person’s behavior sound a little erratic? Certainly. But sadly, this is NOT the first time a white person has demanded space from me in this way. I doubt it will be the last. This was a minor infraction. But still an offense. In my experience, white people often do not understand that people of color don’t owe you friendship, or space in their life, or even an argument. Especially if looking inward and challenging oneself is so difficult. It is very privileged to believe that even when someone has asked you politely for space, for quiet, and for peace, that you continue to tell them why your feelings ultimately hold more weight than their own.
I see you when you show up on my Facebook page to like photos of my gorgeous niece and nephew or talk about fashion with me. When you have a comment for all things which appeal to you, your silence when I talk about race and have hard conversations is deafening. Your privilege allows you to play no active role in tough conversations, but to soak up the parts of me you enjoy. And I am taking notes.
Let’s move on to the next offender: the family acquaintance who had been racism dumping on me for years.
If you are a white person, your black friends don’t want to hear about the time you actively “fought” racism every time they speak to you. It comes across as you doing it for cookies. It’s exhaustive emotional dumping and incredibly unfair. The straw that broke my back was when this person revealed to me that a racist friend of hers had been “spying” on me in various social media spaces and saying negative things about me, and that I needed to lock my work up good and tight to keep her at bay.
HOLY HELL. I don’t even know where to begin. Why are you friends with this person? Why are you unloading this on me? Why didn’t you lead this conversation with an apology, because you have failed as a “friend” in so many ways? So I did the thing I would normally do. I blocked her and her family and her friend, because who has time for that sort of tiresome nonsense? Then I talked about emotional dumping on people of color on my various social mediums.
What does this offender do? Instead of respecting the boundaries I put in place, she copies and pastes my tweets and sends everything to…MY MOTHER. Y’all. Y’all. First of all, what is my mother going to do? You’re about 14 years too late to even try that game. Second, you are mad because a black person had enough of your emotional racism dumping on them (thanks for the frantic, stressful call I received while at work it really made my day), and felt the need to protect herself from you and your creepy acquaintances. You are mad because a black person had boundaries and spaces that were suddenly off-limits to you, and you were not in control of the situation. So instead of quietly allowing me those boundaries, you snoop, violate the boundaries I have put in place, and copy and paste my tweets alluding to why I felt the need for said boundaries. Because that makes a ton of sense. It was so abusive and nonsensical that my mind is still blown by it.
But that wasn’t the worst.
The worst offender yet was the casual hipster racist. The time of youth, when acceptance takes precedence over speaking up about stuff that is wrong, means you sometimes acquire problematic acquaintances. You don’t hang out with them ever outside of group settings because they always give you an icky feeling. If you’re like me and a former wallflower, sometimes you’re just so thrilled to be at the party that you overlook your own feelings, even when you see things that are wrong, in order to not rock the boat. It took me 10 years of having to hang out in social settings to realize that I found this person’s brand of ironic hipster racism to be, well, racist, gross, problematic, and hurtful.
One night we were all out and he said some horrible stuff, and something snapped inside. I unfriended him quietly and he didn’t even notice for months, which alludes to the validity of our friendship. However, when a mutual acquaintance jumped on me on Facebook for merely pointing out that I find Charlie Hebdo’s comics to be problematic and unhelpful, the conversation went really sour. Mostly because others told him he was out of line and I brought up times when he sat by as his problematic buddy said things that made me feel really uncomfortable. I explained that I didn’t consider either of them “friends” and he could show himself the door. But instead he ran off and told his friend who jumped into my inbox quicker than you can say “bigot.” The first thing he said was “You unfriended me. That’s silly.”
Cool gaslighting, bro.
When I ignored his first message, he wrote me again. But this time the message was full of insults. Because I owed him a response? Because I unfriended him on Facebook? Because I pointed out that he had said racially insensitive things in the past, numerous times, and those actions made me no longer want to have contact?
This time I responded because I was mad. I’ve unfriended you and you didn’t even notice. How dare you force your way into my inbox. My response was sarcastic and to the point. I re-explained his offense and blocked him. That was not enough.
This desperate, sad little man hopped on a secret account that he built for an online game (in true Gamergate fashion) and wrote me again, this time with threats. I still have the screenshots. After I blocked the secret account, he moved to Twitter and started liking tweets of mine to make me aware he was watching. It was a move straight out of the domestic abuser’s handbook. At this point I couldn’t take it anymore.
You shouldn’t have to block anyone THREE TIMES.
You shouldn’t have to file a harassment report against a person you know through your friends. I reached out to mutual friends, tried to explain the situation as best I could, and simply explained that “I’m unfriending all our mutual friends, because his behavior is scary and abusive and I can’t have anyone connected to him in my circle.”
Sadly not everyone got it. What did I expect from “good” white people? I lost a few people I once called “friends” that day, because when it came time to stand up for a person of color, most simply didn’t have it in them.
“But I’m friends with everyone.” Not anymore, you’re not.
Because if it’s not your responsibility to stand up for your friends who are targeted and hurt by the racism and abuse by another friend, who’s responsibility is it, dude? The fact that you still email me, even though we haven’t talked in a year because you “didn’t want to get involved” and I never write you back, shows that you don’t respect that I am allowed space away from you. Space to be angry. Space to be disappointed. Space to decide whether or not I ever want to speak to you again.
You take my emotions and hurt for granted because you believe that your needs matter more than my own. You’ll keep trying and keep ignoring the disappointment and pain your non-action caused. Because black people don’t get to have the luxury of ever being left alone when it comes to “good” white people who insist they are our friends.
Aja Barber is a TV producer who really loves fashion, writing, social justice, art, ballet, and reading. Sometimes she shops for people. She is still figuring out how to pack that all into the perfect job. If anyone has any suggestions, please contact her and she will treat you to a fancy coffee.
This originally appeared on Ravishly. Republished here with permission.