I don’t know how many times I have heard my white friends tell me this.
When I ask them to further explain what they mean by this, they say:
“Well, you’re different, you are not like other black folks. You speak well, you’re always so articulate, you smell good, you’re well-traveled, and you don’t think everything is about race”.
No matter how many times I have heard them, these words always hit me like a high-speed train. And then there’s always the ensuing question:
“It doesn’t bother you that I say that, does it, Rebecca ?”
And then I reassure them that I’m ok and not offended.
You see, for most of my life, I’ve tried to keep the peace. The words would hurt me, but I would swallow them and try to pretend I was still ok. The truth is, I wasn’t. I would think about them over and over, trying to find the gentlest, most polite way to tell my friends that their words hurt me. But I never did.
A few months ago, I decided to speak up, to let my friends know that those types of comments were racist. As you can imagine, this led to long silences and awkward situations.
“Why are you doing this now? Is this because you want to have attention because of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
I told them that I had put up with the racist comments and jokes for way too long and that I no longer wanted to hear them.
“Common Rebecca, where has your sense of humor gone? You know we are not racist, can’t we make jokes anymore?”
“But they are offensive to me, I don’t want to hear those types of jokes anymore. There is so much more we can talk about”, I responded.
I could tell they thought I was odd.
Needless to say, the phone hasn’t rung much in the last few months, and when it does, my friends say that Covid-19 changed me. I guess this is their way of rationalizing what they feel is over-sensitivity on my part. And the reality is, can I really blame them?
All along, I was tolerating their snide remarks and racist jokes. I was afraid of losing my social circle, afraid of embarrassing them, so I let them get away with it. There was always going to be a price to pay.
If anything, I think Covid-19 made me realize how much life can be fleeting. How much one cannot take time for granted. It confirmed that we each have a purpose that we must seek out and attain. We cannot squander the time we have left on earth.
If I cannot be my true self with the people I consider my friends, then who am I as a person? Aren’t I just a damn hypocrite if I don’t have the courage to speak up when something is wrong even if it makes people uncomfortable?
So yes, I have spoken up, and while I no longer get invited to parties, that doesn’t matter anymore. I can no longer lead my life to please others. We are not playing at life, we are living life and we owe it to life to make the best of it.
So every day, I wake up early and I write. I write about my journey, about the racism that I have experienced. I write about a ton of other things too. I am working on a fantasy novel — my favorite genre. I’m hoping to get the first draft out by December 2021. Interestingly enough, this year marks my half a century on earth. It seems fitting to get to this milestone with a piece of literature in the works.
I don’t despair about the state of my relationship with my friends. I think that after deep reflection, many will reach back out to me. I do see my share of blame in this whole situation. If I had just had the guts to address racism earlier, we would probably not be in this situation today.
My key learning from this is that one should never be afraid to be one’s true self. Your friends are meant to accept the real you — not a version of you you think they’ll like or a version convenient to them.
I’ll continue my anti-racism writing because it is empowering and cathartic to me. I will continue because I know that it is giving a voice to those who cannot speak and it is educating those that do not know. I’ve got another 50 years ahead of me — at least I wish I do, don’t count on me to shut up anymore!
Thanks for reading my perspective.