the Special White Friend



pin for puncturing bullshit

pin for puncturing bullshit

People ask me why I don’t quit talking about race. The answer is because I didn’t speak when I should have. I spent thirty years staring injustice in the face and hardly dared open my mouth. In the south, separation of the races was like the Bible—sacrosanct. Disagree at your peril.

So, now I rail, which I didn’t have a name for until I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s wonderful novel Americanah. Her heroine is an African woman blogging in America. In one post, she writes

Understanding America for the Non-American Black

Thoughts on the Special White Friend.

 One great gift for the Zipped-Up Negro is The White Friend Who Gets It. Sadly, this is not as common as one would wish, but some are lucky to have that white friend who you don’t need to explain shit to. By all means, put this friend to work. Such friends not only get it, but also have great bullshit-detectors and so they totally understand that they can say stuff that you can’t. So there is, in much of America, a stealthy little notion lying in the hearts of many: that white people earned their place at jobs and school while black people got in because they were black. But in fact, since the beginning of America, white people have been getting jobs because they are white. Many whites with the same qualifications but Negro skin would not have the jobs they have. But don’t ever say this publicly. Let your white friend say it. If you make the mistake of saying this, you will be accused of a curiosity called “playing the race card.” Nobody quite knows what this means.

When my father was in school in my NAB [non-American Black] country, many American Blacks could not vote or go to good schools. The reason? Their skin color. Skin color alone was the problem. Today, many Americans say that skin color cannot be part of the solution. Otherwise it is referred to as a curiosity called “reverse racism.” Have your white friend point out how the American Black deal is kind of like you’ve been unjustly imprisoned for many years, then all of a sudden you’re set free, but you get no bus fare. And, by the way, you and the guy who imprisoned you are now automatically equal. If the “slavery was so long ago” thing comes up, have your white friend say that lots of white folks are still inheriting money that their families made a hundred years ago. So if that legacy lives, why not the legacy of slavery? And have your white friend say how funny it is, that American pollsters ask white and black people if racism is over. White people in general say it is over and black people in general say it is not. Funny indeed. More suggestions for what you should have your white friend say? Please post away. And here’s to all the white friends who get it.

Adichie and book cover


I want to be one of those white friends.

9 responses »

  1. Me, too.

  2. Me, too.

  3. Great insights and I very much appreciate the invitation to act up and out. To tell the truth, I have never completely healed from Mr. Stokely Carmichael’s 86-ing of White fellow-travelers. (at the time I was a recruit at the hands of Rev King, working for NSM and then SDS vs the Vietnam Horror.) It always hurts to be cast out and it is hard to find your way back in.

    Thanks, Bill Baker

  4. Graciela C. Catasus

    Racism in America didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act of 1968, it just went underground and was semi-dormant until it sprouted upon the election of President Obama! Sad commentary for a nation that has branded itself the beacon of democracy and human rights…

  5. You have a canny knack for reminding us of what we are and what we could be. Thanks for your ever-welcome nudge.

  6. Dear Norma,
    Sending you a deep bow of gratitude!
    Thank you!!!

  7. I recently watched “American Experience: 1964” on PBS. Like your memoir, this program brings to life that year that set change in motion and made me realize how horrible it was to live in the south. Thank you for continuing to shed light on the issues of race and discrimination.

  8. Many of my best friends are Jewish. I also have friends who are African American and I know we all deserve the same rights to life, liberty, peace and freedom of speech. I do not agree with abortion and I’m not at all sure about the whole global warming thing. But don’t mix all these issues together and call others Haters. That sort of makes you a Hater don’t you think? We are all entitled to our own opinions and that’s what has made America great for the last few decades. Not perfect mind you, but I love my country and wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: