I’ve recently begun following Dr. Yaba Blay–author, scholar, activist, Cultural Consultant and Creative Producer. Her book, One Drop: Shifting the Lense on Race, has been re-released through Beacon Press. Go get it if you haven’t already.
Blay posted an Instagram Live with author Glennon Doyle on her grid, with the title: “Can Black Women and White Women Be Friends?” What a question. The relevance and honesty of it made me watch.
Glennon asks this question, wondering if it’s possible as some reckon with the truth of whiteness and the ways in which it has decimated Black lives. Dr. Blay’s answer was beautiful; it was her truth. She, unlike me, hasn’t engaged with white women in friendship-intimacy. Her soul tribe is women of color–Black women, I think. A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast where Rachel Cargle speaks of her soul tribe of beautiful Black women and how she needed them when she emerged from the white world, exhausted from code-switching and surviving.
I remember thinking, “I don’t have that; is something wrong with me?”
Here’s a brief history lesson: I attended majority white schools from K-12; I forged relationships with Black women in college but they didn’t last long. After that, I didn’t have close friends outside of my family. When living in Los Angeles, I hung out with white women from work; I was also able to find fragile connections with Asian American women and Latinas. I call these connections fragile only because it was difficult for me to build concrete, lasting relationships in LA. After that, I returned to my hometown and was invited to a book club that consisted of white women. I instantly bonded with one of them, so we saw each other outside of the book club and I continued to grow close to the others as time went on.
Being the only Black woman in my book club wasn’t lost on me. They devoured Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy whereas I could barely read it due to the trauma and sadness it triggered in me. I continued to attend because they were my friends. I’ll admit–it was difficult. None of them were from my hometown. I found it interesting that they were able to find decent paying jobs (purchase homes, build a life) in my now gentrified city as I was still struggling to make ends meet–with my master’s degree. Most of them worked for the prominent Catholic university. I refer to it as the Evil Empire. Nevertheless, the Evil Empire paid well and I continuously applied for administrative positions only to get a call back when I finally applied for a part-time parking lot attendant.
Needless to say, when I got a job in Nevada, I was excited to leave and begin anew. I left in February 2020 and my campus was shut down by March 13. The hope of finding a soul tribe that looked like me was dashed. But something interesting happened that I didn’t expect: my all-white book club never abandoned me when I relocated across the country. I was quarantining alone in a new city and the white women I thought would forget about me once I moved, managed to stay in touch.
As 2020 grew more intense, especially for Black people, I continued to pull away, as my rage increased. I had to mute one of them on social media because I couldn’t stomach her posts that consisted of books that dealt with the “Black experience.” As the year wore on, it was imperative that I took an active role in my mental and physical health. I resumed therapy and made strides to become vegan–at least M-F. These and other efforts of internal growth transformed my life.
So, back to our question: Can Black women and white women be friends?
2020 taught me that the answer to this question is yes, but there are terms and conditions. I learned that in order for me to accept my soul tribe that consists of white women, one white man, my mother, baby brother and cousin… I had to do the work of:
Owning ourselves basically means living our truth, no matter what. In order to live our truth, we must know all of who we are. 2020 gave me the time to do intensive inner-work–work that forced me to unearth trauma and pain that was deeply embedded in my soul since childhood. And before you say something, yes, I recognize and am grateful for the privilege of being able to do this work during a global pandemic. Owning myself means I am responsible for my happiness, joy, peace, health and wellbeing. It’s no one’s responsibility to sooth or nurture me–if they want to help, I’m down, but it’s not their sole responsibility–that’s on me.
Creating a safe space within myself.
2020 was my year of fear. I was afraid of everything: the pandemic, being a fat, Black woman, my trauma, my health–everything. This fear made me question my relationships. I would think, “Do I feel safe with these white people?” Yes, we must always feel safe with people but the bigger takeaway was when I realized I held the capacity to create a safe space within myself. Like owning myself, no one was responsible for my safety but me and me alone. If people wanted to contribute to it–awesome, but I wasn’t looking for them to make me feel safe. I had to recognize that I was safe regardless. This was important for me because I didn’t want to code-switch around my soul tribe–truthfully, I shouldn’t have to. The only I felt safe enough to be myself was because I began to see the value of me. Moving forward, I would walk in truth, and if they didn’t like it, they had the choice not to spend time with me.
Managing my Ego.
Oh the Ego! So beautiful in its effort to protect us from harm. Once I established that safety came from within, there was no need for my ego to pop up like, “Who’s that? Who’s pulling up? They might hurt us! Don’t trust them! RUN!” This took and continues to take practice. My guy friend–your average white guy–triggers the shit out of me. Anything can pop out of his mouth, at any moment, that makes me pull back and say, “Da fuq this dude jus say?” Then I calm down, get out of my feelings and approach the situation from a higher perspective. Basically, I get out of my own damn way. The ego would love for me to ditch people who challenge me or trigger a larger understanding of myself, but we need this growth. Therefore, the ego has no place in meaningful relationships. Will it appear? Yes. But it’s my responsibility to tell it to back off, gently reminding it that I’m safe. Managing my ego has allowed for the expansion of my relationships in ways I never expected. What a gift.
Allowing love in–regardless who it’s from.
Ah, love! You already know I love me some love. It’s wonderful, yet it seems like the thing we fear the most. I’m reading Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons For Our Time by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.; he says that Baldwin emphasized love even though most didn’t want to receive it. He quotes Baldwin as saying, “If only [people] could trust that ‘thing,’ they would be less afraid of being touched, less afraid of loving each other, less afraid of being changed by each other…But for some reason love is the most frightful thing; something that the human being is most in need of and dreads most” (103). Love is the medicine we refuse to take. Opening my heart to receive love is an ongoing journey. A lot of shit goes into it. Watching death in 2020 was a constant reminder that I must open my heart; that I had no right to choose where love came from. I had to trust it. In 2020, love came from reconnecting with my baby brother, from my mother, and my white friends.
Love saved me in 2020 and in that, it gifted me with a group of people I love with my whole heart. They don’t look like me but their soul is connected to mine in the most beautiful of ways.
In his book, Glaude says, “And, in the end, we must resist Ibsen’s ghosts, the ‘old ideas and beliefs’ that cage us in categories and assumptions about who we are and what we are capable of and blind us to the beauty of others, never forgetting that categorization refers only to the different conditions under which we live; it doesn’t capture the essence of who we are” (115).
I believe my terms and conditions can be applied to any relationship we have outside of ourselves. If 2020 didn’t teach us anything, it taught us that people matter–connection is a valuable resource and we are responsible for tending to and caring for each other as well as ourselves.
All my love,
Glaude Jr., Eddie S. Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America And Its Urgent Lessons For Our Own. First ed., Crown, 2020.
Visit Dr. Blay’s instagram @yabablay.
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