I’m Listening and Learning: What Not to Say to a Black Mom

Talking About Race

I can’t believe one of my best friends, who is half-Black, has remained my best friend for more than 20 years, considering the things I have said; things that clearly fall under the category, “Shit White Women Say to Black Women.

That’s the title from a very short YouTube video, that went viral 8 years ago, by Black comedian Franchesca Ramsey. She comments on the ignorant things white women say to her constantly. Viewed more than 12 million times, it led Ramsey to a book deal, “Well, That Escalated Quickly,” which I also just read. She’s a comedian, so her humour breaking down injustice is one way that could make people listen and engage.

A disclaimer; if you find something offensive, or if I’m not using the correct word, or in the right context, I ask for compassion, as I’m genuinely learning more about white privilege. If I mess up, please educate me, so I can educate my white friends and have important dialogues with my children.

Recently, I was called out for not using my platform to talk about racism. “Rebecca, you are a leader with a voice people listen to. You weren’t saying anything, and as a woman who is raising Black sons, knowing that’s how you feel about racism, I felt it okay to speak to you publicly. Racism isn’t new- I’m not sure why it would take so long to find a message that resonates with you.”

I do agree that those with platforms should use their voices. I explained to her that white parents want to stand up for Black parents. We want to show our support. So like I do with my kids who aren’t prepared for a test or need extra help in school, I got myself a “tutor” in white privilege. The tutor, of course, is my best friend. I learned more about her life, being a Black woman and mother in our two-hour chat than I had over our entire 20 year-friendship.

“Get comfortable,” I told her, “I’m going to ask pointed questions on what it’s like to be Black.” We could have talked much more, but my battery died and her throat was sore from talking so long.

You probably didn’t notice, but from the start of this post, I had already said something that falls under “Shit White Women Say to Black Women” by stating, “I have a black friend!” Every time my friend hears this, she inwardly rolls her eyes. I don’t think my friend has ever announced, “I have a white friend!”

I asked my friend if she’s always aware that she is black all the time. While she makes it clear she can’t speak for all Black people, she said, “I will say this. Every time I leave my house, I have a chip on my shoulder and am already on the defensive,” which made me tear up. I had no idea she felt that way. I’ve never left the house feeling defensive and with a chip on my shoulder because I’m white. Have you?

“I’m tired,” she told me, wearily, after I asked how she was feeling about the nonstop conversations now surrounding race. Her exhaustion showed me how much work we need to do, so our Black friends and the Black community aren’t “tired” because of the B.S. they face daily.

Ramsey makes fun of all the white people who have said to her, “I’ve always wanted a Black baby! They’re so cute!” Even I’ve uttered that sentence before. I have told my friend how envious I am of her oh-so-perfect curls. That is something else, according to Ramsey that falls under “Shit White Women Say….”

Also, whenever I come back from a tropical vacation, I would hold my arm next to hers and say, “I think my skin is darker than yours!” another example Ramsey mocks. How could my friend never mention any of these things I had said? Of course, she knows I’m not racist, so maybe she was giving me a free pass, taking our friendship over my white privileged statements?

I told this woman, who called me out, how I was still processing the images I had seen, which so obviously showed such an abuse of power and racism. It made me sick to my stomach. But those constant images I watched on the news? They hadn’t really affected my friend at all. I wondered how it couldn’t?

She explained that, like many Black people, she has seen and heard about this kind of brutality her entire life, so the images that white people were horrified over, she had already seen for her entire life. When my friend’s son was a teenager, she drilled into his head that if he sees the police “never to run,” and that he “shouldn’t be wearing a hoodie out at night.” I’ve drilled it into my teen daughter’s head that if she’s ever in trouble or lost to find a police officer (and maybe take a coat because it’s chilly.) As I write this, my white privilege is screaming off the page.

My friend says there is no coming back for people, especially in the public eye, if they utter something blatantly racist or use their white privilege, especially now, in what’s arguably one of the biggest Black movements ever. I asked her if someone in the public eye, who, out of ignorance and stupidity, even envy, said something racist, was genuinely sorry, admitting they messed up, why can’t they be forgiven?

Well, an apology from white people, my friend explained, isn’t enough. In fact, she said, no amount of apologies, from one person would be enough because Black people have been hearing apologies like this forever. They are sick of them.

They are sick of “Shit White People Say To Black Women,” too. They want action. For me, being called out was a blessing in disguise, because it prompted me to become more educated, by going directly to the source to get candid answers. I really felt I got a crash course in white privilege.

White people should be doing this; thinking about how to be an ally, considering what support Black people could really use, and figuring out what we are doing wrong so we don’t continue to say things that fall under the category of, “Shit White People Say to Black Women.”

 

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