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Rebecca Stevens A. Rebecca Stevens A.

If I don’t know where you sit on the racist spectrum, we can no longer be friends

I’ve been writing about my personal experiences with racism for close to two years now. During that time, I’ve met many people and re-connected with old friends and acquaintances — white, brown, and Black.

Some have openly commented on my anti-racism work while others have kept absolutely silent.

Before I started writing about racism, I didn’t really care about my friends’ views on the topic. Today, I can’t bare their silence on racism. Why? Because it screams a lack of support for a cause that means a lot to me.

How can we be friends if you don’t ever mention something that touches me and my children on an almost daily basis? Can I actually call you a friend if you don’t have the courage to engage with me on something that causes me great pain? Will you even stand up for me if someone is overtly racist to me when we are together?

Let me be clear, however, I don’t expect my friends to be staunch antiracism activists, I just need them to tell me that they are against racism and support the work I do to end it, that is all.

I met Tobias about 10 years ago. He is white and from Norway. We’re connected on social media, but I would define him as more of an acquaintance than a friend.

When I started writing about racism in June 2020, he reached out to me to express his support for my work. He was one of few people to do so. Recently we had a conversation where he told me how much he abhorred racism in all its vile forms. He’d grown up mainly in a white community, but he had traveled around the world to seek, value, and respect diversity. He said that he would always be there for me whenever I wanted to talk or not talk about the topic. His support means the world to me.

The fact is, Tobias wanted me to know that he saw me, he understood me, he saw my pain and he deeply understood why the work I was doing was needed in the world.

He said he admired my courage, and re-iterated that it is through my work and that of other antiracism activists that individuals are forced to hold a mirror up to themselves and answer some tough questions about where they sit on the racism spectrum.

“I mean, if you a sitting in a multinational company and only 1 or 2 of your colleagues are brown or Black, shouldn’t you ask yourself why that is and seek concrete solutions to change that? Just sitting there and accepting it without so much as lifting a little finger to change a thing is basically saying: this is fine with me, and that makes you an accomplice — also culpable of the crime of racism”.

I’m not sure Tobias knows how much his support means to me. I have no doubt about where he stands with regard to racism, I know that our friendship will only grow from now onwards.

I’ve known Natasha, a white, English pilates instructor for many years. I think of her more like a friend. We have trained a lot together. Natasha has seen my articles on racism and has never commented on any of them.

For context, I have written almost 400 articles on the topic in the last 2 years, I have been a guest on a few podcasts, and have spoken at about 10 events over this time. Natasha is fully aware of all these interventions and has yet to say a word. Each time I run into her, I feel my resentment growing, I am beginning to despise her because of her silence which I now interpret as indifference.

The other day, she had the nerve to call me and ask me to help her with some work she is doing in lobbying for Roe Vs. Wade to not be reversed. It’s all about women’s rights she bellowed down the phone.

I listened and was quiet.

“Aren’t you a big-shot activist fighting for social justice”? she asked. “You should be all over this one, you should be writing about this”.

I remained silent.

“So, can you help me on this?” she questioned.

“I understand this cause is important for you Natasha, but for now, I am fighting for Black people to have basic rights — the right to a job without being discriminated against, the right to go to a store without being followed around by security. We still don’t have these basic rights, so I need to fight for those before I can start to fight for something else. The way Roe vs Wade makes you feel is the way I feel every day living in a predominantly white world. I feel frustrated, powerless, and afraid.

“It’s not the same thing,” she responded defensively.

“Natascha, it actually is — it’s even worse”.

She hung up, I’m not sure I’ll ever hear from her again.

For me, it’s clear, that Tobias is the type of friend I want to have more of. Why, because he is clear with me about what he thinks about racism. I don’t have to guess, he is categorical, and crystal clear on his position. I’m not left guessing on what side of the moral arc of justice he stands on. He has explicitly told me what he believes.

Unfortunately, I still have a lot of Natashas in my life, and their silence is becoming deafening.

I know I’ve changed since I started this journey in antiracism. I can’t go back to not caring about what people’s views are on racism, I just can’t anymore.

I suspect that I’m going to have a lot fewer friends going forward, but I am ready for this next stage, I’m ready to know that the people that stand beside me are true believers, supporters, and actors in the fight to dismantle the ancient scrouge that is racism.

Are you a white person who hasn’t made it clear to your Black friends where you stand vis à vis racism? Maybe it’s time you did before you lose their friendship for good.

Thank you for reading my perspective.

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