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Op-Ed Fri Jul 31 2015

The Reason I Can't Have White Friends: Race Talk in America

By Jeremey Johnson

In the last year we in America have seen a slew of race related crime. The subsequent deaths of Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray and others have been the focal point of many conversations. Unfortunately most of those conversations don't end well. I have had many conversations about issues that plague the black community, ranging from police brutality to the common misconceptions that are often spread through bad media representations. From these many conversations I have come to one conclusion. It is nearly impossible to have white friends while living in a white supremacist country.

I am not against the prospect of interracial friendship, but such friendships are hard to maintain when so many of your white friends have diminished your entire culture to rap music, twerking, and the myth that is black on black crime. Navigating race talk is a choreographed chaos of toe stepping and boundary crossing. I often find that white people are more likely to listen to other white people on Fox News about black people than are to listen to me, an actual black person.

I spend more time dispelling rumors about my people than I do spending quality time with my family. Being black while being surrounded by people who often think less of you than they would a used diaper but still want to enjoy your company under the assumption that your melanin makes everything they do look cooler or less racist. I have grown rather tired of explaining to my white peers that black on black crime is an unfair and unrealistic fairy tale that makes my people look more violent when white on white crime statistics are parallel and that the typical American serial killer is white.

I am tired of asking why more black men get incarcerated for drug trafficking when white drug use is nearly identical to black drug use, and hearing the counter-argument that white people use drugs but don't sell drugs, and the ever-enigmatic question of, "If white people aren't dealing drugs to each other than who is? The unicorns maybe?" My favorite discussion of them all is how "All Lives Matter" is one of the most detrimental and offensive things one can say during a "Black Lives Matter" movement.

What bothers me the most is the sheer lack of understanding. It would seem that white people love talking about my people but don't seem to want me in that conversation. People would much rather bounce stereotypes off of each other than listen to the people they are about to see if those stereotypes are true. I am often called a liar by people when correcting them on misconceptions about my people. People often quote Bill O'Reily to me when telling me about how my own people need to try harder, as if Bill O'Reily has been black his entire life and can tell you more about black people than real black people can, and as if not getting shot by police officers who openly hate black people is something I need to "try harder" at.

It is hurtful to log on to Facebook and see all of racist things my friends think about black people. I have resorted to deleting them. Deleting them does keep me from seeing those hurtful statuses, but it doesn't erase the pain those words cause. It doesn't erase the culture of black murder and white silence. It doesn't even get people to listen to me when I talk about my own race. I am not sure if I will ever be able to articulate my struggle properly, but I am sure that if myself and people like me are constantly met with opposition, bridging the race gap will continue to be impossible.

I have grown tired of having to explain to people why mouthing off to police shouldn't get me killed. I am tired of having to try twice as hard to smile on the train so people aren't automatically afraid of me. I am tired of being afraid of police officers as they drive past my house or walk by me on the street. I am tired of being too afraid of police violence to go to the public pool, walk down the street, go to the movie theater, walk with skittles, or exist in my own skin. But I am unable to express this pain to people other than my own race. It is almost impossible to get other people to understand my pain. It is even harder to get people to acknowledge that the pain I and my people feel is even real. We live in a "post-racial" society but it seems that this "post-racial" attitude has tricked people into thinking that denying racism will completely destroy it.


Jeremey Johnson is a CPS Poetry Coach and GEAR Up Tutor. Jeremey is passionate about uplifting his community by creating racially conscious art. He is currently getting a bachelor's degree in poetry at Columbia College. You can follow Jeremey on twitter at @TGIKofi or on Tumblr.

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Rushek / July 31, 2015 8:26 PM

Thoughtful and thought-provoking. It made me think about how I interplay with "post-racial" America as a white woman. Well done Mr. Johnson.

cott G. Brown / August 2, 2015 1:31 AM

Very well stated, Mr. Johnson.This should be in print.This is something with which most concerned Americans wrestle. Something that should have been resolved decades ago. Hopefully, we will all wake-up to a demon that is slowing destroying America before it is too late.

B. Russell / August 6, 2015 9:33 AM

If the white people are quoting Bill O'Reily to you then I understand why you can't be friends with them. I'm white and I wouldn't want them as friends. There are many white people who believe police treat minorities unfairly, that black men should not be in jail for drug offenses, that mouthing off to a cop does not entitle them to arrest you or, worse yet, do you bodily harm. I see many areas of agreement here. Please keep trying to make friends with other races. Segregation is not the answer to any of our country's problems.

Jeremy / August 10, 2015 11:46 AM

Lumping all white people together is absurd as is lumping all black people together. If the white people you know like Bill O'Reilly you may want to start expanding your horizons.

Jeremy / August 10, 2015 11:47 AM

Lumping all white people together is absurd as is lumping all black people together. If the white people you know like Bill O'Reilly you may want to start expanding your horizons.

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