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Why I Will No Longer Be The Token Black Friend

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Trigger Warning: Racial slur

“I don’t like the republican one sweetie. I’ve been republican all my life and some of my sweetest friends are those of color. Generalization like this causes division instead of God’s plan of beautiful diversity. Please don’t push away so many people who love you deeply.”

- Anonymous

The post that Anonymous is replying to is a joke made by an Instagram account called The Language Nerds (@the.language.nerds) which says, “the english language is so crazy with its silent K’s. one silent k in knot. two silent K’s in knuckle. three silent K’s in republican. four silent K’s in knick-knack.” When I was in middle school, I wouldn’t give up my seat on the bus to some kid who wanted to sit next to one of our mutual friends. The next day, my friend told me that after I exited the bus, the kid had called me a “nigger.” Luckily, my friend stood up for me and reported it to the bus driver. When I think about that interaction, and think back to the kid from the small town who probably had a confederate flag on his property, my focus is not on avoiding generalizations to be inclusive. My focus is on how, at a young age, my race added to my other. When I comment on it, I’m not making a generalization, I’m making an observation.

Instead of trying to have a conversation to understand why someone might relate enough to this statement to post it, and another person would relate enough to share it, Anonymous decided to try and gaslight me into thinking this post was something that was causing division. I knew Anonymous wouldn’t want to conduct a conversation with me because they had already made it clear in the past that they didn’t want to be educated, at least not by a young black girl.

Previously, I had shared a post on the minimum wage. It was about how the minimum wage, if rising at the same rate of inflation, should be at least fifteen dollars. They replied, “sadly, if this were the case a gallon of milk would also be $15, etc.” In response, I sent them an article from the Economic Policy Institute, which was titled, “Gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 would be good for workers, good for businesses, and good for the economy.” I had thought that they would be grateful that I did the research for them and found a credible source for them to educate themselves with so they can know better for next time. They made no response. So, instead of trying to explain to them why their response did nothing to absolve them from the problem and systems they are still perpetrating, I’m writing this. This is to open the eyes of those who think that just because they have proximity to otherness that they don’t have to contribute to righting the wrongs of the past. This is to encourage other POC to stop feeling obligated to teach people who don’t want to change because they benefit from how things are. This is to help me get this weight of being silent and unheard off my chest.

Anonymous using their friends of color as a shield to absolve them of their racism is something that’s been done for decades. They pick someone in the minority that doesn’t fit the unpopular stereotypes of their social, economic, or political group. Then, they use them as a token, as a piece to put in play when called out on their bull. What they don’t realize is that having token people of color in your life doesn’t absolve you from being pro-racism. It’s the same reasoning as just because men are birthed by women doesn’t mean they aren’t sexist or in favor of the systems that oppress women. Using that as an excuse or as an out is in fact a good way of identifying who needs to be more closely examined. If they don’t know where or what makes their friends of color feel unsafe, it’s safe to say they aren’t really friends, they’re leeches using their accessibility to melanin for their own gain.

My family lived in a nice house in the suburbs, had degrees to go around, and weren’t willing to claim our black identity as one that made us other. We were, as the kids would call me, “the whitest black family in town”. When they needed a hint of diversity to tote around and be seen as inclusive, our family was at the top of the list. Funnily enough, our proximity to whiteness didn’t really offer us any favors in exchange for being the token black family. My dad struggled to find jobs after he lost them. My mom’s name was blacklisted in the hiring pool after she was taken advantage of at her college job, so much so that the only job she could get hired at was a minimum wage hourly one in retail. My sister finds herself favoring the white Barbies over the black ones and watching makeup tutorials of looks on white faces as opposed to ones who look like her.

If Anonymous had been opposed to the generalization because it didn’t go deeper into the issue, this would be a different conversation. I work at Joann Fabrics and at one point a customer made the generalization that young people didn’t want to work and that was why she had to work forty plus hours after retirement. Was I mad at the comment because it lumped me in a group of lazy individuals? No. I was mad at the comment because it didn’t go deeper into the issue. Staff shortages are caused by low wages, companies not hiring people, and not giving enough hours to minimum wage workers who need the money to survive. I was mad because I am a young person, and I am working and going to school. My job doesn’t pay me enough to support myself. Anonymous could have explained why they support republicans, why what republicans fight for is right. They could have gotten into ways republicans help people of color, if such examples exist. Instead, they blanketed generalizations as causing divisions, ignoring all the deeper issues and thought that was enough of an argument. At this point, I’m questioning if I even want to be united with people who refuse to see me as a person disenfranchised, dehumanized, and devalued in our society. This is not to say democrats are any better. Democrats, I would say, are also pro-racism, pro-sexism, and pro-homophobia. They hide it behind symbolic justices that make it seem like they care without actually doing something to help those in need.

When I was a high school leader at my old church, a middle schooler once said when playing a game, “I don’t like people who are liberals.” At the time, I wasn’t interested in politics because I didn’t have to be—I was young and my biggest focus was on surviving high school and getting my diploma. However, I was curious as to how someone so young could have an opinion on something without knowing both sides, without even meeting someone who would consider themselves a liberal. I started watching a lot of Middle Ground by Jubilee on Youtube and started getting different perspectives on different topics. It was a great reminder that people across the aisle are still human and still face challenges. I’ve always been someone who thought of others before myself—I not only worked as a high school leader for my youth ministry, but I worked in the nursery too. I volunteered for a lot of the programs my church put on, I thought they were helping the community. When the pandemic hit and I saw a lot of those very same people refuse to wear masks and help people stay safe, that belief was challenged. When George Floyd was murdered and my church said nothing about it in sermons, nothing about it online, just pretended it didn’t happen, my belief in that crumbled. How could people who were supposed to love me not stand up against something terrible that happened to someone who looked like me? How could they not understand black people’s collectivism that came with them from Africa, that put more emphasis on the “we” than “me”? How much could those people really love me if they didn’t even really see me?

So, no, Anonymous, I’m not pushing away the people who love me, I’m not causing division, and I will no longer be one of the sweet people of color you use as a token to pull out when people call you on your racism. I’m pointing out the division that’s already there and I’m finally putting myself and my peace above placating people who don’t want to dive deeper into their beliefs. If you want to have a more meaningful discussion, you know where to find me. If not, I’m thankful for the good times we had together, and I wish you well, but I can no longer entertain these ignorant messages.


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