The last several months have been particularly draining for Black folks in this country, between the racial upheaval, a pandemic that affects them disproportionately and an upcoming presidential election with so much at stake for their communities.
It’s imperative that we continue the conversation about race on both a national and personal level — even when it’s not dominating the news cycle. Those who want to be allies must keep listening, learning and taking action that supports the Black community.
To that end, we asked Black people to reveal what they wish the white people in their lives knew and understood. Here’s what they said.
Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and length.
1. I notice your silence about the acts of racism and other injustices in the news.
“There are a lot of issues that sometimes only affect or disproportionally affect a community. That should not be an exoneration from caring or paying attention. When you are silent, I often feel like I have no choice but to question: Where do you stand? Do you care about what’s happening?
This doesn’t mean you have to start talking politics and social justice 24/7 — I still enjoy seeing puppy pics and newborn photos on my timeline! But we can’t ignore what’s happening, and it is unacceptable to stay neutral. If days, months, years go by and you never discuss these issues or engage with anything I say in person or online, that sends a clear message. It’s difficult to believe that you care.” — Candace Howze, writer and multimedia artist
2. And it hurts when you speak out but then suddenly go quiet on these issues, too.
“When we see your enthusiasm for justice wane after just a few weeks of another murder or police brutality against us, it’s a psychological struggle for us at times to stay positive about the friendship. Maybe you no longer know what to say or do, maybe you don’t want to keep bringing it up out of fear of making us relive painful moments. But the truth is, those thoughts are running through our minds, regardless, at some point throughout most days.
If you never bring it up again, it leaves us questioning how real we can be around you. How open, honest, and raw can we be? The silence or quieting of your voices make us turn the focus from the real issues to centering our thoughts around you and the realness of the friendship. It makes us wonder how much you understand — or want to understand — systemic racism, and if we can trust you to have our back in covert racist situations. When you go quiet, it’s painful.” ― Michelle Saahene, co-founder of From Privilege to Progress
3. Being Black in this country can be exhausting.
“As a Black person, I have to conform to societal standards to exist in this country. I have to create a caricature palatable enough to comfort white people in white spaces so that I’ll make it home to see my family. I can’t afford to be anything other than what society demands me to be. If I ever become a hashtag, my family will know it wasn’t because I didn’t comply.” — Brittany Neighbors
4. Don’t expect me to educate you on racism.
“As a Black man in a predominately white industry, neighborhood and social circle, I do field questions, especially over the last few months. My own self-awareness is full of blind spots, and I am not a fount of knowledge in this area — I’m a long way from it. I answer with honesty and transparency, but it is not my job to educate you. There are amazing resources out there for you to explore and start to build your own understanding and awareness.
I have seen the same at work, with a Black employee being expected to deliver on inclusion despite it not being related to her role. I am happy to have those difficult conversations, but you need to know for yourself. Then I can provide a little help in building your own house of awareness.” ― Lee Chambers, environmental psychologist and well-being consultant
5. Yes, we’re living through a difficult time, but I don’t need your pity.
“Just because there is more hate openly directed toward BIPOC right now, please don’t feel sorry for my family or me because we are Black. I am a proud Black woman who loves everything about my race and would never trade in my Blackness for anything ‘easier.’ Save your pity for the racist, whose world is made small and toxic by their limiting beliefs.” — Laura Cathcart Robbins, writer and host of “The Only One In The Room” podcast
6. Listen when I’m talking about my struggles, instead of trying to interject with your own.
“When we share our stories of racism, injustice and discrimination, we don’t need you to chime in about your hardships, too. They are not, and will never be, the same. If we are comfortable sharing what we experience as Black people, it is best to listen, validate the feelings and empathize.” ― LeNaya Smith Crawford, marriage and family therapist and holistic wellness expert
7. Saying I’m ‘articulate’ isn’t a compliment — it’s a microaggression.
“I can’t tell you how many white people in my life thought they were paying me a compliment by suggesting that I ‘don’t talk like I’m Black.’ How you speak has everything to do with education, culture and the language spoken at home, and nothing to do with race. Also, if speaking properly is ‘talking white,’ how do you explain the inordinate number of inarticulate Caucasian people on reality television?” ― Cathcart Robbins
8. Your racist jokes aren’t amusing, they’re offensive.
“Too many times, I have been in circles where racially insensitive jokes are passed around and you hear the ‘it’s not that serious’ trope. You’re right. It’s not that serious — for you, who is not Black. I want them to take the time to listen to our experiences while keeping in mind the point about [Black people] not all being the same. I want them to inform themselves as to why these jokes are not appropriate.” ― Jan-Kristòf Louis-Mansano, school counselor
9. It’s not ‘weird’ if I get emotional about events involving Black people I’ve never met — whether it’s celebrating their success or mourning their death.
“Black joy and Black suffering are often communal. Americans are often taught the power of individuality, which is important. As Black people, though, we have our unique identities and perspectives, we feel and experience things very communally. I won’t go into all the reasons why, but I think it’s important to understand that we have a shared experience, both here and abroad, that leads us to nearly automatic empathy with each other’s successes and challenges.
“When we share our stories of racism, injustice and discrimination, we don’t need you to chime in about your hardships, too.”
While it might seem weird that your Black friend is crying over the murder of someone they never met, or ‘racist’ that they’re ‘cheering for everybody Black,’ it’s a part of how we move through the world. We feel each other’s joy and pain in ways that you may not process in the white community. Keep this in mind if we are having an especially hard day or are just celebrating the dopeness of being Black people.” ― Howze
10. Being the only Black person in an all-white space can be uncomfortable, to say the least.
“When we enter all-white spaces, anxiety can set in quickly. There is an uncomfortable anticipation of microaggressions — the stares, the whispers, the performative over-politeness, being treated like a zoo animal there for entertainment and for people to look at. Or, the over-interest that makes you think, ‘Do these people think I’m famous or something?’
I’ve been at events where some of the only other Black people there were the staff, which caused me to feel shame. Give us a heads up, because maybe all of these things are not instances we emotionally want to deal with at the time. I can only speak for myself, but I sometimes give myself a pep talk when I walk into a room of all white people. That is how common it is for me to be treated a bit different in an all-white space. Because of your privilege, you almost have never, nor will ever be, ‘the only one.’” — Saahene
11. I need you to be an ally, not a savior.
“We have to work together, but be careful not to burden Black people. Audre Lorde said, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.’
To see genuine change, we need to use different tools and tactics. Those closest to the issue are closest to the solution, but it [shouldn’t] become the burden of Black folx. We have fought for so much already. We need allies and accomplices, not saviors.” ― Tanya Bass, sexologist and speaker
12. Don’t tell me how to feel about inequality and injustice.
“Do not ask Black people to educate or enlighten you on social indifferences or racism. Do not question the validity of Black culture or Black experiences in this country. Do not tell people how to react to the trauma porn you share on various social media platforms. Do your own research. Address your own racial biases and problematic white friends. Use your privilege to better disadvantaged Black communities. Fight and petition for the arrest of the officers that killed Breonna Taylor.” ― Neighbors
13. You can stop making a big fuss about my hair.
“We have hair that grows toward the sun and can be versatile. A Black woman’s hair is her crown, so it is very common to switch up our hairstyles. We can have locs one day, an afro the next, and if we feel like it, we can straighten it, too. We are still the same person. The ‘Oh, I didn’t recognize you’ or the ‘Can I touch your hair?’ and the ‘How did you get it to do that?’ are frustrating and redundant. Honestly, just compliment the look or let it be business as usual. We do not need the extra commentary.” ― Smith Crawford
14. Stop assuming all Black people are the same.
“Due to where I went to high school, I was frequently the token Black friend in my circle of friends. As a result, I ended up being the ‘I have a Black friend’ person without us having had any real discussions about what it means to be Black in this country. I wanted these friends to know what it’s like to be the token Black guy in a predominantly white environment. I want them to know that just because I don’t act like what the news tends to shove down our throats about how Black people look and sound, doesn’t make me less Black. It does not make me ‘an Oreo cookie.’”— Louis-Mansano
15. My hobbies shouldn’t surprise you.
“I can’t tell you how many times I (and many other Black yogis) practiced in studios where the teacher and students were so shocked at my yoga practice and ‘complimented’ me on my form. The disbelief is all over your face — and it’s not a compliment. This is one of the reasons why it has been so important for there to be safe and diverse spaces for BIPOC to practice and grow in their wellness journeys.” ― Smith Crawford
16. Do some research on intersectionality.
“Quite often, my white friends will step up when it comes to injustices toward the LGBT community but stay silent when it comes to issues of race, or find excuses for racist behaviors. I want my white friends to know that I can’t turn any of those off. I am Black and I am gay, all wrapped in the same person. Showing your support for one aspect of who I am shows me that there is a privilege that comes with your level of comfort. Unfortunately, I do not have that privilege.
Throughout history, intersectionality has been ignored when it comes to LGBT rights, women’s rights, voting rights, and so on. We tend to ignore that these issues affect people of color differently. When I face homophobia from the Black community and racism from the white community, it can be difficult to find a common ground as a safe space. I would like my friends to realize what this means as well.” ― Louis-Mansano