TO ALL THE WHITE FRIENDS I COULDN’T KEEP

To All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep:

In the last month, my life changed forever when the police-involved death of George Floyd went viral online, I was devastated, because I knew that this sort of thing—randomly being stopped, suspected of crime, death by police—happens more often to black people. I decided that day that I wouldn’t let the news cycle determine when I spoke up about racism anymore.

I posted multiple articles everyday that week to share my own experiences of racism and to highlight the racism in the country. I thought that if you heard from a black person you trusted—me—that racism is alive and well in our times, that you would come to understand that what happened to Mr. Castile, to Mr. Martin, Ms. Bland, Ms. Boyd, Mr. Sterling, Mr. Brown, Mr. Garner, Mr Grey, Ms. Shirley, Ms. Gaines, Mr. Arbery, Mr. Floyd, Mr. Brooks and so many others were not unique, isolated incidents but parts of a pattern.

I didn’t bring these things up to make you feel shame, but to make you aware. I thought your eyes would be opened and I thought that you would finally see, not just facets of the world that were previously invisible to you, but me. I thought that you would finally see how carefully I tread through this world in order to remain free and whole, how intentional I must be to prove to others that I am not a threat. I thought you’d see this and be angry at the ways that this society keeps telling me that it knows that deep down I am a criminal, and they’re just waiting to figure out what type. I thought you’d fight to live in a world where I didn’t have to fear random searches and false arrests, police brutality and plea deals, mandatory minimums and prison labor and torture.

I thought you would see this burden. I even acted it out for you, with the largest boulder I could manage.

I was wrong. In hindsight, I see that I was naiive to even think that I could get through to all of you. But I’ve learned since then.

I know that if your actual blood came to you and said they were raped, you wouldn’t ask them “How do you know? Are you sure? What were you wearing? Calm down. Let’s get all the facts. Protecting rape victims is not a priority to God. Let’s just stay focused on the Gospel. Why are you stirring up trouble?” I know that many families do respond that way, but I’ve seen how white people defend your children, even when they’re clearly in the wrong. I know how much more you’d show up for them if you believed they were victims. You wouldn’t look for reasons to disbelieve your blood like you worked so hard to disbelieve me. Like Carolyn Bryant, you would believe her. You would hunt the man down, make Emmett Till out of him. You’d be at the police station demanding justice. You’d be looking for the bastard that harmed your kin. You’d be at city hall demanding that we create a world where your blood will be safe. Tell me what you wouldn’t do if one of your own came home telling you that they’d been harmed or were in danger? You didn’t do that for me, and that told me everything.

You told me that I wasn’t your blood when you showed that your ideas, your theologies, a flag, a song, prison buildings, police officers you don’t even know are more important to you than understanding the type of America that I live in.

You’d rather make a madman, a heretic, a reverse racist out of me than to consider that I may actually know what I’m talking about.

How could I keep you?

You think I blocked you because we “disagreed”? No. I blocked you because you were invalidating my experiences. Because you can’t seem to tell where the language of agreement is inappropriate.

You can disagree on matters of opinion. You can disagree where you are relatively as informed as your conversation partner. But if I tell you that black people receive harsher punishments for committing the same crimes as white people, you can’t just disagree. You either don’t know the fact to be true, or you know the statement to be untrue and can disprove it. You can’t “disagree” that I’ve experienced racism when I tell you stories that you weren’t there to witness, just because you don’t think it was a racist instance. Not only does this feel insulting, but it’s deeply offensive to tell someone that their experiences are invalid. But you don’t seem to care when your words caused someone harm.

You’ve never applied yourself to deeply investigate what racism is, yet you’re telling people who have experienced it, studied it, and work against it on a daily basis that they’re wrong. How would you know?

When you go to your doctor, and they tell you something you don’t want to hear, do you tell them you disagree? Do you disregard all of their years of study in medical school to present rebuttals to their diagnoses? You call me arrogant for not listening to you, but have you considered how arrogant it is for you to present your opinions as though they are just as valid as mine, knowing that I’ve lived these things and study these things on a daily basis?

You try to tell me about Dr. King  even though you’ve only read one of his letters and listened to half of one of his speeches. Meanwhile, I pore over his sermons into the wee hours of the morning, searching for some insight that might be useful in the fight against racism. You try to tell me what methods for change work even though you’ve never studied the subject, nor have you ever lifted a finger for racial justice. And if anyone says to you what you already know, that you have no basis for your argument, you get offended.  You say I hate you even though I’ve never even thought that. Do you know how hard it is to talk to someone who behaves this way?

I didn’t block any of you because of hate. I don’t hate you. I love you. I blocked you because you showed no empathy.

Not one time, did you reach out to me and say “Help me understand.”

Not you ever called me to ask “Are you okay?”

You mocked me, even as I said “I understand why you might feel like racism isn’t a thing, but…”

I learned again.

I learned that speaking softly to you doesn’t matter. Because this isn’t about how I say it. This is about what I’m saying. 

You call me angry as though I have no reason to be.

You say I’m a troublemaker as though there’s not already trouble around me.

You show no urgency to care for us. You’re looking for reasons not to.

I can’t bear to see you, knowing how little you care about me, and knowing how deeply I believed that you loved me. I can’t watch your faces scroll across my Instagram feed and remember the smug tones, the blank faces, and the smart remarks you served me when I told you how much it hurts sometimes to be black in this country.

I didn’t do this to us. You did. It broke my heart to learn that many people are just incapable of truly fighting for black people, and to have to walk away.

If you ever came back to me, having looked into these matters yourselves, with a sincere apology, ready to fight for a world without racism, I’d have you back. But I have no reason to believe that you will. Our relationship is in your hands.

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Nathan Odige