by Mia McKenzie
I’ve noticed a trend. When I post to my Facebook page about gay cats, or my friend Sacha (a boy) trying out for the Denver Broncos cheerleaders, or bacon, my Facebook friends respond with comments and likes all across the board. That is to say, the friends who respond are all across the board—black, brown, white, queer, straight, all genders. There is no specific category of friends that responds more or less than any other, when it comes to pretty much anything I post on Facebook.
Except, as it turns out, when I post anything about race.
When I post anything about race, there’s a shift in who responds. Suddenly, my white friends are silent. Almost all of them. Every time.
And it’s starting to piss me off.
Most of the stuff I post about race is in the form of articles about things going on in the country and in the world, having to do with racism. Most recently, I’ve been posting links to news and articles about Travyon Martin (pictured above), the 17 year-old boy who was murdered last month in Florida while walking home with a bag of skittles. He was shot by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain who thought he looked “suspicious” and followed him, accosted him, and shot him in the chest. Anyone who knows about this story, I would think, would be outraged. Scratch that. I know enough to know that there are many people who would not be outraged, many, many people who would not and do not give a shit. But I am not Facebook friends with those people. Or, at least, I didn’t think I was.
I am careful about who I friend on Facebook. I keep my friends around 150 or so, because I don’t think it’s possible to really know more people than that, and I like my bubble, I like to be surrounded by people who share most of my politics. I’m okay with that. I’m almost 36, and I have learned that I don’t really need to “appreciate everyone’s point of view.” I mean, you can have politics that are opposed to mine. Fine. But if you do, we are not going to be friends. I think that’s reasonable. So, I think my Facebook friends pretty much fall into the category of “people who share my politics,” with very few exceptions. They are also people who care about things, people who post about different causes. This includes the white folks on my friends list. My white Facebook friends are mostly liberal democrat/independent types, queer or ally, feminist people who post about those things. And yet, whenever I post about race, they are silent.
They are people I like, so I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they are silent because they don’t know what to say. Maybe they feel uncomfortable about chiming in on a subject that is so touchy. Maybe. But a simple “like” doesn’t require any comment. A simple “like” would show that you at least read the article, that you at least gave enough of a fuck to follow the link and get informed.
Or maybe they think they don’t have a right to comment because they are white and it’s not their place. That it’s for black people to discuss issues of racism, that they’d be overstepping by commenting. This answer only makes sense if they don’t see racism as their problem. If they don’t see the oppression of racialized people as part of the history and present of their own country. If they don’t know that their involvement in these discussions is necessary, even if it’s scary, even if it’s hard. Which maybe they don’t.
And I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Again, these are not random white folks. These are my “friends.” These are people I like, and who like me. Some of them I even love. I imagine that some of them love me. And yet, when yet another black person is murdered in cold blood, for the crime of being black, or locked up for “stealing” an education for their kid, they don’t seem to see that it could have been my brother or my mother. They don’t seem to know that it could have been me.
Because it is me. I have had the experience of being racially profiled a thousand times. I have had a white person characterize me as “violent” for no other reason than a look I gave them, for something they “saw in my eyes.” I live in a world where I am believed to be dangerous because a white person says I am. Case closed. I have never committed a crime, but I am terrified of the police. Because I know that if one day they decide I did something, whether I did it or not, my life could be over. Just like that. And this is not just true of me. It is true of every black person you know, regardless of gender or age or education level or artistic talents or any other factor. And yet my white “friends” don’t seem to know that. They don’t seem to understand. They don’t seem to want to.
White privilege is a hell of a thing. It makes it possible for my white “friends” to look the other way when a tragedy of as much magnitude as the Trayvon Martin killing happens. If it’s too much, they can just choose not to read it, not to think about it. But we don’t all have that option.
So, I want to say this to my white friends: I need you to care about this. And I need you to show that you do, by commenting, by sharing, by making noise about this. I need you to be OUTRAGED. Because otherwise, I can’t trust you. Otherwise, you are part of the problem. Otherwise, we are not really friends at all.
Read the follow-up to this post here.
Read more Black Girl Dangerous here.
**Mia McKenzie is the creator of Black Girl Dangerous and the Black Girl Dangerous Photography Project. She is a writer (winner of the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award, winner of the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award), a reader, a photographer, an activist, and a nerd.
creating visibility for radical, latin@/chican@, nonwhite/qpoc, plus size positive, feminist, queer, grrrl, trans*, genderqueer, gendernonconforming... because there can never be enough/too much of us/this.