My name is Simone and I just found your blog a few days ago. I wanted to say that I really like the way you write and the way you think. it's nice to find people out there who don't seem to be walking around this world with blinders on. I'm a young black woman and I find that even I have a lot to learn from your blog.
I would like to ask your advice on a situation because as a black person with mainly white friends, i sometimes don't know whether I am overreacting or if they just aren't reacting enough.
This Halloween, i saw a man in blackface wearing a noose as his costume. I was more baffled than angry and I told my best friend (who is white) about it. She also reacted like "wow! what the hell?" and then her boyfriend came over and she said "hey tell him what you told me".
Just by knowing him, I suspected that he would think that there was nothing wrong with the costume of a 'man being lynched' so I was reluctant to tell him, but after some prodding, i did. He laughed and said "that's hilarious"!
I shook my head and was going to leave it at that, but then my friend said "no it isn't! that's a terrible costume!"
Her boyfriend then turned on me and said, "i bet if it was a black guy in the same costume, you'd laugh". I told him that he didn't know me very well at all and that I was against the idea of the costume, no matter what race the wearer was. He kept arguing with me and insisting that I was lying, so eventually I left. I now feel uncomfortable ever being around him and I don't like the way Kate stood there while he attacked me (we were friends before she started dating him, but recently she's been changing a lot esp. where he is concerned).
I don't know if I should say something to him or her, or if i should just avoid them both. what would you do?
Thanks in advance for your help on this, I'd really like to get an outside perspective.
I asked Simone if I could post her message here for the readers of this blog, in the hopes of eliciting your advice. She said yes, and then I wrote the message below for her.
What advice would you give Simone about this situation?
If you encountered any Halloween racism, did you say or do anything about it?
After thinking more about what happened to you (and it did happen TO you), I think it was horrible. I did a Halloween post to try to ward white folks away from that kind of ish, and what you were confronted with was even worse than the examples that I wrote about. What you witnessed was a grotesque and hurtful offense, no matter what that person may have meant by it, and no matter what others around you thought of it. Both lynching and blackface are racist white activities with a long past, and a heavy, heavy history of connotations and meanings. To combine them like that, and especially to do it around anyone black, is almost like a kind of terrorism. I think at the very least, it's a total disregarding of your feelings, and your perspective. It's not for me to say how you should have felt, or whether you "overreacted," but I imagine it did put a big dent in your evening.
For your two friends to disregard your reaction like that is, in my opinion, just as bad as the costume itself. As for the boyfriend's claim that you wouldn't be offended if a black person did that -- first of all, how the hell does he know what you would think and feel about anything of that sort? That's an example of a common white questioning of a black person's perspective, AND authority -- I'm still trying to understand why us white folks do that. We usually just don't know how patronizing and arrogant we can be when we're questioning the feelings and opinions of non-white people in racist situations. It's like we think we know more about their lived, informed experience than they do! Which is of course deeply arrogant, hurtful, and more -- and yet, we just don't see ourselves doing that somehow.
So, what would I do, you asked, with so-called friends like that? I guess it depends on how much they really are your friends -- how important they are to you. If they are important and close to you, then yeah, it seems worthwhile to request a follow-up conversation about this. A real sit-down, and not when other distracting things are going on. But, also a conversation in which you can insist on respect for your position -- your own, different feelings and opinions about what happened. If they can't do all of that, and if they can't respect your desire to set this episode straight, and respectfully listen and LEARN from what you have to say, well, who needs "friends" like that?
But if they're not all that important to you, or if you're sure they're just going to continue disregarding your perspective, then it doesn't sound worth your while to me. Some white people, as I said, just can't see how stuck they are in their white training, which includes a disregard for different perspectives on racial issues. And even though you sometimes have to deal with that, it's certainly not your job to confront them about that.
As for HOW to approach your friends, if you decide to, I don't think I can say all that much, since I don't know them, and I don't know you. Calling them "racists" probably won't help (though it sounds like you wouldn't do that), but pointing out that what they did was "racist" might help -- Jay Smooth has some good advice on how to do that. Also, I just saw this article on that today; maybe it will help:
"How to Inform a Friend Their Halloween Costume Is Racist"
Best of luck deciding what to do, and then doing it. I'm glad to provide the outside perspective you asked for, but I'm really no expert in such things; please take my thoughts with a proverbial grain of salt. And do let me know please how it goes, if you have time,