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Welcome to the conversation.

I’m a speaker, consultant, and higher ed attorney with a focus on race and institutional equity issues. I invite you to read, comment, and reach out.

“But I Have Black Friends” — Straight Talk About Interracial Relationships


I have long believed that close interracial relationships, including romantic relationships, are essential to true racial reconciliation and ultimately, racial equity. Reasonable minds disagree on whether and to what extent cross-racial relationships are appropriate, much less necessary, for true racial healing. Some even maintain, more strictly, that white people should play no role in liberating black people from white supremacy.

As the son of a black man and white woman, my opinion on the subject is undoubtedly biased. That said, I’d like to express my thoughts on the importance of interracial relationships and, more importantly, how white people should approach them.

Trust + Comfort

Bearing in mind the immeasurable ways in which white supremacy benefits and supports white people because of their whiteness and the myriad consequences that accompany blackness, there is very little motivation for any one black person to trust any white person. In fact, there is every reason for black people not to trust that you will genuinely have our best interests at heart.

If you are a white person who enjoys close relationships with black people, please remember that those folks have allowed you to become close to them at their own peril.

To the extent that these interracial relationships do exist—and I believe it is necessary that they do—they can never exist as true, healthy relationships until trust is established. Trust cannot be achieved without long periods of open and honest conversation, meaningful questions from white people, and most importantly, to the extent that black people are willing to share their experiences, active listening to black people’s experience and acceptance of white people’s individualized role in the systems at work.

Remember, it is likely that black people approach potential relationships with white people wondering whether the white person “gets it.” Many black people have a number of white people in their lives who have chosen to see us—often their one black friend—as somehow exempt or separate from the Blackness and America’s racism.

Likewise, many of us have accepted and excused our white friends’ inaction, their passive and active support of white supremacy: their racism. We do this because, somehow, we love them.

Once a white person is confident that they have developed meaningful relationships with black people—they’ll know this has happened because those black people will feel comfortable speaking honestly with them about race—the real work begins.

Admission + Acceptance

In order for white people to seek out and develop true meaningful relationships with black people, they must first admit and accept that they are the problem. Not white people as a generalized theoretical monolith, but each, personally and intimately, by nature of their existence as a white person within a system of white supremacy, is the actual problem.

White people with black friends must also acknowledge and appreciate Blackness. White folks must be able to say to their would-be black companions, “‘You are black, I see your Blackness, and recognize that that makes us different.” They have to get comfortable talking to black people and hearing us.

White people with black friends must frame the relationships in such a way that clearly conveys to the black people involved that the white friends are actively attempting to learn about racism and white supremacy, to the extent that the black friends are willing to educate them.

When learning about Blackness, race, and white supremacy, importantly, the white friend must consider their black loved ones the clear and obvious authority on all things race, the teacher. The white friend must accept their place as the student, actively learning from and accepting the insight the black friend relays pertaining to race and accepting without question the experiences of the black people involved—without argument or playing devil’s advocate.

In America, white people, simply by virtue of their inability to experience race the way black people do, are positioned to know very close to nothing about race.  

In my experience, most people, particularly white people, are not accustomed to being told that they know nothing about any one subject, particularly one as salient as race. Admission and ultimately acceptance of this fact accompanied by the appropriate adjustment of the framing of interracial relationships is vital.

Active racial Allyship

To the extent that would-be allies have entered into meaningful relationships—romantic or otherwise—with non-white people, those relationships should motivate those white people to join the fight to dismantle white supremacy.

If you are white and maintain close, loving relationships with black and brown people and are not actively engaged in the fight for their equality, you should question the authenticity of those relationships, as well as your own morality.  

These relationships are necessary (as in, required) for the formation of a true racial allyship. If white people care about the black and brown people with whom they have formed these relationships with the same vigor and love that they care about their own white family members and friends, these relationships should undoubtedly lead to active allyship on the part of the white person.

If white people are keenly aware of the very real plight of black and brown people in this country and claim to maintain deep, meaningful interracial friendships and/or significant others, it follows that they should deeply desire to do literally everything in their power to advance those folks who are close to them. White people who “have black friends” should be on the front lines, loudly disrupting the racial status quo, kicking down doors in the name of racial equality and justice.

How can white people with black friends and significant others quietly accept that those individuals are much more likely to be pulled over and questioned by police than are white people?

How can white people with black friends remain silent at work when a qualified black applicant is overlooked in favor of a white applicant with a family connection to the organization?

How can white people who’ve entered into interracial relationships tacitly accept, for example, that black men ages 15-34 are between nine and sixteen times more likely to be killed by police than other people? (I fall into that demographic category, by the way.)

How can white people passively accept that the racial wealth gap continues to widen, in large part due to policies intentionally meant to protect and benefit white people, to everyone else’s detriment?

I could pose countless such questions, further illustrating untold interconnected harms, all examples of white supremacy’s role in our country’s social and political landscape—all of which rely on white apathy and disinterest to continue to thrive.

But you get the point.

Conclusions

Interracial relationships carry with them additional, particularized moral and practical responsibility for white people. Put plainly, white people cannot treat their relationships with black people the way they treat their relationships with other white people, free of racial consideration and attention. And indeed, attempting to do so does a disservice to the black people involved.

It is vital that white people with black friends bear in mind that those friends are keenly aware of the additional white responsibilities that accompany their friendship. It’s safe to assume that most of us are paying attention to whether you are fighting for us.

Paying attention to the organizations to which you volunteer your time and donate your money. Noticing the rallies and protests you attend. Observing what businesses you support. Noting your reaction to national headlines communicating stories that harm us emotionally.

We see how vocal you are about the fight for racial justice and equity—and we see how quiet you are. If you “have a black friend” and you truly love them, it’s time to start acting like it.




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