The right way to Speak about Race and Racism in Your Friendships


Polfliet: We talk about race issues all the time. We have aha moments together that make sense on so many levels. We’re both introspective. For example, we had a conversation and I realized that the most harmful whites I have ever met are the whites I let near me, rather than the people who are not that close or who I don’t know . Because they are around you, they have access to you and there is an unspoken permission that builds up.

So I had this aha moment with Hannah. Because we can talk about it so much, we can dissect things. I face someone who is open to hearing my experiences and I am happy to share them. It’s not always a deep, serious, and trauma-based realization. Sometimes it’s funny how she grows up loving something that I think is super white. We have given each other enough space where I trust her, where I can open up in vulnerable moments, and she is super receptive and she doesn’t feel like I’m coming for her white. I have had interactions with whites where I have commented on something and they feel that my comment on society is a comment on their personality or on them as a person. When I talk about society and say that whites are problematic, I am not saying that Hannah is problematic. I say white society is weird and that is why we can probably agree and agree when things are uncomfortable.

Most of the time people don’t want to acknowledge the awkwardness. They want to run away or they want to feel like we’re the same or that when we’re best friends everything is fine. But we have to talk about the elephant in the room, because that’s the only way we can get closer. It’s about how we grew up, what we love and what we think is normal, and not just about the similarities that white is. It doesn’t take away from our friendship admitting that there will be differences because it’s white and because I’m black. It makes it richer. She knows my culture and would like to visit my country. I can open myself to all aspects, and she created a space that not all whites can create when they are friends with people of color. It’s about celebrating the differences and accepting and becoming attached to the awkwardness rather than seeing it as a means of separating.

Summerhill: We have the podcast where we always talk about race and racism and we usually invite colored guests to share their experiences. Then, in half of the episodes, Yseult and I talk about this intersection or tension that exists between whites and blacks, and in our case between whites and blacks. We realize that we exist completely differently in the world, and every time we hang out or have a casual conversation, whether we’re having dinner as friends or working together as business partners, there are things to negotiate and control that neither of us is absolutely needs expected. The race plays a role in every moment of every interaction.

Yseult is a mirror of my own white because white people go through life thinking that they are the standard race and that they are raceless and they never have to talk about race or experience race or think about it and they see themselves outside of racism . I definitely went through many decades of my life like this before getting into anti-racism. As Yseult said, we have aha moments every day, and they don’t always feel good. Sometimes they are very painful and very traumatic because the relationships between people of color and whites in this country are deeply layered and go back generations of trauma, exploitation and harm. All of this is an undercurrent of our friendship that we cannot ignore.




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