I’m pretty sure I hate white people; which is funny, considering that my best friend is white. We’ve been friends since high school and she’s been one of the most reliable and loyal friends I’ve ever had.
It generally hasn’t seemed like a strange thing to have a white best friend. Almost half of the people that I’ve come to call “bestie” have been white, and the only differences I seemed to notice is that my white “besties” had swimming pools and their parents were far less strict.
For most of my younger years it didn’t matter what race my “bestie” was, what mattered was that she was such a great friend that I felt compelled to give her the other half of my ‘best friends forever’ necklace set.
All that changed at the end of high school. Suddenly, our lives were opened up to new experiences beyond the usual movie night and sleepover. Now, we were clubbing together and going on holiday together. It started to become apparent that I was no longer just a “bestie” but I was her “black best friend”. When we’d go on holiday people would stare. Some would even have the nerve to say “ya, ne, we’ve come a long way” as they walked passed us. When we’d go to pubs her family, friends and boyfriend would tell me what a great guy Thabo (the only other black guy at the party) was.
At first I just shrugged it off but the more time I spent with white middle-class South Africans, the more I started to pick apart their words and actions. I would get angry when they would talk to other black people with a bizarre accent I had never heard. Or when they would talk about how BEE doesn’t work and is making their lives so difficult. What the hell?! It’s one thing to hold such uninformed and racist views but how could anyone in their right mind actually verbalise them in the presence of another black person? Maybe it was because they truly believed that I was “not like the rest of them (black people)”.
Sure, I speak like them and live a life quite similar to them but that’s because I’m middle-class, not because I’m white.
My only saving grace was my “bestie”, who was able to nip these tense situations in the bud before I turned into the stereotypical angry, black woman. She always called out racist comments and always earnestly listened to my interpretation of events.
I often find myself ranting to her about how “some stupid white woman was screaming at me because she clearly doesn’t know how a four-way stop works, so I screamed back and pulled a zap sign. (Sigh). Your people.” She usually just laughs it off while I secretly fear that she will turn into that white woman, even though I like to think she’s not like the rest of them.
It didn’t even cross my mind to ask her how she feels when I express such dislike for white people. It’s crazy how often I forget that she’s white and make broad generalisations about white people in her presence, somehow assuming she’ll know I’m not talking about her because, you know, she’s the exception. I talk about how narrow-minded, entitled and ignorant white people are and mock the accents of housewives who I assume to be materialistic and unintelligent.
Then I’d think to myself that surely having a white best friend means I can’t be racist, right?
Recently I’ve acknowledged and accepted the fact that may be a racist and I’d go as far as saying that I’m just as racist and inconsiderate as that white guy that thinks he’s not racist because one of his best mates is Tshepo, even though “Tshepo is not like the rest of them” which is why he’s comfortable enough to make racist comments in Tshepo’s presence. I’ve done the exact same thing. I am not any different to that white guy, I just happen to be black.
I do feel like my white “bestie” carries an incredible burden. A burden she didn’t ask for, but carries nonetheless. I see her accept criticism and correction from every direction about what black people find offensive and I have seen her change for the better as a result. But she has never challenged my prejudice, anger and aggression. I assume it’s because she thinks white people deserve to it.
I am not sure what all this means for our friendship. I know that her white guilt and shame means that she feels like her perspective doesn’t matter as much as mine and that makes me exempt from her criticism. Because of that I will probably not get the opportunity to better myself, just the way she continues to do. And that is the loss.
Words by @ThatGirlFati
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