Dear Verti: Bla(c)k Lives Matter

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Friend 1 

During this uprising and fight for black lives, many of my white friends have remained silent. I have reached out to them and had conducive conversations with some that lead to them using their voices. Others have seen my disappointment in their lack of activism as an attack and either expressed conservative views in return or completely disengaged from our conversations about black lives, white privilege, and race relations all together. I was really disappointed and upset as I thought these people to be close friends and they have seen how heavily race impacts my life. Is it worth trying to repair these friendships or should I focus on finding friends who don’t need me to constantly be calling them out/educating them?

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Friend 2

Is it counterproductive to unfollow/block people who don’t share the same views as you on things that heavily relate to you and not them? In reference to the BLM movement: I am a POC and the people in question are white. On the one hand, it’s toxic to live in an echo chamber, and we should be educating others who don’t share our opinions, but on the other hand this is a lot of labour that is exhausting to teach. They could easily search up if they really cared or wanted to learn my perspective/ lived experience!

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Hey, friends! Boy, those are rough situations to find yourselves in and sadly, you’re not alone. You have my sincerest condolences and hopefully, even through the internet, you can feel Verti’s warm and squishy hugs (I hear they’re pretty good, so take as many as you need!). While some of us have been fortunate enough to witness the people we care about rise to the occasion, in almost equal parts, we’ve been let down immeasurably by our non-bla(c)k friends who have stayed silent. Silence has never been so deafening or so telling. A refusal to speak up and lend support to a community whose livelihood depends on it is no longer just ignorant or apathetic: it is dangerous and negligent. The sorely needed systemic change requires anti-racist work that is long term and genuine. It’s simply not enough to be ‘non-racist’ or ‘overwhelmed’, because there is an urgency that demands greater commitment and accountability from those with privilege. 

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Both of your feelings are justified, and they deserve to be heard right now. The truth is, non-bla(c)k people have a moral obligation to put their discomfort to the side when it comes to matters related to race. Now isn’t the time to protect their feelings. Their discomfort can’t matter more than bla(c)k lives, and it’s for that very reason that we forge ahead with conversations that are difficult and uncomfortable. 

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Friend #1, I’m thrilled to hear that you haven’t had to cut off all of your friends just yet, and that some of them have responded quite positively to your generous and appreciated attempts to educate them. Because let’s be real, despite any squirming they may have done, you offered them a gift: a way forward on the path of enlightenment. Plus, the embarrassment of being privately held accountable by someone who loves you is always far better than the future of embarrassment and alienation they’re bound to experience if they remain uninformed and unengaged in this political climate. Also, I hate to say it, because I know it’s not easy, but pal: as a non-bla(c)k person, it is on you to check your loved ones if you think they’re worth fighting for. It saves the bla(c)k people in your life from needing to, when quite frankly, we’ve burdened bla(c)k people with the emotional labour of education for far too long. Now is their time to be supported and loved as they grieve the enormous losses happening to their community. (To our bla(c)k readers, I’m talking to you. It’s time to step up the self-care and find solace in a community of people who get you, not people who give you nothing). So, the rest of us simply have to step up. Not only do these conversations advocate for your livelihood as a POC also affected by white supremacy, but it also betters the quality of your friendships (because being friends with people who show increased empathy and intelligence is only going to rock your world). 

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Now, to both of my new friends: the way I see it, it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether or not you can tolerate friendships with people who don’t care about racism. But, as your dear friend Verti, I want better for you. Even if you’re not bla(c)k, it’s important to consider that your friend’s refusal to see the consequences of whiteness for the Black Lives Matter movement may one day be their refusal to support your community and its struggles. And if you’re bla(c)k, then it’s absolutely not worth having people around you who are incapable of understanding such a significant part of your identity and history. 

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Here’s the thing: ignorance in 2020 is a deliberate choice. Educating others on issues that should be simple, but are often emotionally taxing and intellectually complex, is exhausting! Just like you both decided to research, read, and watch anti-racist materials to form your own opinion, they too are capable of making that same decision for themselves. Being a bla(c)k person or a POC doesn’t give you an inherent knowledge of how racism works at a structural level, so it’s naive to assume that any person can know about combating racism without doing any heavy lifting for themselves. The hardest part is starting, but we all have to start somewhere, and fortunately, it’s not as hard as we think. Almost everyone has access to Google, and there are no questions Google hasn’t answered. 

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As for Friend #2: yes, I do believe there are things two friends or co-workers can agree to disagree on. Like, for example…does pineapple belong on pizza? Is Nicki Minaj or Cardi B the better rapper? But recognising that a system that disproportionately targets and endangers bla(c)k people needs dismantling ain’t no ‘laurel or yanny’ business. The argument here is rooted in morals. If what we’re really discussing is equality, inclusivity, and liberation, then anyone in opposition to those values isn’t ‘alternative’, they’re a dickhead and a racist. There is no gray area. So, while it’s important to recognise that almost all of us exist in echo chambers (we combat this through having real offline conversations with people in our micro and meso circles who espouse ignorant or harmful beliefs), we need to assess whether or not the people we’re educating can actually be saved, or if their opinions are just straight up intolerable. Here is a short and hopefully helpful criteria:

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1) Can you recognise that outside of this intervention, they’ve consistently demonstrated good morals or sentiments that relate to the values of the BLM movement? 

2) Are they open to hearing an alternative perspective, or are they determined to argue with you? 

3) Are they attacking the conversation by challenging your argument, or are they coming for your intellect or character? 

4) Are they simply misinformed, or do they already own a MAGA hat and are too far gone to ever reach? 

5) Do you actually value your friendship with this person? 

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Hopefully, answering those questions will give the two of you some helpful insight into whether or not it’s worth going through the fatigue that comes with educating others. It sucks guys, like really sucks, but wouldn’t you rather sniff out any lowkey white supremacists in your life sooner, rather than later? I know I would. The bottom line: prioritise your mental health, identify your friendship red flags and deal breakers, harness your privilege, summon that extra courage, and get real about your values and the opinions that you simply won’t entertain. It’s likely that you will lose friends and fight with loved ones along the way. Your conversations are about to get a lot more awkward. But your life will improve and you will be contributing to something far more important: a political and social struggle that really really needs us right now. 

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So, my friends, I’ll leave you with the wise words of activist and writer Gloria Steinem: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Love, Verti* xx

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Dear Verti is our take on an agony aunt advice column, and we would love to hear from you. To submit a response, click here.

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*This specific post was written by our editor Sunny Adcock, who identifies as African American and Australian.