I see a lot of people – people I respect, love, value – saying they feel uneducated, that they don’t know many black people, that they want to be supportive but are afraid of saying the wrong thing, that they don’t know how to help, how to effect the change that needs to be made.
I could go into what it means to be black, but now’s not the time for that. Now is the time to be clear on the most important, simple fact: you don’t need to know black people to understand the change that needs to be made.
Yes, it helps to know a culture if you want to speak on it, but you don’t have to speak for black culture, you have to speak about white culture. You don’t have to march, to write signs, to revolt – you just need to not be silent, and for this you need to know yourselves.
Being black is not the thing that needs to be understood in order to allow black equality to progress. What you need to understand is why you permit our equality to be prevented.
What you need to understand is why you are silent, why you are not an ally, why you permit our oppression and persecution.
You need to understand that although those sound like big words, like words you couldn’t possibly be a part of – things that come from different states and different times – you are involved and you are complicit. They are big words, and although this conversation is being had today because yet another black man has been executed by them, for most of us these words mean instead we live a life of death by a thousand cuts.
You need to understand that when we tell you, and you don’t listen, you do nothing, you become very literally a composite piece of the problem. The decisions that keep minority groups in the minority are made by the majority. We are the minority. We have to shout louder to be heard. So when our voice reaches you and you ignore it, you become the very definition of the problem.
You need to understand that even right now as you read this, there will be white people who call me a friend, who didn’t read this far because it’s not their problem – people who have already swiped left, moved on, because this is uncomfortable, inconvenient.
We have been telling you our whole lives. Even if you’ve never spoken to a black person about it, we have been telling you, and you know.
You know we receive unfair treatment, from the public in the street, the management in the boardroom, the very law that is supposed to be there to protect us and serve us. US. You and me.
You know because we have been telling you. But when we don’t get our fair share – our equality – you are silent.
You know we are judged. We are judged for the things we have: the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the cars we drive. We are judged for the things we are: our muscles, our asses, our penises, our hair. We are judged for the things we do: the way we work, the way we speak, the way we walk, the way we protest.
Where these things suit you, please you – where you can palate the performance of our blackness – they are tolerated, celebrated, they are Beyoncé, Ian Wright.
Where they do not, they are Meghan Markle, Raheem Sterling.
And you know these things because they happen in plain sight.
Do you write the papers that vilify these people? That press so hard, that reach so high, that they can drive the grandson of the QUEEN OF ENGLAND to leave the country with his wife and child. No, you don’t write them, but do you boycott these papers? Do you ask your friends why they support them? Do you speak against our denigration around your table at Sunday lunch, or with your actions?
No, you don’t.
Do you stand in front of a nation and talk about “deport first, appeal later”? Do you refer to black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”? No you don’t. But do you boycott these people? Do you stand in solidarity against the transparent racism they wield to put them in power, and EVERYTHING that act means? Do you talk to your friends about the wrongness of it all, the injustice you are witnessing?
No, you don’t.
You have no compunction voting for a group that talks about us as worthless bush people, unworthy additions, a crime rate; a group that threatened to deport our mothers and fathers in order to try and win a few more votes from those who think there’s probably enough black people here now, as though we are a population problem to be controlled.
You ignore these things because it suits you. You ignore the problem because it inconveniences you.
So, you become the problem, its embodiment, its lifeblood. Inequality persists because the majority permits it.
And maybe you do boycott these things. Maybe you have made those stands. But just as saying “not all men” is not valid until there is equal treatment, it is neither valid here to be just an isolated beacon of equality.
Because you know someone who’s out there talking about us: about “their kind”, about how “if they don’t like it why don’t they leave”, about how “this country isn’t racist because look at these non-white individuals with big jobs and money”.
You don’t have to be a racist to be complicit in the lack of progress. You just have to permit the ignorance that breeds racism when you see it. Peer silence is the enabler for all injustices. It has always been and always will be.
You don’t have to be black to know how to help.
You don’t need to be someone to understand their situation. We are humans: we have the gift of empathy, of an innate sense of justice.
I don’t have to be a woman to understand women deserve equal pay. I don’t have to be gay to understand gay people deserve to love whoever they want.
But you need to be black to understand I deserve to not be prejudged and persecuted?
Again, yes, it helps to know a culture if you want to speak on it, but you don’t have to speak for black culture, you have to speak about white culture. No one is asking you to march, to write signs. You don’t need to become a cultural expert, you just need to not be silent.
Stop pretending there is no problem just because it doesn’t affect you. Because doing that is what makes you the problem.
So I could go into what it means to be black, but we are dead done tired fucking dilapidated exhausted of fucking explaining.
I will not debate my right to exist without prejudgment. I will not soften who I am for fear of you ascribing it to some blackness that you don’t understand. I will not be forgiving of your mistakes because you “don’t know better”.
You don’t have to know better because you already know. You either know and don’t care enough, or you know and don’t think about it, but you know.
And we have been quite patient enough. Our oppression is not something that is invented anew everyday – it is something that we have been inheriting for generation after generation after generation after generation.
We don’t inherit our oppression from our parents, we inherit it from your silence.
78 thoughts on “A letter to my white friends”
Thank you for this poignant message. You’re absolutely right that oppression is being inherited from silence, and I’m hoping this incident doesn’t just fade away after a month or two of protests, but incites real change in the long term. I’ve been too silent for too long, and I see now that everybody needs to use their voice and speak up.
Thank you for this message, that is so necessary .
I respect everyone I meet and just want the same back. That simple. And even though I’m not black. I have grown up with my best mates shaquil who is indian and my mates ken and kenny who are both africans. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. 20 skinheads in the old days against us 4. Only got away with it as I use to go to school with one of them. I use to be up dalston market all the time messing about with them and having a laugh. I am behind you. I just dont think it helps the cause though when you have antifa in your protests. As they just stir everything up and then the cause just gets lost in the process. I have mates for what’s on the inside and thats how it should be. Yes different cultures but you should always respect each others cultures. It was a lovely letter. And with you 110%. Just please dont let it get lost by outsiders trying to damage the cause. Stay safe and take care 🙏❤