The Soapbox: Why I Cannot Be Friends With People Who Don’t Share My Politics
Some years ago, a young man that I was casually dating invited me to a birthday party with some of his friends who all moved to New York City, from Florida, to go to college. It was a scenario I had long grown accustomed to: I was the only Black girl amongst a group of non-minority people, laughing, drinking and talking.
Then this statement came out of nowhere and immediately wiped the smile from my face: “The best way to keep America safe is to just deport all of the Muslims,” a young White boy said in between sips of a beer.
It pierced my ears, momentarily paralyzing me. My eyes darted towards my friend to gauge his reaction to the words that pierced the air like an arrow launched from a bow, striking me in my chest. He seemed completely unmoved.
“Well, we don’t have to get rid of all of them, just the terrorists really,” he responded plainly.
We never spoke after that day.
In years prior, I would’ve been less sensitive to such insensitivity. As a young Black woman who constantly occupied spaces with people of different races, ethnicities and nationalities — both men and women — I had grown very accustomed to hearing but not listening.
“Negra puta!” The mother of a Puerto Rican young man I was seeing screamed when she came home and found us watching a movie together in her living room. I pretended not to understand Spanish.
“You know that all over the world, every other race hates Black people,” a Latina friend once explained to try to help me understand why her family would not allow her to have a Black boyfriend. I laughed off her explanation.
“Women are too emotional, that’s why they can’t get any political power,” a middle-aged Black man, who was my boss at the time, said to me when he overheard my conversation with another employee. “Look how crazy Hillary got during the last election.” I did not offer a response.
Then, one day, that changed. After years of ingesting toxic sentiments, my body began to completely reject it. With every utterance of bigotry, racism, sexism or homophobia my stomach tightened and spasmed, only relaxing after I would unleash a furious counterattack of fact or historical context on acquaintances, friends and family. Usually, a not-so-clever rebuttal would follow from its recipient, like “You shouldn’t make everything about race” or “I didn’t even mean it like that.” And often, that person would just disappear from my life.
It was literally like vomiting when you are sick in the company of someone who you think cares about you. You realize that a true friend would be there to support you, rub your back maybe, clean you up when you’re all finished. And you are also forced to recognize: most other people will just run away, repulsed and appalled.
That was when I really began to question my ability to make friends or maintain relationships with people who do not share my political views.
For some, it is just that: politics. But for me, every single belief I hold dear is connected to the most essential aspects of my existence; my Blackness, my womanhood, my closest friends and family.
It forced me to constantly ponder:
If a White person believes it is okay to shoot and kill an unarmed Black young person without reprimand, do they also believe it is okay to shoot me?
If a man believes women are emotional and intellectually inferior, could he ever possibly have respect for me as a woman of intellect?
If someone does not believe gay people have the right to marry, could that same person treat my best friend with love and respect upon hearing he is a man who loves men?
If an individual denies my experiences with racism and sexism, that I have been internally struggling and battling with all of my life, is he or she in fact denying my humanity?
I did not choose to be Black. No one chooses their race. I did not choose to be a woman. No one chooses their gender identity. My loved ones did not choose to be gay. No one chooses their sexual orientation. In a world where these “choices” carry the penalty of possible death, discrimination and abuse, what individual would choose such a reality for themselves?
An unknown force wrote the code that binds our bodies to this physical existence. It is us, humans, who mistake that which we cannot change and have no control over for signals of personal inferiority or superiority. We have managed and created systems and beliefs around institutions that readily lie to us, divide us and manipulate us.
To the young White man who requested all Muslims be deported: Are you aware that the same government and “news” organizations that lead you to believe that all brown people who praise Allah are terrorists, went to war based on a lie? Killed a million plus men, women and children in an effort to retrieve weapons of mass destruction that never existed?
To the White Americans who find the words “thug,” “welfare,” “crack” and “lazy” synonymous with Black: Do you ever pay attention to the fact that your politicians and news reporters use these same words as politicized rhetoric, to blind you from the real thieves in America?
To the Black men who do not believe sexism affects the Black community: Are you unaware of the thousands of Black women who are beaten, raped and killed by men who they know and perhaps even love?
I am certain that many are well-aware of such facts. White people know of America’s near five century history of Black enslavement and disenfranchisement. Men know that society actively mistreats and diminishes women and femininity. But the responsibilities that come with the acknowledgement that we have not been fair to one another, have not afforded the same respect to one another, carries with it a burden of redemption.
Relationships can only be mended when wrongs are made right and apologies are received with the same sincerity with which they are said. The boxes created by years of America’s racial, ethnic and gender divide — boxes in which we all must reside as a color or a body part or sexual orientation — can be patched together to form a colorful masterpiece.
But denial is made far too easy. It is enabled so that we, the population, are disabled.
And in that denial, those with the power to make change continue to refuse others their basic humanity and human dignity. I cannot befriend anyone who does not share my political beliefs, because they have yet to view me as a human worth befriending. They do not feel the pain of the history of my ancestors: the physical and mental abuse and rape of my foremothers and forefathers. They do not anguish over the loss of a child to the prison system or the loss of a parent to a church that refuses to accept them. Their eyes do not fill with tears at the sight of dilapidated schools and buildings that are supposed to protect and guide little Black and Brown children. They deny themselves the most powerful aspect of their humanness; their own empathy.
In the absence of empathy, hate thrives. I refuse, anymore, to occupy hateful spaces. I will never again deny myself my own humanity. And I most assuredly will not allow anyone around me do so. If, for that reason, we cannot be friends or acquaintances, then so be it.