I have white friends. There, I said it. Now I sound just like a white person when they say they have black friends. But not for one second do I actually think any of my white friends understand or relate to my experience as a black person. Sure, they may realize that racism still exists and that there area biases in the world, but that’s not the same as understanding. At least in my opinion.
In a recent article on Psychology Today, Dr. Monica Williams tackled the “Can a white person understand the black experience” question.
In response to my article Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism, I was recently asked, “What does an African American want?” The reader wonders how Black and White people can understand each other, live together in harmony, and promote well-being. I share a few of the main points below.
“How can a White person understand and give due recognition to the Blackness of a Black person unless that person reveals a fair amount of information about him/herself to the White person? Should White people request this, or just wait for it to emerge when the Black person chooses?”
These are good questions that many well-meaning people simply don’t know how to approach. How do we connect to our fellow human beings who are from different ethnic/racial groups and cultural traditions? This is particularly difficult when there are over 200 years of oppression between groups and prominent inequities remain. Without launching into a history lesson, I think it’s safe to say that there are many reasons for discomfort on both sides. One result is that most White people do not understand the African American experience. Yet, making an authentic connection with another person means understanding, empathizing, and being able to see the world through their eyes.
So how to answer the question, “What Does an African American Want?” I can’t speak for all African Americans, but I can tell you what I want – an authentic connection. That means I want you to understand my experience. I want you to ask hard questions and not judge me when I give you the hard truth. I want you to take the time and effort to see the world as I do. I want to be seen as a whole person and not a stereotype. I want you to know how being an American can be both a source pride and pain. I want you to understand the harm caused by discrimination and join me in speaking out against injustice and inequity. I want you to embrace cultural differences rather than merely tolerate them. I want you to celebrate with me the strengths and beauty of my culture. I want you to cry with me when racism and hatred win. I want to be able to connect with you as someone who is both different and the same. I want you to understand that differences are what make us special and the similarities are what make us human.
When you talk about the black experience with some white people, there’s always going to be judgment, or even comments about being overly sensitive. I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t need your sympathy. Understanding comes from making a concerted effort in educating yourselves and white people haven’t come a long way when it comes to that.
Clutchettes, do you think a white person can understand the black experience?