Editor’s Note: Andrew Flint of Stockbridge received the following letter today from a friend in New York City.
Dear White Friend,
It is important that you understand what I am feeling as a 32-year-old Black man now that Donald Trump has been elected President, with specific regard to race. It is important not only because you care for me, but because you need to protect and fight for me and for all others who lack the camouflage of white skin. Otherwise — and I mean this without hyperbole — we are the walking dead. And you, by your silence, ignorance and passivity, will be killing us.
I am more scared than I’ve ever been in my life. I am broken. There is a feeling when someone says or does something with racial animus to me. It is a trembling, a quaking pain that is unbelievably pervasive, as though all the water molecules in my body were suddenly replaced by that person’s pulsating hatred. At this moment, and for a long time in the future, it will feel like that but more, that the very air around me has done it, the atmosphere itself hates me for no decent reason. There is already a fear as a Black man, an extreme adrenaline rush, when a cop pulls behind me on the road. The entire country has just pulled behind me with their lights flashing.
I want to express to you the absolutely defeated feeling I have. I want you to know the sorrow that comes with having a revitalized and powerful White Supremacist element in this country, my country. I want you to know that the “not all Whites” excuses are irrelevant and actually harmful when the truth is that the strong majority of Whites were willing to vote for a man who has both spoken and acted in ways that are deeply bigoted and violent. I want you to think of the racially violent acts now committed daily by people with his name on their lips. I want you to think about what it feels like to me that so many of my fellow Americans hate me, and that I have no idea why. That I have no clue as to what we ever did to deserve this. And that they are excited and empowered to do more harm to me now than ever before during my lifetime.
I also need you to know how furious and hurt I am that life goes on as normal. Not just that the media and entertainment are already working so hard to normalize what cannot humanely become normal, but that people are walking on the street, having conversations, petting dogs and cats, anything beyond being sick and screaming over how this all must feel for me, for non-White people. I cannot believe it when I see someone look okay. This election was an act of terrorism. That is how I feel. Terrorized by White America. And it is an ongoing act of terrorism, as these White smiles I see only remind me that they are camouflaged against the brunt of it, that I am the target, and that they’ve never had skin in this game like I do.
I want to be optimistic, I really do, but honestly I don’t believe that White people will do the work necessary to save this country. And I lay the burden of saving America on White people because of this: In the ‘50s and ‘60s White Supremacy was static, stable, complacent. The appetite for Black and Brown blood in the streets was limited because it was bitterly shocking. Now, however, White Supremacy is ascendant. There is an active thirst for that blood. My blood. My blood in the streets will be met with celebration. And I don’t think that there are enough White people good enough to be strong enough to protect me and fight for me. I really don’t.
It will take a whole lot more than a safety pin. You will have to pick apart the very fabric of your understanding of race, examine the threads of your beliefs and separate even the tiniest fibers of prejudice you may see. Headscarf make you scared? You’ve ripped her faith away and humiliated her. Poor English language skills annoy you? You’ve made the doctor miss the symptoms of a lymphoma. Black man make your heart rate rise? You’ve shot him in the back as he ran away. Work at this. Diligently destroy the impure fibers, and when you can honestly say that you have, then you can re-weave. But this is only step one.
Step two is to make sure that every White person you know is actively doing the same thing. If they are not, if they refuse or dismiss the imperative, then you must literally disown them. Otherwise you are agreeing with them, you are complicit in their beliefs, and you are killing me.
Step three, resist and undermine in any way you can possibly devise the systems of White Supremacy as well as misogyny as they exist now and as the incoming administration advances them. And always, no matter the situation, confront racism and misogyny immediately and directly. I’m talking about friends, family, strangers, always, anywhere, anytime. There is no scale to racism and misogyny. They are never minor, never casual, always inestimably consequential. They are always a massive threat to humanity.
One last note, remember that Black and Brown people don’t owe you explanations to basic questions. The moment you as a White person comes asking some basic thing, I know you don’t really care because you’re too lazy to do the legwork and figure it out. We’ve literally written books so that you can understand. Think hard before you ask me to speak, be completely stumped, because I am tired and you need to respect me. And another thing, I do not owe you thanks. It is to be expected that you would fight for my safety, as I would yours. So do not go telling non-White people about how great you are for being an ally. Being an ally simply brings you to the level of basic human decency. You should be ashamed if you’re bragging about that.
I’m not going to thank you for reading this yet, because I am not sure what you will do in the future. I hope that my love for you has been well placed all these years, and that you’ll prove it by listening to, trying to understand, and then acting on what I’m saying. And if you can’t, it is time our relationship ends. If you hear me and believe my words to be worth hearing, please do pass this along to those who would like to hear it and to those who would rather not.
CF Edley III
P.S. This letter leaves out so much, I know. I have focused on White Supremacy. There’s a whole other interlocking letter regarding misogyny to be written. I haven’t even mentioned Climate Change, or any real policy issues. Believe me, it is not for not caring. There are interpenetrating universes of immense suffering. I am devastated. I hope that you are too.