April 9, 2016 by Kyle
“I have a friend…who is black and they agree with me”
This is one of those lines that I have heard too many times to count. Its kind of like a chess move used to counter an argument, usually having to do with race and/or economics. If an idea is put forth by a someone from dominant culture and there happens to be disagreement regarding that idea there may be some back and forth regarding the particulars. A tool that I’ve seen pulled out all too often by some of my white brethren is the ubiquitous black person who holds the same thinking or philosophy of that white sister or brother. The thinking behind importing a black friend into the discussion is that it will neutralize a counter viewpoint and solidify their own view as legitimate. It is also used to inoculate someone against the accusation of racism, discrimination or obtuse thinking. They argue that they have company from across the racial spectrum and therefore their conclusions regarding race or racism has merit.
The reality is that an honest and productive discussion on race is difficult primarily because it requires some prep work. The preparation needed to have a good conversation about race goes beyond a childhood experience with a black friend. In the circles where I dwell you should have a some understanding of sociology, some critical race theory, some history of colonialism and a lot of theology. This is just a start–it is also helpful to understand how racism impacts the individual psychologically. Childhood or workplace anecdotes are good but many times fail to go beyond interpersonal conversations to address unjust systems.
I would add that referencing a black person that agrees with you as a response in a discussion about race does not push a discussion forward–its like duct tape over someone’s mouth. Pointing to a black ally for the sake of gaining credibility is not a new phenomenon. In the media I often see overt racists use MLK quotes to whip on minority communities all while ignoring King’s prophetic statements regarding systemic injustice against minority groups. I scarcely believe that any of these commentators have actually read anything significant from King and at best are involved in the eisegesis of King’s words.
Monolithic thinking is not a characteristic of the African American community, despite what you’ve heard, we don’t all like the same music, dance or agree about economic theory and how to rescue the inner city. A common struggle does not equal lock step thinking. There is room for a Booker T. Washington and a W.E.B. DuBois–two great African American men who disagreed about how to uplift blacks after reconstruction. There are black pastors, sociologist and theologians that I disagree with but respect. I’ve noticed too often how the views of blacks public figures are used to counter argue and I just wonder if the same freedom exist when white public figures agree with a particular point of view that a black person espouses? Does my white ally nullify your black ally?
I think at the end of the day viewpoints on this particular subject must be first heard from the bottom up. Hear from those being oppressed and value what is being said before posturing to respond from a dominant cultural perspective. I would add that it is possible for African Americans to ingest and assimilate racist views about themselves and the society around them. This is called internalized racism and there are many of my brothers and sisters who suffer from prolonged exposure to racist systems and philosophy. Consider the possibility that your ‘black friend’ who agrees with you may be coming from a faulty framework or may simply be too scared to disagree for fear of rejection.