So . . . I work and perform with a nonprofit organization called TMI Project. In their most recent workshop for #BSM (#BlackStoriesMatter): Truth to Power, I created a series of hand-written free-writes based on the prompts our facilitators gave. After I collected and transcribed them all, then emailed them to our facilitators, who were also our final editors. Their task was to combine and edit the workshops participants’ free-writes into individual monologues to be performed on stage. Streamed all over the internet, too. (TMIProject.org, if you’re interested in checking out the organization . . . “Tmiproject” on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc., for live streaming and archiving of performances.)
From one of the facilitators, I received this reply a couple days after sending my free-writes for editing:
In trying to craft a story arc a few questions have come up. I’d like to ask you to write a little more if you can in regards to the following questions. Whatever you can give is helpful.
1. What were you like before two years ago that is different than now?
2. A hot spot about your white friends ignoring your blackness?
Here were my responses to those two questions — without any editing, other than a couple typos and clarity-flubs — in particular. With the first question and answer added here, to give the second question and answer some helpful context.
What were you like before two years ago that is different than now?
“Charlottesville happened. A weekend’s worth of news coverage of neo-Nazis marching in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with impunity, shoving and getting in the faces of cops who stolidly stand there and take abuse. FROM NAZIS. While Black teenagers can’t even breathe without being riddled with bullets by cops who fears for their lives and stand their grounds.
“But then, as the, ahem, president of the United States claimed several days late, there were good people on both sides of the Reich-march that happened in America’s streets. That all happened and I woke up. I’d slept so hard and so deep, with such determination, because this world is ugly — reality is more nightmarish than any nightmare I’ve ever had. But after Charlottesville, I couldn’t sleep anymore. I’ve been awake — for me, at least . . . relatively — ever since. And it burns. All the time. It’s like being covered in a low-grade acid constantly. I hate it and it’s done nothing for my sincere belief that I’d have been better-off having never been born. But since I’m here, I can’t not do anything. And not for anything as bullshit as “my children’s children” but because there are going to always be more poor suckers like me who only live because they’re afraid of the dying that has to be done before any of us gets back to dead. For those poor assholes, I do what I can to help make things better, even though I doubt anything ever truly will be. Or that it won’t get worse in some ironically lateral way. I do it because they’re going to suffer even if I don’t, so I might as well try. And it’s not like I have anything better to do. Most of my other potential is utterly burned-out.
“Probably because I spent thirty-seven years asleep. Now, I don’t get to sleep, anymore. Not till I’m dead. I look forward to it, though not at all to the unpleasant dying-bullshit.
“Before Charlottesville, I was, to quote Everclear’s ‘Local God,’ stupid, happy, and numb. Only, more the first and third one, than the second. I’ve never been genuinely happy. If I have been, I don’t recall the sensation or situation. But I do stupid and numb very, very well. And I can hold the pose — for thirty-seven years, last I checked.”
A hot spot about your white friends ignoring your blackness?
“This is recent and still painful, so . . . here goes:
“I hang out in an online group of writers and gamers, who write a lot of fanfiction and play a lot of video games. I do more of the former than the latter, because my nerves are shot, but I play and keep an eye out for games I might like. A friend came cartwheeling into the chat room, happy about this game they were playing. Final Fantasy XV. Long story short, they got me really interested because apparently the bad-guy of the game is awesome and angsty and tragic. So, I do some research. Found promotional photos online and there’re no people of color and only two women. There’re nearly a dozen white male characters, it seems like. I do more digging and it turns out Square Enix (a Japanese company) does this A LOT. But it’s rarely been more glaring than in XV. They make excuses — according to another friend in the group — about their culture, etc. But I’m just seeing them imagining an alternate Earth in which there’s nothing but white people and DEFINITELY no Black or Brown people.
“I tell my friend I’m taking a hard pass on the game and why, and their response — this ‘friend’ of over two years, with whom I’ve laughed, cried, met in person, dissected writing, and so many other things — their response is: ‘Fair enough.’
“I have never had a slap in the face hurt so-fucking-much. This happened two weeks ago, maybe a little more, and I’m still crying over it in unexpected moments.
“Because my friend told me, in no uncertain terms: “You go ahead and not give support to a racist, misogynistic company with a long track record and no plans to change it. My mileage varies and I’mma keep doin’ me. Because racism and misogyny aren’t really things that matter to me, even if it’s just to divest from companies and franchises — VIDEO GAMES — that give them an attractive voice and reality.”
“Then, the second friend I mentioned, who told me this is Square Enix’s MO, she and I have this chat about how terrible it is, etc. I’m thinking: ‘Well, I maybe just lost one thought-they-were-a-friend, but I still have THIS ONE. SHE’S still someone I can associate with and be friends with and be able to look at myself in the mirror.’
“Fast Forward to a few days ago and the first not-really-friend has written a piece of fanfiction for this shit game and franchise.
“My second friend is not only the first to cheer them on — expected, because we cheer each other’s writing on even if we don’t read it or know the fandom — but she also says how she can’t wait to read, and starts NAMING CHARACTERS AND EVENTS from FFXV. Talking about character traits, etc.
“She knows this game. She’s either played it or watched it played, or she’s read the fandom a LOT.
“Knowing what she knows about Square Enix’s track record. Having noticed the lack of representation and erasure, she still dove into the fandom and was happy to squee over it. NOT simply to encourage a fellow writer, but because SHE LOVED THE FANDOM.
“I haven’t been back to the group since. I’ll probably leave — should’ve left a year ago, honestly, for many other reasons, including the group drifting apart. There’s only one other person of color left in the group and she hasn’t been in, in . . . six months, maybe. I wrote her a direct message asking if incidents like this were why she’d drifted away and was on so rarely. If I was gaslighting myself or finally seeing past gaslighting done to me. She hasn’t answered, yet. It’s been four days.
“This is killing me, the idea of leaving. Because at one point, this group was most of the reasons I didn’t dig up the courage to finally scrag myself, fears of painful dying be damned. Those people I’d thought were my friends were, at one point, more like family. But now, since Charlottesville I’m seeing increasingly that maybe it’s impossible to be true to myself and my truth and my experience and my necessities, and have CLOSE white friends. Because of this shady bullshit. I can’t trust them not to do things like this — and they ALL have or will, given time enough, and rope enough to lynch themselves. I feel like white people will always be some level of fair-weather-friends, because for them, it’s not life and death, it’s vague notions of principle that don’t really touch them head-on. How can they be trusted if their empathy for these things is so lacking, and/or their hypocrisy is so looming? If ethics are so situational, even when they’re really, REALLY NOT.
“I don’t know if there’s anything else you’d want me to say about this. I feel like I might be repeating myself in the worst and most disgustingly self-pitying fashion, but I can’t tell. And, for the moment, anyway, I’m extremely tired of crying.
“Hope at least some of all this blather helps. If I can do anything else, I’m free most of today and tomorrow. Saturday, too.”
It’s all well and good to give lip-service to being anti-racism and anti-white supremacy. Or to let really gullible POCs simply assume you are, just because you haven’t done or said any (or maybe just haven’t said MANY) overtly telling things. But supporting and promoting authors and other content creators who exclude POCs and other minorities in their work is a bridge too far. The LEAST I expect of folks I call “friend” is to not do that. Hell, that’s the least I expect of a DECENT PERSON, who is mostly ethically-upright and sincere — even if one doesn’t actively work against those things, NOT SUPPORTING them and loving them so dearly is the least I expect of a DECENT PERSON.
The very LEAST.
And if you can’t show up for me (not even all the Black human beings on this planet, but ME . . . someone who’s made you laugh and showed-up for you when you were crying) when it counts and is EASY, then you never will. I didn’t expect you to walk away from your brother or mother, but from a giant, faceless corporation that casually swats POCs existence into the aether as if they and their lives DON’T MATTER.
If you can’t walk away from a goddamn video game and its attendant fandom, when to stay is to support racism, misogyny, and who knows what else . . . then we are not friends. No matter what I’ve told myself — LIED to myself — and tried to be to you . . . we are not friends.
If you can’t even show me the baseline consideration and respect to at least courage-up and admit that you WILL tolerate racism, misogyny, lack of representation, and erasure when it’s prettied-up and angsty in the ways you like — hell, even if you CAN admit to that level of pathetic, selfish, disgusting, hurtful hypocrisy . . . we are not friends.
There’s no agreeing to disagree on this issue. False equivalencies are as obvious as a fake mustache and glasses on a baby. The only thing there is to disagree on is whether racism, misogyny, lack of representation, and erasure are wrong. And let me be clear: If we disagree on THIS . . . we are not friends.
If racism, misogyny, lack of representation, and ERASURE ARE wrong to you, and you knowingly support companies and fandoms who’ve built their brand on them . . . then YOU are wrong. SO WRONG. And we are not friends.
If those things are (al)RIGHT to you, and acceptable . . . then YOU are WRONG. SO WRONG. And we are NOT friends.
Your knowledge that your “problematic fave” is upsetting and hurtful to others you’ve called friends, and everything so many people have worked and fought and DIED to make sure all people could have equally — acceptance, justice, representation, the simple acknowledgement that PEOPLE OF COLOR ARE PEOPLE, TOO — and even your admission of it, means nothing. You are NOT excused for liking or loving something that’s so terrible, in an age where EVERYONE KNOWS THAT IT’S TERRIBLE.
You aren’t excused and you are not forgiven. Not by me. And not anymore. Not that you even care. If you really did, I’d have never written anything in this article. But that is what it is, and I’m DONE. I can’t and won’t ignore who people, even supposed “friends” really are, anymore. Like the saying goes: Don’t ignore people when they tell you (or show you) WHO THEY REALLY ARE.
I see you, now. Very clearly. And I’m DONE ignoring what I see. The time for ignoring and sleeping on failures of character and ethics is over.
AND WE ARE NOT FRIENDS.
I understand, now, that we never really were.
Thank you. And goodbye.