“A man who tosses worms into the river isn’t necessarily a friend of the fish. All the fish who take him for a friend…usually end up in the frying pan.” -Malcolm X
During a time where white allyship remains a constant source of contention, it is imperative to discuss the platonic dynamic as symptomatic of white hegemony. It is also essential to review exactly what friendship is. Friendships are not transient or fleeting. They are not anchored in convenience or gain. Friendship is a joining of two spirits, a union that reflects shared values— one of which is a value for one another. The hegemonic grasp that cultivates the American ambiance complicates the ability of this dynamic to genuinely exist between black people and white people. I want to be clear here as to what I mean by “white.” While I certainly reference those from or descended from Europe I employ the term “white” to encompass any and everyone who is not of African descent. This by no means posits everyone of African descent as innately platonic to one another, this would simply be harmfully untrue. Rather, this proclamation contends that those of African descent, due to the shared experience of global abjection, meet the basic requirements for friendship.
Individual predilection does not negate systemic favor. When every institution exists in favor of one demographic and in opposition to another, “friendship” does not mend these fences. A “Friendship” between black and whites where the latter is not prone to adverse attributes such as fear, flight, superficiality, or convienience is unlikely. Even if an African adjacent person does take a bullet in battle, they attain a glory that would never manifest if the shoe was on the other foot. Similarly, even the African adjacent that claims to be friends to blacks amidst police violence can only be but so against an institution that guards their systemic favor.
Three years ago, the black community witnessed the brutal murder of Bakari Henderson, a young black man beaten to death when in the company of his white “friends.” The horror his death continues to engender even in the years that have passed illuminate that ignorance to what exactly it means to black is bliss for the African adjacent but fatal to the black individual. Similarly, Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries revisits Alonzo Brooks’ 2004 murder. Revisiting Brooks’ death, confirmed what I suppose I always believed about mysteries. I don’t believe there are any mysteries in this world; it’s just that some secrets are better kept than others. In a white supremacists society, some truths are just too “true” to say or confirm. Thus, “secret” proves synonmous to supremacy in an anti-black environment. Collaboratively, Brooks, like the Rey Rivera case that offsets the series, expose that a white friend is an oxymoron for anyone who is not white.
While I won’t go into the particulars of each case, what I will mention is that both cases elucidate non-whites murdered in predominately white environments, murders that under a hegemonic gaze always function as suicide. Rivera and Brooks hold hands with Gugsa Abraham Dabela, a black lawyer whose death was labeled a suicide despite the glaring reality Dabela died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Similarly, Carey Owsley, a middle-aged black man whose death scene was tampered with by a retired police sheriff before the department eventually labeled his death a suicide.
For the African in America, to endure a friendship with anyone not of African descent is to endlessly pick up a tab, except what is at stake here is not dollars and cents, or a meal, but often a black life, black integrity, or both. Too often in these “friendships,” when not issued a physical death, the black party endures a social death where the black individual becomes relegated to what Malcolm X called mascot. The African adjacent employ black presence as a means to actualize their white power by using n-word or speaking negatively about black people, the allegiance of friendship born out of a black individual’s seeming indifference or betrayal to black culture. In other instances, the ones in which many will claim equality, the African adjacent paints the black person in their image, thus it is not that the African adjacent sees the value in black people, it’s that they project their racist values onto he or she whose existence they itemize as their own.*
To say that the stakes of friendship for black people are higher would be an understatement. For black people, being in the company of their oppressors is synonymous with being stranded on a desert island.
Nevertheless, rather than function as a means to eschew friendship with the African-adjacent, I hope this post underscores the power vested in blacks forming unions amongst themselves.
Author’s Note: This post does not suggest that Rey Rivera is a black man. Although over 75 percent of PR identified as white on the 2010 census, Rivera’s death illuminates legal and social whiteness as disparate qualities that often prove deadly in their distinction. .
- See Sadiya Hartman’s chapter “Innocent Amusements” in her book Scenes of Subjection