A couple of years ago I noticed that I had started distancing myself from some of the people who were part of my orbit. Not necessarily by design, but there would always be that one conversation that seemed to be the breaking point that had me rethink whether the relationship worked any longer. In 2021 there was one friendship that I ended after 40 years. Those who knew us both asked me to think seriously about ending such a long relationship—there must be a way to patch it up. But when I severed the ties, I knew there was no going back.
Once I closed the chapter, I did assess why and how I had come to the breaking point. In a moment of pure honesty, I realized that I had always been a peripheral friend who served a useful and very particular purpose. See, she had periodically referred to herself as a Virginia blueblood. A child of well-to-do professional parents, her friends chosen carefully, all of them having grown up in a bubble of privilege where all the parents had similar pedigree—light, bright and passing for white. Their progeny had the right friends and social experiences: Links, Jack-and-Jill, highbrow colleges, sororities, and cotillion balls. I was anything but that.
When we met, I was finishing graduate school. I was well-spoken, well-written, had started traveling and was well grounded in experiences, struggles, and knowledge of peoples of the African diaspora. I am more than a decent cook, and I always provided expertly prepared and presented dishes for her gatherings. I could hold my own in conversation and debate, my skin is fair enough to “pass” within her circle, and I could beat her at Scrabble! As a matter of fact, I could best her at most things except for the one subject she graduated in—the law. I was an oddity in her world. Which I had come late to understand.
The breaking point was not a single thing or event. I had heard on more than one occasion that had her mother met me, she would not have approved of our friendship. In addition to knowing five-dollar words I can lay out an impressive string of cuss words with the best of the OG corner philosophers, but I now see that statement for what it was: a dig, letting me know I should feel grateful to be in her company. Looking back, I see that I was the one offering colorful commentary and defending the value of the Black experiences that she knew little or nothing about. Against her argument lauding Ralph Abernathy, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King, Jr. as legitimate Black leaders, I was always expressing that leadership covers a broad swath of the community. And, they would not have been successful without the agitation of the Stokleys, Malcolms, Sharptons and Farrakhans of the world. We would agree to disagree.
As time passed, I began to think she felt all too comfortable with criticizing Black people to me or in my presence. Passing strangers were too big and ill-shaped to be wearing stretch pants, having babies they couldn’t afford, wearing dreadlocks that just looked nasty and unkempt. As if just their being was an affront to her otherwise pristine, orderly world. I am one who strongly believes in picking your battles, but these skirmishes between us were took on more significance to me as time passed. The last big blow out was about Black Lives Matter. She didn’t seem to think that Black lives matter any more than any other lives, especially to one another. I couldn’t make her understand the significance of that statement beyond the slogan. For the last and one too many times, she reminded me that her husband had been murdered by a Black man—her personal race card.
Out of the blue it became clear to me that after all these years she kept me around as her personal whipping boy for the unresolved anger and rage over the tragedy of her husband’s death and her inability to fully escape the DNA of her ancestry. Part of which I believe was guilt over how she and her ilk had othered members of their own race. I was safe, entertaining, and comfortable enough to keep around. But I was “other side of the tracks” enough for her to feel that they had made progress in overcoming their racial bigotry against their brethren. I was unwilling to be quiescent any longer in the face of slighted comments about me and mine. For the third and final time I hung up on my friend after a heated shouting match that was really as much about how we saw ourselves and one another.
In the almost two years since that experience, she has reached out to me twice asking to move forward in a new way. After me retracing the steps of our ultimately dysfunctional relationship in a lengthy letter, I told her I wouldn’t be doing that. I felt much better after the bloodletting, and I needed to remain true to myself. I am at a point in my life where I am cleaning out the clutter, and I wish the same for her.Leave a Comment