So I'm white and I'm part of a friend group from college that has a number of white members and one black member. We're all guys around age 30. I visited most of them for the first time in a while and wound up acting strange around my black friend - I couldn't look him in the eye, I complimented him too much, I didn't feel like myself, and it was off, He wound up raising his voice a lot and eventually bringing up the subject of race in a loud voice clearly directed at me - he's very involved in BLM - and there was this super uncomfortable tension that mounted between us.
And I knew it was all me - none of it's him. I couldn't stop thinking of the fact that he was black. It's like that whole time I'm just thinking "black person black person black person" like the thought's glued to my brain. When I was looking at him, or trying to, it was like I couldn't see him, I could just see some archetypal black person. It was sick. And it showed - I couldn't hide it for some reason. I was ashamed. My friend had driven out to meet me and I was acting in this screwed up way.
I remember thinking, "This is a nightmare."
I stayed up all night typing out my thoughts on race and my thoughts in general, trying to understand what the hell is wrong with me.
I spoke to him the next day, when it was just us, and we had a sort of brief heart to heart about some old stuff, nothing to do with race. We hugged and it was the lightest hug I've ever received from some one.
And now it seems like I'm not the only one in my group with this problem. Another friend of mine, who is white, has also been acting very strange with regards to our black friend. He didn't seem to want him to join the rest of our friends at his house and unintentionally made that very clear in a group text message. It was awkward and uncomfortable.
My black friend still agreed to meet with that group though, acting like nothing happened. He's also said he really wants to meet me again and we're already making plans. It feels like he's giving our whole group some sort of chance but I'm not sure any of my other friends realize just how sick what's happening here is.
I'm journalizing now daily trying to understand this sickness for myself. I'm starting to notice things I didn't notice before. How a black woman will sit next to me at a bar and I'll be surprised when she talks in the same accent as me. Or when a family member of mine had to add that a person she met recently was "black" - why did she mention that? She wouldn't have said, 'by the way this person I met had brown eyes' or a cleft chin. What does her being black have to do with anything?
A black man wiping down the gas nozzle for me at a gas station - I thanked him saying how no one washes their hands these days - he looks at me and I feel that discomfort and he says, "A lot of people aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing these days."
I'd spoken with a black man on a bus and we'd taken each other's pictures. When I look at the photo he took of me, I'm making this weird face, like some demented hillbilly.
In a taxi ride, the driver an African immigrant, I'm sitting there with this now obsessive focus on blackness infecting me and passing by a building with 50 foot high Black Lives Matter lettering on it and my head is spinning.
Am I overreacting? Or is this all as sick as it seems to me to be?
I don't know. It's messed up and I've been trying to understand it for a long time. There have been times when I wasn't thinking about it, but then the person mentioned that they were black and I looked at them differently, it's almost like their face changed shape or something. Like some weird illusion. Not literally I guess, but it can almost be like all "black people" sort of become the same person in my mind or something. I'm not excusing it. I don't understand what's happening. It seems to be happening with other white people as well.It seems you're the one with the issue. If he is your friend, why do you feel different around him or any other black person?
I don't know. It's messed up and I've been trying to understand it for a long time. There have been times when I wasn't thinking about it, but then the person mentioned that they were black and I looked at them differently, it's almost like their face changed shape or something. Like some weird illusion. Not literally I guess, but it can almost be like all "black people" sort of become the same person in my mind or something. I'm not excusing it. I don't understand what's happening. It seems to be happening with other white people as well.