I saw signs of covert racism from one of my close friends, but when she shared a blatant text with me, I couldn’t in good conscience continue my friendship…
White female, Age 61
Benicia resident for 23 years
I grew up in the South during a time where racism was the norm. I lived with my mother, who considered herself a liberal, and my grandmother, who although was not openly anti-Black, but in our household fell more in line with Southern social norms.
Up until age 9, I was innocently ignorant of the Southern expectations of social differences and racism. I had few friends at that age, but one I did have was Black. Most days, she and I would sit in the back of the school bus on the way home from school, sharing secrets and giggles, as all girls that age do. One day, I asked my grandmother if she could come over to play. My innocence was instantly shattered with my grandmother’s emphatic response, “She can’t come over here! She’s Black. You can only play with her at school.” That was my first indoctrination into socially enforced segregation. Looking back, I now realize that we always sat in the back of the bus, not because that was what we chose, but because that was what was expected of a Black child.
I began to pay attention to the inequities created by history and continued by both habit and intent. I listened to the nuances adults and children used to refer to people of other races, particularly regarding African Americans, and learned to tell when someone was deliberately disguising their racist feelings that others would find offensive. I took it all in!
When we moved to Benicia, I enrolled my children at Mary Farmer School. I became fast friends with four other women who had children in the same class as my daughter. One was Black, one was Aisian and two were White. Our friendships grew. We shared birthdays and family events together. Our children grew up as friends. We supported and celebrated with each other.
I slowly began to notice a racially biased edge to one in our group - one of the White women. She made subtle but questionable comments about people of color. One day I overheard her teenage son comment to my daughter that he would date Halle Berry if she would change her color. I can not describe how angry and uncomfortable that made me feel. I began to pay closer attention to my friend and what she said.
On the day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King in 2016 the final bomb dropped. My friend traditionally would send a text to all of us to commemorate various holidays. That morning I did received a text from my friend. To my horror, this one read, “Happy Darkie Day!” complete with an offensive caricature of a Black man. I checked to see if it was a group text but it was only sent to me. I could only think that because she knew of my Southern heritage she thought I would find this amusing, which was certainly not the case.
I responded to her text and said this is extremely inappropriate and not funny at all. When I returned home I wrote her a letter strongly expressing my outrage and disappointment regarding this racist text. I concluded in my note that I could no longer be friends with her. She responded with an immediate apology, but it was too late. How could she assume her message to me was acceptable?
She continued to try to make amends. She tried to justify herself by saying that was how she was raised and that was how Blacks were referred to where she grew up. She then intimated that this was what teachers say at school. I was even more horrified. This woman was a teacher’s aide at Mary Farmer! Though I sincerely doubted this was a common expression among the staff, apparently she had at least one ally - at a public elementary school in Benicia!
I did not go to the school administration, which I regret. My concern for my former friend’s feelings were still strong. After all, we had been close for years, and she was clearly upset over the loss of our friendship. I didn’t want to make it harder on her by impacting her very livelihood. Perhaps I should have. Maybe it would have fostered much needed equity training sooner. But I did keep the text. It is a reminder to me that racism in Benicia, and in this country, still exists.