The other day my friend, a POC (person of color), had to explain to his friend, a white woman, why using the N-word wasn’t acceptable.
“It’s just a word,” she told him. “I’m not really racist.”
“It doesn’t matter. When you use that word, you’re ignoring the pain and the racist history of this country” he said, practicing radical patience.
Radical patience — that’s what most POCs have to tap into when we have to explain why certain racist behaviors, attitudes and practices are, well, racist.
It’s exhausting, depleting and isolating.
Often times it’s confusing too. How do I, a brown woman, relate to the white experience? How do I effectively communicate the nuances of racism to a person who hasn’t felt the weight of this systemic issue? It’s perhaps why my friend found it difficult to explain to my friend why the N-word is off-limits.
He later told me he heard her use that word again. Turns out, she didn’t hear him.
The part of the story that gives me hope, however, is they are still friends. They are still good friends.
If I were to hear my friend use the N-word, then not hear me when I try to explain racism, my trust would immediately diminish; eventually, so will our friendship. I do not have the capacity to practice radical patience.
The tireless work of dismantling racism requires radical patience. It requires people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. It requires people to challenge their friends, and still continue to be in relationship with them the next day.
These relationships are imperative. Not only is it how trust and understanding is built, it is also how we begin to truly see to each other. Change that comes with this approach is slow and often immeasurable, but it is lasting and true.
My friend seemed a little discouraged by his friend’s behavior. But what’s really radical about him isn’t the patience he exhibits. It is his willingness to see beyond the racism, and see a human being who’s struggling with racism. He sees someone who is not defined by her racism; he sees her as a complicated human being.
I wish there were easy answers on how we can dismantle racism in this country. I wish there was a fast-track way of doing it. But there isn’t.
Instead there are soldiers who are waging war with stories, rhetoric, peaceful protest and radial patience. There are those who are educating the youth, who tackle the system, who rally for Black Lives Matter, and refuse to keep their heads down and their voices low.
There are also those like my friend who patiently explains to his friend why the N-word is unacceptable over and over again, and still sees her not just as a racist, but as a complicated human being.
That’s what we all are at the end of the day, I hope.