It was 2007 when I finally signed up for Facebook. I did it reluctantly and only because my BFF pressured me to leave MySpace and join the rest of the cool kids. Back then, I wasn’t a mom, was super social offline, and only ever friended people that I knew in real life. I connected with high school and college classmates, people I met through my work as a non-profit professional, and actors that I knew from my days of performing in regional theater.
It was a very insulated, homogenous group that was made up of people who held the same very liberal, very democratic views as me. Man, those were the days.
Once I became a mom and a blogger, that all changed. I started to chat with women online who I only knew from the Internet. Even though we were all over the country, from various walks of life, we bonded through our shared motherhood experiences.
What started as commenting back and forth to each other on blog posts turned into conversations on Twitter and Facebook, and the next thing you know, half of the people that I call friends are folks that I’ve never even met in person.
All of that was fine, at least at first. It was interesting to learn how my friend in Oklahoma was raising chickens, or to see pictures of my friend in Los Angeles at a movie premiere with her kids. Everything was all smiley face emoticons, cat videos and Facebook likes for my online friends and me. Until the 2012 elections. That’s when everything I knew to be simple and good online imploded and many of my easy Internet friendships became complicated when issues of race came up.
It was then that I found out which of my “friends” thought President Obama should be forced to present his birth certificate to Donald Trump. I learned who thought America should be for Americans, and I started to realize that a good number of the people that I chatted with online on a daily basis would probably never invite me into home. As a black woman, that was rough.
The election was just the beginning, though. After that, things got even more tense with the shooting of unarmed teen, Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Then there was Michael Brown being killed in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and just recently Sandra Bland in Texas. As if the news weren’t overwhelming enough, now, any time I open up social media, I can see friends going back and forth debating whether he should have just walked on the sidewalk, or if she should have just put her cigarette out. It’s all just too much.
I don’t want to talk about race with my friends. I don’t want to find out that some of my friends are racist, or that they can’t understand why so many of my minority friends and family feel sad, scared, and tired. I don’t want to have to explain why certain things are a big deal, or spend energy assuring my white friends that it’s okay for them to share their thoughts and opinions even when it’s about race. I want to go back to wishing people happy birthday and speculating about whether or not a celebrity is pregnant. I’d even take breastfeeding and homeschooling debates over talking about race with my friends.
The thing is, since the 2012 election, I’ve seen a shift. While race relations in our country as a whole have been extremely hard, the difficult conversations that my friends and I have had about race seems to have opened us up to a deeper level of understanding each other.
We’re all finally getting real with each other, and instead of tearing us apart, it’s starting to bring some of us closer.
A few months ago, I shared a post that I had written about how I was legitimately scared of white boys. I talked about the mass shootings in Sandy Hook and Aurora that had me shaken, and confessed that I had packed all of my things up and bolted out of a coffee shop when a lanky white teen dressed in black entered looking suspicious. Although my white friends were surprised to learn that I felt that way, many of them expressed that they had never even considered that possibility.
Being prejudice and making assumptions based on appearance can go both ways, and I was able to share that thanks to our terribly hard, but terribly necessary conversations.
As much as I hate talking about race with my friends, it’s so necessary. The reason that race is still an issue in 2015 is because previous generations didn’t have the opportunity or the space to hash it out.
I believe that the disagreements that we’re having now are leading to understanding and will soon get us to the point of mutual empathy. We have to get this right for our children, no matter how hard it is.