After waking at the hands of another dream, more like a nightmare, of driving myself over a mountain in North Vietnam, I sat down with my friend I was doing a motorbike tour with for breakfast at a hostel.
As we sat and planned our route for the day, a couple came down for breakfast and sat across from us, and so the pleasantries began.
Well, the pleasantry exchange began with my friend, who was white, and the couple who was also white.
After I had finished eating and still no inclusion in the conversation, I decided to remove myself.
Sometime later, my friend came over to ask if I was okay, and I challenged her to think about the exchange during breakfast.
“I thought they weren’t talking to you, but you weren’t talking either.”
And herein lies the problem.
After I shared that I was left entirely out of the conversation, that this was yet another microaggression that I was experiencing as a black woman traveling, and that I expected her to “pull me in,” she managed to make my invisibility my fault.
Eventually, this became the “this is why I can’t be friends with white people” fight. These ten words left my mouth, not in the blind rage you’d imagine.
Instead, it felt, right.
It’s an interesting time to be alive and bear witness to the “shock” that white people experience now that they can see with their own two eyes the psychological and physical terror black people, in this case, black women have endured for decades.
It seems impossible that we would tell the truth about our lived experiences, but what my “this is why I can’t be friends with white people” fight showed me, is that our oppression as black women can happen in the face of white women and they still refuse to believe us.
But more importantly, they refuse to see us.
My friend was wholly unable to see me, and that is the forever obstacle to having authentic, transparent friendships between black women and white women.
If you cannot truly see someone, you are unable to recognize their humanity.
But this is not a new phenomenon between black and white women; it’s historical.
During first wave feminism, white women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were hailed as heroes in history books during the women’s suffragettes movement in the 19th century.
What history books conveniently erase are the black women, like journalist Ida B. Wells, Sojourner Truth, and Mary Church Terrel who marched alongside these women for their own right to vote, though white women refused to see them as women, but as negros.
The truth is black women were marching, organizing and building momentum in their own communities for their right to vote before the white suffragette’s movement began.
Black women joining white suffragettes was an attempt to create an intersectional movement, but unfortunately, the momentum of the black suffragettes catapulted white women to the voting booths leaving them behind.
Black suffragettes were often forced to march separately from the white suffragettes and were banned from suffragette conventions.
It took another fifty years for many black women, which most lived in the South, to gain their right to vote with the passing of the Voting Act of 1965 because of disenfranchisement.
When we fast forward to today, it would seem that white women have an innate obligation, consciously or subconsciously, to choose their race, over their gender.
A manifestation of this is the forty-fifth president of America, who was chosen by 53% of white women in the country despite his blatant xenophobia, racism, and sexism.
Recently, Bette Middler tweeted one of her many misguided tweets, this time it was about Beyoncé:
For some reason, white women continue to attach labor to black women and believe we exist to clean up messes that they’ve created.
Why did Bette Middler think Beyoncé, a black woman, should be responsible for a mess she, nor any black woman, created?
Why not call out Taylor Swift, who has been conveniently quiet politically over the last four years and has 122 million followers on Instagram.
Or Ariana Grande who has 165 million. Or Katy Perry who has 85 million.
Pull in white women.
The relationship between black women and white women will always be tricky because of invisibility and power.
Whether or not white women want to admit, they have power that they lean into as it serves their best interests.
To be in any relationship with someone, romantic or a friendship, one person must truly see that person for who they are.
Not the tokenization of them, a fairytale or a typecast.
If a person cannot truly see another person, then their ability to have empathy for them and their unique experiences is impossible.
And so the question becomes, why do white women choose not to see the humanity of black women?