Ask Audre #1: An Advice Column

Dear Audre,

How do you deal with white people who act like they “get it,” but clearly do not?


It’s Hard Out Here


Hey It’s Hard Out Here,

First things first, you have the right to be annoyed. So often, people of color who are friends with white folks don’t call them out for being ignorant because they’re genuinely trying to be sensitive or participate in conversations about race.

Sometimes that’s not good enough and it’s okay to acknowledge that and ask for more from our white friends.

The problem with the dynamic you have highlighted is that one friend is assuming that because they’ve read some literature about race, or consider themselves “down” with their friend’s culture, they fully understand their friend’s experiences as they relate to race.

That’s the first big no-no of being a good ally. Don’t assume. Lean into not knowing, because while there are rich opportunities for you to learn from your friend’s relationship to their race/ethnicity/culture (and you ought to try!), you will never fully understand their experience.

Now, It’s Hard Out Here, what are some strategies you can use to deal with your friend?

  1. Have a talk
    If this is someone you consider a good friend that you want to build a lasting relationship with, it might be worth it to sit them down and explain why their behavior makes you uncomfortable. As stressful and uncomfortable it can be to have a direct conversation with a friend about things they do that make you uncomfortable, if the relationship makes it to the other side, it’ll be stronger for it.
  2. Employ the power of the side eye
    Sometimes friendship is about giving each other a hard time. In combination with strategy number one, casually side-eying your friend when they make inappropriate comments that assume they understand the “Black experience” is a way to remind them to knock it off, but keep the tone light. If you’re a part of a larger friend group that includes folks who understand how this particular friends’ comments are problematic, enlist them to help shade your friend when they say silly things. The power of peer pressure.
  3. Cut them off/shrug them off
    If this person is basically a casual acquaintance you see at parties or in groups of friends – they aren’t worth any of your emotional energy. Take some sort of joy in aggressively not caring about their thoughts in race or how much they think they know. Don’t let it get to you! However, if you feel like they’re spreading ideas that should be combatted, refer to strategy number two. If this person is a good friend who doesn’t respond productively to options one and two, maybe consider not being close friends with them anymore and downgrading them to acquaintance level friendship.

Some people ain’t worth your time. Doesn’t have to be dramatic. It might not even merit an intervention or long conversation. Instead use that time to do you.

Go forth,