Like most lazy Sundays I spent time on my phone scrolling through Snapchat. To my surprise, the content was different from what I tend to see on a regular day basis which consists of selfies and video recordings of friends. There was a snapshot of where a girl by the name “Maddie” posts a picture of her or someone else wearing a face mask saying “Black face and sunsets with my bae” then followed by a “jk they’re face masks.” This picture re-appeared in over twenty snapchats followed by people’s disappointment over the snaps saying the post was insensitive and racist. That Thursday, the President’s Committee for Diversity and Equity held some drop in hours in which students could come by and discuss their feelings on the incident. During the drop in hours multiple students opened up about how they felt about this incident in front of many faculty members. A student shares that many people believe that they are allowed to do and or say things that are exclusive to a community because one single person of that community says they can or that they are not offended. However, it is important to understand that community members will not all react in the same way. These forms of complex friendships reminded me of Pat Parker’s poem, “For the white person who wants to know how be my friend.” Parker who was an African-American lesbian feminist poet and activist, has the speaker juxtapose many situations showing how complex these relationships may be.
Throughout the poem, there are many instances in which the speaker juxtaposes their own statements. The first couplet has “The first thing you do is to forget that I’m black/Second, you must never forget that I’m black.” This couplet reminds me of people who consider themselves to be colorblind saying that they don’t see a person’s skin color/race. However, considering oneself to be colorblind is to leave out all of the judgment people of color go through. This is why the speaker wants the prospective White friend to both forget and never forget because they are far more than just a Black person but they should not forget the difficulties they must face.
Further on, the speaker focuses on the more cultural aspects of being Black. They say their White friend should “be able to dig Aretha,/but don’t play her every time I come over.” (3-4) The speaker wants their friend to recognize their culture and make them feel welcomed but then attacks the idea that this is all that Black people know or want (“Don’t play her every time”). They then explain their previous statement by saying “if you decide to play Beethoven — don’t tell me/ his life story” (5-6) because they know more than just their own music.
In the fourth stanza Parker’s tone becomes darker. She gives on a list of many crimes where she says that if they are committed by a Black person, the potential White friends should not apologize. Looking further into this stanza I can’t help but wonder how complex her statement is. On one hand, I do see where at times White people feel the need to hold back in attempts to not seem racist. However, in this stanza, she mentions being insulted, mugged, raping one’s sister, or ripping a house apart. I cannot help but think of how thousands of Black people have experienced this by a White person and were somehow expected to forget. Parker mentions the stereotype of how “Blacks are better/lovers than/ whites- [but] don’t tell [her]”. This statement takes me back to one of my favorite poems, “He Lays on His back” by Vanessa Richards, where she discusses the complexity of Black sexuality. At the beginning of the poem when the speaker is mounting the black man she discovers the ‘legacy of / the black man’s cock.” (lines 17-18) Not only does the speaker see the black man’s penis as a “legacy” but she also denotes it as an inheritance or gift. The speaker then looks back at the history of how Black people have been oversexualized for hundreds of years. Desiring what black people have, many white men find ways to mirror what black people experience, even when it causes pain. As mentioned in the poem, in 1994 a white member of Parliament. Jonathan Aitken, Minister of State for Defence is found dead. He is wearing “ladies stocking and a noose.” (61) The Member of Parliament’s action juxtaposes what is done to the black man. While the Member of Parliament uses it for a “sex game called / auto-erotic asphyxiation,” (51-52) the noose has another purpose in history, lynching. Thousands of black people died this way, yet many white men do it for sexual pleasure. The speaker also mentions how “the lost ones [white people] / laugh and jeer” (45-46) while the black man is being hanged. Then again, “the noose would be around / the necks of their son,” (48-49) as the Conservative Member of Parliament. Yet one of the issues the speaker clearly addresses is that white men see it as a “sex game” (51) and not as death.
I admire Parker’s poem because of how realistic it is. Most friendships are difficult, not because they have to, but because things come up. And when you have certain things that you cannot change, the past, it is harder to push things to the side to create a future. In the end, Parker says that “if you (potential white friend) really want to be my friend — don’t /make a labor of it. (23-24) Parker DOES NOT want them as a friend but juxtaposes her statement one more time by saying that if they do, they have to work for it (their friendship) because it is a complex relationship.