I wrote you a while back about my classmate who had no friends and doesn't really get social cues [“My Needy Pal Won't Take the Hint,” Oct. 11, 2017]. To refresh your memory, this was a 40-plus-year-old who still lived at home and had no social life, who would constantly text me just for chatting or way too in-depth job and life advice. I felt sorry for the person and participated in those dialogues because I knew they had no one else to talk to. Your advice was great—just be honest and drop them (I think)—but I was never able to do it.
Fast-forward six months, and this person has dropped me! It's a welcome change—it's hard to be friends with someone with whom I don't totally connect or identify—but their reasoning for cutting off communication is what has blown my mind. Get this: They are upset that I am concerned with racial equality, and that I believe in white privilege. They felt that, when I talked about issues of white privilege and systemic racism on social media, I was talking directly to them and their whole family.
I emailed them recently to ask for a document from our school days, and within the exchange I asked them why they'd not been in touch and had removed me from all of their social media—they had been so attached to me, it seemed, so I was honestly curious. Their response blew my mind, and of course they gave an unnecessary family history related to poverty, and also pointed out a biracial family member as a means of asserting that they don't have white privilege. There was an inherent implication that I was a "reverse racist.” (I am a person of color.) I responded with surprise and empathy, and attached a PDF of "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh, and encouraged them to read it. Weeks later: no response.
It's so funny: This is a person whom I never really felt close to because we were so different, but their misunderstanding of the issues related to white privilege and racial justice really is bothering me. I definitely don't think I need to have someone so ignorant in my life in any way, shape or form, but I suppose I did feel a bit attached to this person, and I'm disappointed to find out just how emotionally immature and uninformed they were. I mean, damn—I’d have never bothered with them if I'd known all this.
I suppose that this really isn't a question, but more of an update. Thank you for your advice. I wish I'd taken it sooner.
Congratulations! It’s so rare that we people of color have racists remove themselves from our lives. Too often, they just wanna bark at us and demand we validate them, but this jerk kicked rocks all on their own. That must have felt good! I’m very glad they did it themselves, because I can see that you have always been a bit more concerned about this person’s feelings than you should be, and you didn’t want to offend them by dropping them.
Are you really so surprised that they felt this way? I gotta be honest: In your past letters, you haven’t described this person as someone with a progressive attitude. Your acquaintance sounds like a religious redneck living with their parents out in the country. Ask your heart if it’s really that blindsided by their complete misunderstanding of racial politics and social justice. Their response to you makes me want to spit, and I’m sorry you even had to read that. They are insecure and shallow in their thinking, and you know that, and you’re better off. Did you ever really need a person like that in your life? You are clearly this person’s intellectual superior, and that fact would have eventually destroyed the friendship if their shitty ideas on race had not.
You say you feel “attached” to this person. Why? You never liked them or called them a friend. Plus, they’re a racist. What’s to feel bothered about? Count your blessings and move on, and perhaps don’t be so surprised when something like that comes out of a white person’s mouth in the future.