Working on bridging the gaps between white people and people of color is an ever-long process of trial and error. Often, our friend groups can look largely the same, and our interracial friendships can lack depth and longevity because a strong foundation of trust just isn’t there. Having transparent and vulnerable conversations about race and identity deepens our friendships and relationships— but only if we’re willing to create space for them.
As hosts of the podcast “Kinswomen,” a show aimed to have more empathetic conversations about race and racism, we found ourselves presented with a unique circumstance: as coworkers and friends, we never want people to look at us from the outside and assume that, because we’re a Black woman and a white woman, we represent some kind of ideal racial harmony. In fact, we found that building our friendship takes daily work and contains many layers: the interpersonal, the societal, and the ancestral.
Each interracial relationship (whether it’s business, platonic, or romantic) needs trust first and foremost. In doing this work, we’ve developed a framework of four pillars that we believe are essential to building trust in cross-racial dialogues. These pillars are simply guidelines. They’re fundamental but not exclusive; they should be added to and curated based on the individual. Let’s get familiar with them.
Hannah: Building trust cannot be rushed. If you consider your close friendships and relationships, those bonds likely didn’t form overnight. It took time for you to trust your partner or your best friend. When it comes to allyship and activism, we need to respect the time that it takes to build trust with individuals and communities. Sometimes, those who have become recently awake to social issues think that every person of color should automatically see them as allies—as if BIPOC should assume that they’re newly trustable. Instead, trust is built with the building blocks of consistent action over a sustained period of time.
Yseult: Time isn’t something that white people often give themselves when it comes to this work. The sense of urgency is toxic and at times, disturbing, especially when I see someone who has barely dipped a toe in the sea of racial history try to “save me.” The BIPOC community does not exist on the timeline (let’s call it the “racial big bang’) of when a white person finally acknowledges our existence and the racism that we experience. There’s grace in accepting that you do not understand everything and will have to unlearn aspects of society that are intrinsically passed down from your ancestors and reinforced by societal dynamics, laws, and institutions.
Hannah: There’s no guarantee of comfort when it comes to talking about race. To be transparent, I am never truly comfortable, and I often feel insecure, unsure, and anxious when it comes to these dialogues. There’s power in being vulnerable, accepting that there is a lot we don’t know about race and racism. And that, ultimately, we will mess up.
I’ve messed up many times. Even when I am doing my best, I have to admit that I’m not an expert and that there will be lots of growing pains. Learning in public is a strength because the transparency allows others to be brave, too.
Yseult: Another toxic idea is that because you’re in this space of activism, you’re supposed to be a super-expert. Centering transparency in this work is admitting where you are. Transparency is the only way to build a healthy and genuine path to becoming a real ally, because you have to acknowledge reality before you can grow and do better.
Come to peace with what you have participated in and how you’ve contributed to harm on an interpersonal level with your friends of color or your Jewish friends. Or, on a corporate level, own up to how you have let down your employees of color or any other marginalized communities present.
Hannah: In order to build strong relationships in cross-racial (or any) settings, we need to communicate clearly and listen with intention. Sometimes I feel confident in sharing my views, and sometimes I feel like my throat is constricted with fear of getting it wrong. Other times, I have to hear hard truths—like when Yseult shares that something I’ve said was problematic. I’m learning to accept the impact without centering my intentions and feelings or blaming the person who shared the incident with me instead of looking critically at my actions. The reality is that we will fumble in uncomfortable conversations, but communication is the goal, not perfection.
Yseult: Any meaningful work must start from within yourself and your local communities when we want it to be real. There’s this flawed idea that white people need to insert themselves into BIPOC communities and spaces in order to learn how to be anti-racist or that bringing BIPOC into white spaces is the solution to solving racism. Enough scholarship by BIPOC voices exists that can be a good starting place for learning. Just because someone identifies as BIPOC, they don’t necessarily have the tools, answers, and bandwidth to teach white people. It also can be retraumatizing when we simultaneously have to hear how white people have messed up and harmed fellow BIPOC –- and also make space to teach. Communication and context is important when you are considerate of the people you are talking to.
Hannah: Going to one march or reading one book on anti-racism and expecting radical internal or external change is like brushing your teeth once and thinking you never have to brush them again. Allyship work requires steadiness and reliability to be effective. There will be no trust if we do not continue to make our values clear and live by them on a regular basis. It may sound forced, but each day I challenge myself to educate myself and take action on my values. If allyship is new for us, we have to be conscious to make it a habit.
Yseult: Consistency isn’t foreign to whiteness, but it seems forgotten when we are talking about racial and human injustices. All too soon, the urgency subsides and the action fades. White people know how to be consistent in their allyship. I have seen with my own two eyes that it’s possible for them to be supportive and amazing advocates for things they care about.
Take veganism, for instance. A whole culture and industry have been created around it. I low-key feel envious of the cows and chickens that receive such consistent support and advocacy. And as a result, there’s been real progress made to protect and save these poor animals from mistreatment. The humanity given to animals and the planet has to intersect with the duty to repair and restore what white supremacy has built and done to all minorities, even if you aren’t the ones that built it. All these things are interconnected and we cannot see them as things we can opt out of.
Start where you are familiar. If you love art, find a space that centers conversation with diverse artists. Or if you’re into medicine, investigate what BIPOC peers in medicine are discussing. Be active because advocacy is needed everywhere, and because one person cannot speak on everything. Wherever your spheres of interest and influence are, that’s where your voice is needed the most.
White people who want to participate in change should find a sustainable way to do so. The responsibility should be greater for those who have the most privilege. Caring about the BIPOC community needs to become the air you breathe and the food you consume, as “natural” to the fabric of life as the racism marginalized communities experience every day.
These pillars are easy to read and understand, but as with everything, it comes down to applying them. We have fallen into a habit of looking for simple and fast solutions, but nothing changes overnight just because you know the concepts. Kind of like how you can buy a cookbook to start learning how to cook, but being a chef takes time and application. Allyship is a verb; it requires continuous action from those that want to become one. Knowing these pillars isn’t enough. But everyone has the capability to work towards allyship, no matter where they’re at on their journey.
Excerpted from Real Friends Talk About Race by Yseult P. Mukantabana and Hannah Summerhill. Copyright © 2023 by The Kinswomen, LLC. Published by Park Row Books.
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