BlogHer of the Week: What Tami Said
Tami's post, "The return of Mona: Race and friendship (The sequel)", begins with the acknowledgement of her belief in the omnipresence of bias,
"...everyone who grows up in this country absorbs some prejudice--everyone, no matter their race."
This understanding permeates every chapter of her story of dissolved friendship. While the ending is unfortunate, the storyteller's willingness to explore her own reluctance to accuse her former friend of racism brought us to insights we could not have achieved from a less empathetic and honest writer.
Tami's post peels back the many layers of prejudice; beneath skin color, past cultural differences, to a place of knowing that racism is impossible to ignore. We can transcend our prejudices, but if racism is still in our fabric, in the end we cannot deny what we are made of.
Tami, a woman of color, met "Mona" at work. While both women were of a diffent race, they became fast friends for ideological reasons.
"I liked Mona the minute I met her," Tami says. "I have a soft spot for misfits, and she didn't fit in with the agency types--those skinny, stylish girls with their Kate Spade bags and rich daddies. Neither did I. Mona was smart, loud, sassy and a little hippie dippy. She liked to talk about past lives and 'bad energy,' and she would rail against the patriarchy and 'the man.' While I philosophically talked about politics, she would get in the trenches and volunteer to help Democratic campaigns in other cities."
Mona moves to D.C., which seems to trigger in her more overt intolerance. Tami is shocked to hear Mona comment after the Katrina disaster: "Yeah, I sent money to the animal shelters down there, but I didn't send any money to those fucking people."
But even before the friendship soured, there lie doubts about how deeply Mona was committed to respecting cultural differences; it seemed she was more interested in perpetuating her own.
"It occurred to me sometimes that my friend's 'power to the people' ideology was somewhat theoretical. I knew she had other friends of color, but I also knew that they were like me--educated and assimilated--friends who could slip easily into the mainstream."
Despite her doubts, Tami intially struggles with the decision to end her friendship with Mona.
"Some people would have ended the relationship there, I know. But I knew Mona as a friend who had always been generous, supportive and good to me."
Tami's suspicions are proven correct two years later, when she meets with Mona and learns that her persona as an activist has become a disguise for resentment against others not like her. This time, she ends the relationship for good.
"Race and sisterhood: I've written about these topics many times over the last year. In the heated days of the 2008 Presidential Campaign, I debated, attacked, cajoled and found resolution online with many anonymous 'sisters' who seemed a lot like Mona. Why, then, won't I try to heal a relationship with a woman I've actually met--a friend with whom I've gossiped, hung out and shared secrets?
Because it is one thing to debate a commenter on a feminist blog. I am not invested in whether Anonymous #5 respects me as a black woman. We can agree to disagree. But I need more from my friends."
Tami shows us how philosophy and reality often violently collide with each other, but eventually they must move in the same direction or we are not being true to ourselves. We cannot remove racism from the equation, just as we can't remove our humanity from our friendships. When we sit down for a drink with someone who hates people "like" us we are hating ourselves.
Kudos to Tami for bringing every shade of gray to a subject too often referred to in either black or white.