“Every Black Person Needs a Friend Like Rod”

Originally, I was not going to see Jordan Peele’s film, “Get Out.” I had seen previews and trailers of the film for weeks and decided while sitting in the theater that I was not going to see it. For one, I am no fan of the horror genre. Second, it seemed so predictable that I didn’t think it would be worth my while. However, after its release the buzz about and around the film peeked my curiosity. People who I trust implicitly insisted that I go see it. Finally, a Black colleague suggested that we were outside of an important conversation and we needed to go see it. So, on a relatively quiet Sunday afternoon we decided it was time to go.

I don’t want to write about some of the obvious components of the film like the “Becky Treachery” or the “love-hate, desire-revulsion” dance that Whites seem to constantly play with Blacks in this society. The one aspect of the film I want to comment on is the role of loyal friends in the lives of Black people. Without giving away too much of the film, “Get Out” is a story of an African American young man, Chris who is dating a White young woman, Rose. Rose invites Chris for a weekend to meet her parents at their secluded suburban estate. Almost all of the film’s action takes place at this estate and when things begin to go wrong, Chris’ only link to the outside world and his former life is his buddy, Rod.

Although Rod initially comes across as the film’s “comic relief” there are some lessons he teaches as the Black buddy. Every Black person needs a “Rod” in his or her life. One of the things a friend like Rod brings is a sense of clarity to your relationships with White people. For most Black people interacting with White people is unavoidable. Our work places, our access to capital and other social benefits typically place us in contact with White people. Every time we think we can trust a White friendship or relationship we need a Rod to remind us that leopards don’t change their spots. Now I know my White readers of this blog will say I am being cynical to suggest no White people can be trusted. However, Rod is not saying that. He is asking you to go over the facts and ask yourself what is basis for believing this White person is someone you can trust. After the November 2016 Presidential election it was our Rod friends who told us you cannot count on White people to put anything before whiteness. When 51 percent of White women voted for Donald Trump we saw the allegiance to whiteness in action. When Rod tells Chris NOT to go to those people’s house that is the BEST advice in the entire film. Rod knew that neither the numbers nor the optics looked good for his friend.

A second lesson your Rod friend will teach you is just because you develop a relationship with one White person do not assume that goodwill will extend to their other White friends and family. Some of the most “liberal” White people I know emerged from the most racist roots imaginable. Indeed, one of the reasons a White person may choose to befriend you is to irritate and infuriate their parents, family, or friends. Your Rod friend can sniff out when you are being used as a boy or girl toy to prove “Amber’s” or “Chad’s” independence and “open-mindedness.” But, your Rod friend has heard plenty of stories about “liberal” White people sitting across a Thanksgiving table listening to a “beloved” grandfather spew epithets about Black people and how they are “lazy,” “dumb,” and “criminal.”

A third lesson your Rod friend will teach you is telling you about yourself and cussing you out can be the best thing somebody can do for you. Real Black friends are not trying to spare your feelings, especially when your health and safety are at stake. Rod friends are not about kindness and tippy-toeing around your feelings. They are about the reality of Black life. They will risk your anger and the silent treatment if it means keeping you from doing something really stupid. Your Rod friend is the one who will grab you by the shoulders and “shake some sense” into you because your Rod friend loves you. Rod friends do not bite their tongues. It is their bluntness that can sometimes shake you out of your complacency or failure to act in your own best self-interests.

Finally, when all else fails your Rod friend will come and get you. When you get to that place where you cannot help yourself, a Rod friend will show up to say, “Let’s ride!” Your Rod friend comes to the party or bar in the middle of the night to get you when you are so wasted or devastated by a breakup. Your Rod friend shows up at your house after the dissolution of a relationship to pack your stuff and move furniture. Rod friends don’t need an explanation or details. Rod friends just need to know what time you need to go and whether you have some place to go. Sometimes you don’t even know you need someone to come get you but Rod friends do. They show up to get you.

Yes, a friend like Rod is indispensible in this racially charged society. They don’t care what other people think about them. They care what happens to you. Thank you to all my Rod friends and I hope I’ve been a Rod for my close friends and loved ones!

Stay Black & Smart!

 

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“They Already Got Their Black Girl”

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Many years ago a dear friend of mine was frantically looking for a private school where she could send her adolescent daughter who I will call “Imani” for the purpose of this blog. The schools in her area were under a court ordered desegregation mandate and their track record with Black children was hideous. Almost 7 out of 10 Black children dropped out of those schools. So, she began the quest of looking for a private school alternative. One of the schools she looked at was an exclusive girls’ school with a lovely expansive campus in an upscale community. The custom of the school for prospective students was to have those students come for a “shadow day” where they would be paired with a freshman student and attend classes to get an idea of what life at the school was like. At the end of her shadow day, my friend came by to pick up her daughter. Imani got into the car and slumped down in the passenger seat. “How was it?” my friend asked with enthusiasm. “Do you want to go there?” “No mom,” Imani replied. “They already got their Black girl!”

Imani’s comment that they “already got their Black girl,” referred to the fact that the school had ONE other Black girl and throughout the day, Imani was constantly being measured by the Black girl who was already enrolled in the school. At every turn Imani heard, “Tiffany” doesn’t do that.” “Tiffany doesn’t wear her hair in braids like that.” “Tiffany plays field hockey, do you?” “Tiffany went to such-and-such middle school, did you?” Any deviation from Tiffany’s choices and ways of being were seen as suspect. The point of this illustration is that even as we move into adulthood, Black women who are able to “conquer” White spaces are regularly being measured and the measuring rod is often that of another, “more acceptable” Black woman.

Over the past several years I have written letters and responded to reference calls for highly capable Black women academics. In each case, the subtext of the conversation I had with the search chair or dean was, “We already have our Black girl and how is this one going to fit with the one we have?” It also implies that there can only be ONE Black girl in an organization and more than one means they will regularly be pitted against each other. Heaven forbid they should work in coalition and try to accomplish a common purpose.

The primary perpetrators of this “divide and conquer” strategy are White women. They often determine they will be friends with ONE of the Black women and so they often look for faults in the other. Their description of the “other” Black woman is that she is “difficult,” “not a team player,” “angry.” In other words, she is not like “our Black girl.” I was subject to that behavior in one of my early academic jobs. White women colleagues would come to my office to “tell me something” about the one other Black woman in our department. What they did not did not understand was I owed my job to that other Black woman. She sought me out. She lobbied for me to get the position. We had each other’s back. There was no way I would team with those people against my sister friend.

When my own career began to take off and I got a fair amount of notice in the scholarly community I began to notice that when White people disagreed with me they would reference another up and coming Black woman scholar. Every talk I gave included someone (typically a White woman) during the question and answer period saying, “Well, Dr. ‘So-and-So’ says…” as a way to challenge my legitimacy. Interesting, when my sister scholar was giving lectures she received the same treatment where I was used as the person to challenge her. Of course these challengers did not realize that Dr. ‘So-and-So’ and I were professional and personal friends. We had spent many hours talking over the issues we studied. I can remember my then 3-year-old daughter comfortably perched on her lap during a session at another Sister-Scholar’s home. We had a good laugh over the fact that one of us was regularly thought to be “their Black girl.”

It’s frustrating the way White women attempt to manipulate their Black women colleagues. It is no honor for most of us to be accepted by White people. We rarely sit in complete alignment with White women. Our issues tend to remain closer “to the ground.” We care about child support, being paid the same as our White women colleagues, different standards of beauty, availability of suitable partners, access to affordable housing as well as housing discrimination. We want our ideas acknowledged. We are tired of sitting in meetings, offering ideas, being ignored and having some White person offer the VERY SAME idea and be told that it is brilliant! We live in a Black girl world that can accommodate a Beyonce AND an India Aire; a Viola Davis AND an Angela Bassett; a Maxine Waters AND a Sheila Jackson. Stop looking for the ONE!

We are not here to make you feel like you’re a “good” White person. We are not here so you can identify at least one Black “friend.” We are not here to validate you and acknowledge your white tears. We are not here to be your Black girl!

Stay Black & Smart!