7 things black people want their well-meaning white friends to know

I grew up black in a very white neighborhood in a very white city in a very white state.

As such, I am a lot of people's only black friend.

Being the only black friend is a gift and a curse. I am black and I love having friends. But I am also, at any given moment, expected to be a translator, an ambassador, a history teacher, and/or a walking, talking invitation into "I am not racist" territory. It's a lot to handle. See what I mean about that curse?


Don't get me wrong, my friends are awesome, just very white. Here are me and a few of my pixelated pals before a high school dance in the early 2000s. Photo courtesy of the author.

So when I saw the animated short-film "Your Black Friend," I felt so seen. Clearly, I am not alone.

The film, which was written, designed, and narrated by Ben Passmore and is based on his mini-comic of the same name, is a brilliant, refreshing way to examine whiteness and racism. The comic and animated short are an open-letter from "your black friend" to you, their well-meaning white friend, about bias, alienation, and what it means to be a good ally and friend.

It's funny, honest, and heartbreaking in equal measure. And speaking from personal experience, it captures the experience of being a black friend to white people pretty much perfectly.

So if you're a "woke" friend and ally, here are some things your black friend wants you to know.

1. You're going to have to get uncomfortable.

It could be something as obvious and upsetting as a racist joke. Or something as "benign" as your aunt suggesting you cross the street when she sees a group of black kids walking by. But either way, if you want to be a good friend and a real ally, you're going to have to speak up. You're going to have to have those tough conversations with people you care about.

It's not easy to confront strangers or people you love, but if you don't do it, you are part of the problem. Sitting out isn't an option. No one said being an ally is easy.

All GIFs Silver Sprocket/YouTube.

2. "Your black friend would like to say something to the racist lady, but doesn't want to appear to be that 'angry black man.'"

"He knows this type of person expects that from him, and he will lose before he begins," Passmore says.

Black people can't always react or respond the way we want to. When I am followed in a department store, pulled over for no reason, or stared at while picking up dinner at the fancy grocery store, I can't stop what I'm doing and yell, "YES, I AM BLACK. NO, I AM NOT A CRIMINAL YOU SMALL-MINDED, BIASED ASSHOLES." Trust me, I want to. But especially when police are involved, I have to be calm, respectful, and obedient.

That's where you come in. You, white friend, need to speak up and say something when I can't. If you are not at risk, nor considered a threat, you have a certain amount of privilege in these situations. Use it to demand answers, speak to supervisors, or if things really get dicey, pull out your phone and hit record.

3. We are constantly monitoring our surroundings and adjusting our clothes, hair, speed, and speech to maintain white comfort.

We don't like it, but one small choice — like deciding whether or not to wear a hood, or the speed at which we reach into our glove box — can be the difference between life and death.

When I am in a parking garage and walking behind a white woman, I intentionally cough or walk a little louder so she turns and notices me.

Why? Because when I don't, that same white woman will often clutch her purse and occasionally let out an audible gasp as I pass her. This is something my white friends likely don't realize I have to do. Some of them may even be the pearl-clutchers in the parking lot.

But to maintain white comfort and to avoid having the cops called on us, we often have to tamp down clothes, modify our speech and volume, even do our hair differently. We have to have "the talk" with our kids about how the world sees them, and how act in order to make sure they come home alive.

No, it's not fair. No, we don't like it. But so long as this country and its institutions are built on a solid foundation of white supremacy, it's a grim reality. You need to know that, and take it up with your fellow white people about how to dismantle it.

4. "Your black friend wishes you'd play more than Beyoncé. There are more black performers than Beyoncé."

"Lemonade" was awesome. There is no denying it. And yes, I love seeing her iconic looks on Instagram too. But there is more to black music and black art than Beyoncé. Dip a toe outside your comfort zone and try new new artists and genres you may not be familiar with. Go listen, see it, and experience it for yourself.

And while we're here, you can't say the n-word when you sing along. Nope. You just can't.

5. Speaking of which, performative blackness is really uncomfortable.

When you wear that braided wig on Halloween, or use your "blaccent" when you're around me or other black people, it hurts. It's not cute or charming, and it definitely doesn't make you seem cool.

Our culture and heritage are not costumes you can slide on and off at your convenience. We don't get to be black only when it suits us. Neither do you.

6. "Your black friend feels like a man without a country."

Having white friends and seeming to "fit in" with the majority can feel really alienating. You can feel too "white" for black people, and too "black" for white people when all you want to do is find people to eat pizza with. As Passmore wrote, "He is lost in this contradiction, and held responsible for it."

7. We would love it if we could stop talking about our anxiety and frustrations regarding racism. But right now, that's impossible.

Our concerns are urgent and real. We're getting subpar health care. We're disenfranchised. We're over-policed. We're thrown in jail. We're killed by people sworn to protect us. It's exhausting, but we have to keep talking about it. So do you.

We can't be expected to dismantle white supremacy on our own.

Our white friends and allies need to step up and gather their people. Have the tough conversations. Speak up when you see racism, discrimination, and microaggressions. The time to talk about it is done. Be about it, or find yourself a new black friend.

Watch "Your Black Friend" in full and check out Passmore's book, "Your Black Friend And Other Strangers," coming in March.

This article was originally published on January 30, 2018.

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Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

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"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


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via US Secretary of Defense / Flickr and The Today Show

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Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.