You heard me saying “oops” as my pencil fell, and you then took a break from writing your notes to help me pick it up. I said “thank you” with a smile; you smiled back and said “no problem.” When I was absent from class because I was sick, you let me look at your notes so I could catch up. You have even held the door open for me when we both walked out of the building together. I really appreciate the times you have helped me out when I needed it.
...I am also aware that you do not actually care if my whole family gets deported.
We are friends on Facebook. I have seen all your statuses about “building the wall.” You share #AllLivesMatter posts. You start off your comments with “I am not racist, but…” Every once in a while, you pick Facebook fights with other students about how undocumented immigrants “should just become legal,” black men “should have listened to the police officer’s orders,” and about how “we cannot tell which refugees are terrorists.” Every day I walk into history class, I sit behind you and pretend that I have never read them, as if reading all those words do not crush me a little each time. I, like every other minority student at predominantly white institutions, decided to stop wasting time educating people who will not listen. Unfortunately, you are not the only person who says things like this ― in this campus, or even this history class alone.
This open letter goes out to every racist person who has ever picked up my dropped pencil; said “bless you” after I sneezed; stopped to ask me how my Christmas break was, has written “happy birthday” on my Facebook wall, has said “good morning” to me as we walk past each other on campus, or has asked me where I got my “cute shirt” from. No smile, compliment, or favor will erase the fact that I know you do not actually want my family and me in this country.
“Are you going to let politics ruin a friendship?” First of all, yes. Second of all, this is not about politics; it is about my existence as a person of color in this country. Third of all, yes.
Being polite does not excuse your racism.
It never has and it never will. When I was younger, I would let racist comments slide because I wanted to make friends. I wanted someone to sit with at lunch. I wanted to be picked for the kickball team at summer camp. When I was in places surrounded by people who did not look like me, I was naïve enough to think I had to compromise my identity to fit in. I would convince myself, “these girls like me because they chose me for their kickball team.” Those girls did not like me (honestly, I was just a good runner). I grew up, and I have realized that I spent years doing too much mental work to defend people who will not defend me. Today, my heart hurts for all the little brown and black girls everywhere who shrink themselves to make their white “friends” comfortable.
I am done compromising myself. I will not laugh at your racist jokes. I will not be your friend just so you can go off and use me as your “I am not racist, I have a Mexican friend” excuse. I will not pick arguments about race with you “for the sake of discussion” and you “just playing devil’s advocate.” I will sit in the desk behind you, like I do every day, and when class is over, we will both go our separate ways.
So thank you for being polite enough to do small favors for me, but I cannot make this clear enough: We are not friends. This is not enough.
The girl that sits behind you in history class. And every other tired brown girl just trying to get her degree.