This month black people cried, screamed, rioted, and fumed because we saw Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd murdered in front of our very eyes. We noticed that many of our non-black friends were quiet. Black people were outraged with Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York’s Central Park, who weaponized her whiteness. She called the police on a black man for telling her to leash her dog. She lied and that untruth could have cost a black man his life. It didn’t matter. She lied anyway. We saw many of our non-black friends simply shrug.
Though you may not see it, every time a black person is senselessly murdered, it becomes a sort of black communal pain. Black people are so used to it, we think, “here we go again,” but we want our white friends, co-workers, neighbors, and associates to share our outrage. We’re human after all.
This is an awkward conversation…
This is an awkward conversation to have with you, but one that is long past due. If you are truly my friend… If you value my work and contributions to the workplace… If you appreciate the way I am neighborly, then you will accept this essay as intended. Your assistance is needed to stop the senseless killing of black people. I haven’t been able to tell you before, but I must tell you now. These are the 7 things, me, your black friend, want you to know about my life.
1. Dear Non-Black Friend, I need you to know that I’m tired of people who share my skin tone being killed for nothing more than sheer racism. I need you to use your privilege to stop these killings. Get people fired. Do whatever it takes to let your people know that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable. You can pull some rugs. Pull them.
2. Dear Non-Black Friend, please realize that blacks and whites are often treated differently by police officers and it’s not always the fault of the black person. Though we know all cops aren’t racist, some of them are and we have video evidence. Denying what is clearly on video is hurtful and despicable. I don’t want you to deny what I’m seeing. I want you to see it with me and feel the pain.
3. Dear Non-Black Friend, the black people who didn’t have weapons, who were shot in the back, who were choked to death were just like me. They were living their day to day lives. Like me, they wanted to go home to their families at the end of the day. It’s a mistake thinking all unarmed black people killed by police were all criminals. They weren’t. Most of them were regular people. Just. Like. Me.
4. Dear Non-Black Friend, you know how you can go outside and walk by the police and not worry that you’re going to be killed? I can’t do that. My family members can’t do that. We can’t do that because members of your community think people in my community are less than human. At your dinner table, I need you to remind them—hell, force them —to understand that black people are human. Black people are in fact, people.
I didn’t pull out a knife or a gun… I didn’t choke you.
5. Dear Non-Black Friend, remember when we met? I didn’t do anything hateful toward you. I didn’t pull out a knife or a gun. I didn’t choke you. I didn’t do these things because most black folks like me don’t carry weapons. And yet, some of us have been shot in broad daylight as if we do. We don’t. I need you to remember this and for you to tell your people. Most black people are not carrying weapons, nor do they have a desire to stab, maim, wound and kill people.
6. Dear Non-Black Friend, the next time you see a video of a black unarmed person being killed, I want you to think that its me. I want you to be so hurt and outraged that you do something. Be angry enough to call your congressman, the governor and all the other white people you know and start a tsunami of outrage that makes your people stop killing. I want you to care. I need you to care and take action.
7. Dear Non-Black Friend, I don’t wanna hear excuses for when your people kill my people when it was clearly senseless violence prompted by racism. You never have to worry about a white man not returning home after a traffic stop or a misunderstanding with police. For black people, I worry about that every day. But, when I hear the rationalizing of an unarmed black woman or black man being killed by police or racist vigilantes, it tells me that you don’t see my humanity and that you are not truly my friend.
Writing this essay to you brought tears to my eyes because I consider us friends. But after you read this, I’ll know for sure.
The murders of both Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd inspired this essay. But we also remember Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and many others. May everyone get home safely today and always.
Yasmin Shiraz is a Screenwriter and TV producer who has worked for Lifetime, A&E, Bravo and PBS. She’s a best selling author of more than 11 titles and the founder of Black TV Film Crew. She is the CEO of Still Eye Rise Media.