If I believed in soulmates, she would be mine. From the moment we met our senior year of high school, Courtney and I were inseparable. For the next two years, until I moved back to South Carolina, we stayed at each other’s homes, judged one another’s romantic interests, and generally considered our minds melded.
A decade and a half has passed since our fateful meeting and understandably, our lives have both changed. I have married and become a parent, found a career in fundraising and higher education, and Courtney has excelled in her chosen career field, one that requires a security clearance and exciting travel, as well as becoming a faithful and committed Jew, a turn I don’t think either of us saw coming fifteen years ago. But despite the distance and the differences in our lives, she remains my closest friend and the person who always answers the phone. We haven’t lived in the same state in more than a decade, but that has never mattered. I don’t think it ever will.
We have also seen each other through horrific national events, like 9/11, and protected one another as a sniper terrorized our area in 2002, through smaller but no less agonizing traumas of break-ups, heartbreak, and insecurity. We were even on the phone with one another when Barack Obama was officially named the winner of his presidential bid in 2008, both of us weeping with joy at a moment we never thought we’d see.
Now, in 2017, we face another crisis together yet separately. As the new administration was elected and took office, we turned to one another for comfort and guidance, but I was unable to look outside my own worries to fully see hers. We shared our worry but the intensity of that worry was unbalanced. So I asked my best friend of more than fifteen years what I should have asked her years ago: what do you need me to know about your experience and how can I help you navigate this world?
Courtney, in all her kindness and honesty, shared with me what she wanted me to know, and what I probably should have known from the outset. And more importantly, she shared what she expected of me. I have so much more to learn and to do, and that will never not be true. She gave me the tools to educate myself and pointed me in the right direction but it will be solely my responsibility to take her advice and guidance to make meaningful change.
First, we have to speak up in the face of racism – even if that face belongs to a beloved older relative, friend or acquaintance. Casual racism, micro-aggressions and slurs are never okay, and cannot be excused by one’s age, experience, or stature. We have to expect better of one another to move the conversation forward.
We have to center the voices of people of color, religious minorities, and other disenfranchised communities in discussions. The new face of feminism can’t be mine. (And yes, I see the irony of this paragraph as I write it. But like I said, I am a work in progress.)
We have to acknowledge when and how often we benefit from an unjust and racially-biased system and how our classically-trained brains highlight European culture over African, aligning with the comfort of white supremacy.
We have to expand our understanding of Black history to more than slavery. That is an important part of American history, one largely misrepresented in our education but there is so much more to Blackness than 400 years of oppression. There is Egypt and the pyramids, there is the birthplace of all humankind in Africa, there are the vast and varied cultures throughout the world. Those stories are critical, too. We also have to be cognizant of the echo effect of slavery through the generations and how much work still needs to be done.
And lastly, we have to live in love. Love for one another. For the differences that make us human. For the similarities that defy categorization. For the sake of the world.
An American Revolution by Thurgood Marshall
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington
Some of My Best Friends are Black by Tanner Colby