“Are we friends?” That’s a kind of a dangerous question for a boomer white man from the deep south to ask a friend(ly) younger African American woman from Pittsburgh. But that’s just what I asked my friend Pam in this week’s @Manlistening #podcast conversation. It’s kind of dangerous because I wasn’t really sure how she would answer. She and I have known each other for years. We talk frankly about everything from Jesus to sex to White (House) Supremacists to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fact that we can talk candidly with each other doesn’t make us friends.
The “language of the heart” that we share through recovery from addiction gives us a powerful common experience. But as you’ll hear, Pam has come face-to-face with not so subtle racism among people who would call her a close friend. I wanted to know where I stood.
Our conversation was not last week or even last month. It was nine months and a lifetime ago. I didn’t want to air it — even in an edited form — without her hearing every word and giving the OK.
So I spent more than three hours on the phone with Pam over the last week. I did some of the talking but mostly I wanted to hear how she has shifted in the last few months. I got quite an education. I’m privileged in many ways but I feel extremely grateful to have a friend (at least on my part) with a woman who will make time to talk straight to me.
I feel very strongly that this conversation should be made public at this moment. That doesn’t mean I’m “woke” or even waking for much of it. I’m just honestly curious at what is being asked of me as one aging white man in this moment (other than to STFU and LISTEN). That I get. Crystal.
Pam listened. I listened. Her friends listened. I re-listened. She called back. She cut one line. Might have been 30 seconds. She gave the OK to run the rest. But she wanted to add some context, saying: “I’m a different person. As a black women, I’m tired of talking.”
Pam delivered the rest of her message in the conversation itself. She made it clear she’s not a “black savior”. She’s not a “white whisperer”. We’re just two fellow humans having a difficult conversation. That’s rare. And important.