This Christmas I will not be speaking to my friend of 16 years. Why??? Well after years of reading his Facebook posts I slowly and painfully discovered that my white friend was a racist. Initially I tried to ignore it but as an African American man I could no longer stomach his increasingly toxic, race fueled comments that were initially veiled as just boisterous, conservative rhetoric. After debating him online for years over politics, race and social topics I finally had an epiphany. I could no longer excuse “Adam” by brushing him off as being a hyper-conservative republican. His truth was undeniable.
However, I chose not to confront Adam about it, instead I quietly un-friended him on Facebook. Weeks later he confronted me and unloaded a barrage of online insults accusing me of being the actual racist and a “radical” for calling out discrimination, something I’ve aggressively done for years on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and on my personal blog/website.
Initially I blamed Facebook and the bold frontier of social media, a place where like-minded individuals are able to find strength in numbers in pack like mentality as the source of Adam’s racism. But after deeper reflection I believe it is the rising public influence of social media combined with an unconscious internal racial/class angst within Adam and many other white Americans that has now spewed to the surface with the election and re-election of the nation’s first Black President, Barack Obama.
Adam and I are about two years or so apart in age, both from the state of Alabama, both attended The University of Alabama although we didn’t know each other in college. Four years later we bumped into each other in Atlanta where we both worked for the same company. We vaguely recognized each other, discovered our mutual roots, college friends and quickly bonded as friends ourselves. Oddly, our racial differences didn’t seem to matter especially since we both hailed from a state richly steeped in a tradition of hatred, slavery, Jim Crow segregation and racial discrimination.
Our twenties quickly turned into our thirties as we both chased our careers crisscrossing the nation with eight moves and five cities between us but we always stayed in touch. I remember once when I was going through financial challenges in Los Angeles, Adam gave me a financial gift to keep me going. So we weren’t just causal buddies, we were genuine friends.
The Change Began in 2008
We weren’t just men hiding behind computer screens and mouse pads. We were real life friends who shared secrets, hosted each other in our homes, supported, advised and even prayed for one another. Now we were at odds with each other via social media and it was about to get much worse.
As the great recession lingered, Adam became unemployed for a long time and felt significant angst about his place in the world and ability to sustain himself. He increasingly blamed Pres. Obama for not fixing the economy fast enough. Meanwhile I was forced to completely abandon my media consulting small business in order to run back to a corporate 9-5 job when my client base dried up.
But instead of blaming Pres. Obama I blamed his predecessor Pres. George W. Bush along with the Republican led filibustering within the US Senate which blocked crucial jobs bills which would have grown the economy faster. So our initial online clashes were over who really was to blame for our forced and dramatic career changes and life shifting situations.
By 2012 Adam was unabashedly lifting talking points from far right leaning FOX News network and spewing them across his Facebook feed without an ounce of criticism towards his own Republican party for its constant obstructionism, filibustering of key legislation and judicial nominations along with its gerrymandering of voting districts to seize control of the House of Representatives. He never addressed the conservative led 36 state Voter-ID “suppression” efforts which sought to reduce early voting, the number of hours to vote, plus stopped voter registration drives and blocked students at private historically black colleges and other universities from voting in the states where they attended school.
We soon became caricatures or perhaps archetypes of Facebook. He was now a reliably grouchy Republican poster child stating how he wanted his country as he posted a picture of how red America’s voting districts really were but how we have a Democratic President and controlled Senate. And I would fly in on his Facebook posts like a true blue Liberal Superman countering that much of the red on his voting map represented land based districts and NOT people filled districts not to mention the epic 2010 republican gerrymandered districts on federal and state levels.
He soon started to attack immigrants and specifically Latinos when he posted how it felt being a white minority living in certain parts of Los Angeles and seeking out other white people. But then it really got ugly!!
In another post he tried to bash current day immigrants stating how his family migrated to America several generations ago and became productive citizens and that he demanded better from others in “my” country today.
I angrily countered that my family had been in this country far longer than his since my descendants came on the slave ship Clotilde which docked in Mobile, AL in 1859. I informed him that Blacks have been in America since the 1600s in Jamestown, VA as slaves and that America really wasn’t “his” country but that he and his family were the true immigrants in America.
In another Facebook rant Adam went after the poor chastising them for having too many children and for being on welfare, forgetting that he too was unemployed for a very long time and needed assistance. He also went after a women’s right-to-choose and gays with same-sex marriage stating there were far more important issues to tackle.
True to red-state formation, Adam embraced only fiscal issues, rejected social justice topics and the hyphenation of America and instead longed for an era in which white straight men ruled America; an era which Adam never lived however generations later he unknowingly reaped the benefits of it through his white privilege.
Similarly I never lived in an era where blacks were captive to slavery and segregationist Jim Crow laws but I still felt the disadvantages and hurdles growing up and becoming an African American man trying to understand why it seemed so much harder for me to succeed even though I tried, worked and networked three times harder as my white counterparts both in business and within the workplace.
Adam and I both felt internal angst about America and achieving the American dream but in two very different directions. While Adam’s angst and path is often sympathized, even lauded at times, my angst and path is often discounted, demonized and scoffed as being simply excuses.
Were we really ever friends???
Adam and I represent a microcosm of American society and its growing chasm and obsession with race and class. It’s a battle between a dying demographic (white conservatives) versus a young, growing, dynamic, multi-ethnic, multi-racial demographic which when combined with women, gays, elderly and the poor are finally having their issues and voices heard and addressed.
There’s a belief by the former group that somehow they are losing something when other groups gain their rights or have their grievances addressed. They fear they might be retaliated against once all avenues of politics, business and social dealings are no longer brokered by themselves. It is a fear I believe is striking at the center of Adam’s heart.
Today neither one of us is swayed by the other’s arguments and we
exist as polar opposites in the world. So is our 16 year friendship
worth saving? The answer for me this Christmas is I’m not so sure.