Person A: Can I ask you a question?
Person B: You mean, like, another question? Because you just did.
Most of the time, your friends will allow it. They will basically give you a 2-for-1 because they love you. However, if you belong to a dominant group, there are questions you should not ask of people who experience oppression.
As a cisgender person, you should not ask your trans friends everything you ever wanted to know about gender. If you’re white, you shouldn’t ask your Black or POC friends everything you ever wanted to know about racism. Why? OK. Here are some reasons.
Thing 1: Nobody owes you their personal story for your education. Really.
Thing 2: What is an interesting story for you may be painful for them.
Did you watch the Princess Bride? Inigo and Miracle Max have this conversation:
Inigo Montoya: Are you the Miracle Max who worked for the king all those years?
Miracle Max: The King's stinking son fired me, and thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you're at it, why don't you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it? We're closed.
It’s funny, but also real. Don't ask people to rehearse their hurts for you. It might hurt them again. They might gauge their healing and decide what to tell you from their own personal story; that’s different. It’s a gift. Google it. Take a class. Check out a book from the library. Check YouTube for videos. Google tumblr for critical blogs. The thing is, there are friends for whom being of service by telling their story, by weighing in, is important. If you have a friend like that, they are intending to share. Just don't take it for granted.
Bottom line: Do your own homework.
One of the things you might not notice on your own is that for white people to have a conversation about race may be an important but optional experience. For Black people and people of color, the conversation is a matter of survival. It is not optional. It is never optional. The people who are affected can never opt out.
White people might experience talking about race as uncomfortable, but Black people are very clear that they can be killed for praying in church, wearing a hoodie, or knocking on a door. A speeding ticket can turn into a fatal encounter.
You have other options. Out of care and concern for the compulsory nature of fighting to survive, you can choose other options and rely on other resources. Again, it may be that your friends choose to share with you. Sometimes, I do share specifically about things like racism or disability in hopes that if I do it, others might not have to. But if you don’t have an expectation that your friends educate you, then that is one way to be supportive.
Bottom line: There are so many conversations that your friends experiencing oppression have no choice about. You choose. Choose to have conversations that are about their solidarity and support.
When white people use their white experiences to gauge what is, “normal”, they are in fact, reinforcing white supremacy. Thus, when it comes to doing this work, you have to be intentional about including perspectives other than your own.
One time, as we were discussing this, my friend’s asked her, “What am I supposed to do? Go make friends with people who are different from me on purpose?”
Bottom line: The answer is yes. Your liberation depends on it.