From the COVID-19 pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. and all over the world, this is a challenging time.
As a queer Black woman, reports on the murder of Black people by police have been infuriating and exhausting. I am especially aggrieved by the state of the world as my own home–a place I have worked to make comfortable, safe, and peaceful–is plagued by the audacity and fragility of white womanhood.
I made the mistake of telling my white friend about my new place, and it was not long before she asked to stay in the spare room during her summer break. I should have known better, but I agreed. I had previously spent eight months in a spare room and had taken major risks to secure my own space, yet this white woman expected to be accommodated.
I have come to question the value of friendship with white women because I've experienced them as displaying a complete lack of regard for boundaries and personal space. White women live in a world that was built to protect them and their feelings. They have the privilege of being portrayed as innocent and well-meaning, while Black women and other people of color are forced to accommodate them or be punished for failing to prioritize white women's feelings over our own needs. We are called to overanalyze our actions through the lens of whiteness while, for them, self-reflection is not a requirement and self-moderation is seen as an outright violation of their right to exist.
This is how my sanctuary has become a personal hell.
The COVID-19 crisis started just days before her arrival. I reminded her that my mother is immunocompromised and sometimes comes over for respite. She said, "I'll quarantine in my room and wipe down whatever I touch." I suggested she bring disinfectant spray and wipes to use. She followed the quarantine guidelines for two days. I had to avoid contact with my mother and limit myself to my bedroom because this woman felt quite comfortable putting me at risk and directly impacting my ability to care for my mother.
She's repeatedly said that she'd do what it takes to make things work, then failed to follow through, offering only apologies and an endless stream of "What can I do better?" and, "Is there anything I can do to help?" It always seems to become the Black woman's job to teach and train–to mother other adults.
As a public-facing advocate for women's and LGBT+ rights who regularly receives rape and death threats, I have security concerns. I clearly stated that the doors must always be closed and locked. On more than one occasion, I've found doors unlocked. She has taken it upon herself to remove a trellis from her bedroom window which serves as a deterrent to burglars and as hurricane preparation. There was no discussion. She did not ask for permission. She took it down and left the house–and me–vulnerable. When I raised the issue, she seemed shocked. "Oh, I'll put it back up right away! Sorry!" She had not even thought about why the trellis was up. She has lived a life that's led her to believe that she can do whatever she wants without question or consequence.
She has brought a dog into my house, knowing I am adamantly against animals inside. I told her to keep it out of common areas. The dog has walked right up to my plate, leading me to dump my breakfast. All I got, of course, was, "Sorry about that, I'll keep her on a leash." The leash went away within weeks. I soon regularly heard the dog dashing for the door to go outside whenever she lets it out of her room. I've constantly been put in positions where I have to repeat myself, give inane explanations, or suffer.
Violations of clearly stated personal boundaries have only been matched by financial burdens. We consistently run out of high-speed internet due to her binge-watching, and the electricity bill has increased by 150%. She texted, "I can't think of anything I've done to make it so high. I'll try to do better. Sorry!" Even after discussion, I've found lights and fans left on for extended periods of time without reason. She has taken items I purchased and kept them for personal use. They simply go away, never to return unless I specifically say, "Where is the Pyrex dish?" She believes everything is available to her–or even for her.
I've found myself cleaning up to four times per week, being startled awake by doors opening and closing, and being interrupted when working at the dining table with headphones on. I've stopped using the common spaces except for quickly preparing meals so I won't be forced to talk, because kindness and civility have been weaponized against me.
In my complaints about these circumstances, a friend warned me to be very careful about how I handle them. She affirmed my feelings and my need to change the situation, but reminded me that I did not need this white woman to poison people against me. We live on a small island—21x7 miles—and, while it is majority Black, white people hold a lot of wealth and power. Her tears could cause people to refuse to work with me or support my nonprofit organization, leaving me in an ocean of regret. This is how white women wield power. Racism empowers them to corner Black women so that we must relent, forcing us to choose between sacrificing will or reputation.
I thought setting boundaries and expectations was enough. This was my friend. She knew I was doing her a huge favor. Surely she would stick to the cleaning schedule, contain any noise to her own room, and stay out of my way. "I'll do whatever I can to make it work," she had assured me. Instead, I've been exhausted by constant cleaning and speaking into a void. As with a small child, I wanted to correct the behaviors, but I did not want to deal with the fragility of a barely-formed human.
I have chosen to reject the expectations of well-behaved Black women. I choose not to be more concerned about white people's impression of me than I am about protecting my mental health by recreating the space I need as a queer Black woman and full time advocate. My home needs to be my sanctuary again. My friend doesn't have to come to terms with her whiteness and the way she shows up in the world or in relationships with Black people, but she does have to leave my home. I have enough to deal with in the outside world. At home, I need to be free.