Note to Black Students at Predominantly White Institutions

Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox

You are under no obligation to continue close relationships with white friends who do not understand and/or are unwilling to understand your experience as a student of color on a white campus.

You’re main responsibility is yourself.

Surrounding yourself with supportive people is an act of self-care. Relatedly, closing off toxic people is an act of self-care.

I’ve had numerous conversations with friends, classmates, and coworkers of color who painfully admit to me that the relationships with most of their white friends are tense and unapologetic. They give examples of “friends” using racist language, critiquing their culture and appearance, and calling on them to be the voice of all people of color. They tell me how refreshing it is to discuss issues of race and intersectionality with someone who not only understands from experience, but is willing to listen.

I tell them the same thing I had to tell myself after I graduated high school:

It is ok to dismiss yourself from problematic people.

Specifically, it is ok to dismiss yourself from problematic white people.

This doesn’t mean ignore or mistreat them. Dismissing can mean no longer continuing or pursuing a relationship, spending less one-on-one or personal time, not sharing personal or intimate information, or avoiding certain environments and people that encourage the insensitive behavior these friends perpetuate.

Unfortunately, we higher learning students of color are so used to being the voice of all poc in white classrooms that we have been brainwashed into thinking its our responsibility to always be that voice and educate our white peers.

Two things are wrong with this:

1. It is impossible to be the voice of all poc.

2. We are never obligated to explain ourselves, especially under the pressure to “enlighten”, or better, entertain our white peers.

Millennials are the first generation to have this much information at our finger tips. Narrowed down even further, Millennials attending private universities have even more access to this information. There is no excuse for ignorance.

And there is certainly no excuse for blatantly racist behavior covered by a facade of superior intellect and an anecdote of one time *”having a crush on this really dark, but not like dark-dark black guy” that prevents feelings of guilt or the need to apologize.

*Real words spoken from a real person I once considered a friend.

To all my fellow students of color, do not feel guilty or ashamed of your **blackness. You do not have to silence yourself or make yourself smaller to keep your “friends”.

**Blackness, meaning all that opposes whiteness. Your color, hair, features, language, religion, etc.

Because, and this is the tough love part, you will always be black first.

Regardless of your economic status, sexuality, gender, or all other forms of identity and expression – your blackness is the primary and dominant characteristic. That is what our society was built to do, divide according to blackness. It is the constructed order of things, and until that changes, you must always keep this in mind to protect yourself.

This doesn’t mean you ignore your other identities. You are still the only you there is. And all of your uniqueness, your experiences and feelings and tastes, are all wrapped in a big black bow.

Your presence is a gift, not a right.

This is,



  1. I love you so much for this post.

    I remember struggling to balance my awakening Afrocentrism and white friendships during undergrad, and eventually realizing how absolutely stifling it was to be the ‘token black friend’ when I couldn’t express my black girl frustrations without being dismissed. Every single person of color shares the experience of having a white person in their social circle get a little too comfortable, and spewing out ignorant, misinformed assumptions about people of their race. I used to laugh along, thinking, “Well, they’re talking about *those other folks*, not me,” until I woke up to what a flimsy defense that was. I didn’t want to be the black girl co-signing white folk’s microaggressive remarks, and I’m much more willing to assert myself these days, even if it means hurting their feelings. They’ll deal.

    Again, this post (and your writing) is magic. Thanks so much for writing it.

    1. Thank you so much for the love! And I agree that I struggled the same, mostly before college, and I had the same dismissive logic of any racist remark or any comment that made me feel vulnerable because of my blackness waved off onto other black bodies that weren’t my own. It’s so important just to know that you have the right to feel what you’re feeling and talk about it.

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