White frenemy

According to Her

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

Content warning: this article discusses racism and includes the use of racial slurs.

Let’s call him Tony. He called me a close friend. He was older, almost 40. Gay, so his attentions were a prize I had not obtained merely by my sex or by my wide-open youth. But he complimented me.

“You’re so skinny!” he said. “If I had your body, I would wear the skimpiest things.”

He was my shortcut to a social life. He took me to parties I would have never been invited to. I would stick out like a sore thumb, midriff bare, skirt riding up as I danced.

One night, as we shared a taxi, talking about a TV show, he interrupted me.

“Representation is bullshit. You can’t just shoehorn Black people into a show just to be woke.”

I said nothing. I’d had this debate before with people my age, and it was an interesting one. But this time, I stayed silent. Something held me back from digging further.

He was a witty, old-fashioned uncle who pointed out the men he thought I should sleep with at parties. He’d been openly gay years before corporate-sponsored Pride parades.

Once, I said to him over the phone, “Where are you, nigga?”

He parroted the words back. I laughed. It was my first instinct, so absurd as it was to hear that word from his mouth. He was harmless, coveting what I had, the years stretching out ahead of me to do anything, to be anything. Sometimes I looked at him and thought, privately, from a dark place high above, I will never end up like you.

Then he said it again, in open company. A funny story about how I had woken him with my phone call. Later, a Nigerian friend would say that he was goading me, testing my limits. And I bent, I stretched my mouth into a smile. More than once, it pains me to say.

Finally, still drunk at 9 a.m., he hissed at me, “Why do you bring all these fucking refugees here?”

My Iranian boyfriend was silent in a corner as I laughed with Tony. I shrank back from his red, sneering face and stumbled out of his apartment. Then I began to avoid Tony.

“You’re talking shit about me,” he texted. “Spreading rumours.”

Without him, I knew no one in that circle. The parties had dried up, and now he wanted to scare me, without even an apology.

Forget you, Tony.

Months later, when I told my brother, he sat back and said, “Damn. You were a sellout.”

“He was older than you,” my Nigerian friend said. “He knew what he was doing. He put you in that position. He was being selfish.”

“Tony is racist,” I said to a white acquaintance I had met through him. The words came out like a spring of acid vomit.

He did not look at me. “Well, Tony is many things.”

So many things, as I look at my reflection, as I turn away.

Ciku Gitonga is a fourth-year minor in creative writing at the University of Ottawa. She is not looking forward to her entrance into the “real world.”

Published in Volume 77, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 8, 2022)

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