Essay: Actor Brandon Kyle Goodman – ‘What I Want My White Friends to Know’

Image by Daniel Leeds

 

 

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Brandon Kyle Goodman is a black, gay man working in an entertainment industry that feigns knowing how to process such a thing in an equitable way. He has had successes, with recurring television roles in Alive In Denver, Little Italy Los Angeles, and appearing alongside Anne Hathaway in Modern Love. He will also be starring in the upcoming Netflix film Feel The Beat, currently in post-production, and is a writer on the hit animated series Big Mouth.

But his raison d’être, surely, is his activism. He notably advocated for #BlackLivesMatter well before the horrifying, epochal death of George Floyd on May 25 laser focused the world’s attention on America’s glaring racial injustices—as well as on those in power who perpetually inflame those injustices for their own purposes and gain.

On May 27 he posted a poignant video message to his white friends and followers on Instagram; it was viewed more than a million times. He graciously accepted BlackBook‘s invitation to further explicate that message.

 

Feel The Beat

 

What I Want My White Friends to Know

 

I always know another headline is coming. I always know another Black body will be added to a 401-year-old list. And yet, I’m never ready. I’m never prepared. I’m never. I’m never.
Honestly, what I should be doing right now is finding ways to talk about a movie I’m in. That was my original intention when I first sat down to write something; to talk about playing a POC queer character in a family film. But then on Tuesday, May 26th, a week after I celebrated my birthday, I was confronted with a ten-minute video. The type of video it was, I never watch. But on Tuesday, May 26th, 2020, perhaps I felt… “brave”?
I thought that Tuesday was going to be just another day in quarantine. I’m a writer on a popular television comedy series, and with COVID-19 forcing us all to stay at home, our writers’ room takes place over Zoom.
At 12 pm, we broke for lunch. I spent my break, as I usually do, scrolling on my Instagram. After a few flicks of my finger, I started to see a hashtag repeatedly showing up in my feed: #GeorgeFloyd. I toggled to the page of an activist I follow. A blurred-out square with the words “Sensitive Content” displayed across it. The caption read “His name is George Floyd…” I put my phone down. I knew what was behind the blur, and I wasn’t going to watch. I never watch. I never. I never.
At 12:47 pm—I remember the time because I didn’t want to be late returning to my Zoom box—I don’t know what possessed me, but I picked up my phone, leaned back in my chair, and without any further consideration, I pressed play.
Somewhere in Minneapolis, on a hard cement street, a Black man, unarmed and handcuffed, found his neck underneath the knee of a White police officer. The Black man cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe. He pleaded for his breath. He fought for his breath until around minute four of the video. At that point, he had no more breath to fight for. In the remaining minutes of the video, his neck stayed under that knee. Around minute seven when the police officer finally stood up, my own breath began to slow. It became shallow as I watched the lifeless Black body forcibly rolled onto a stretcher and boarded into an emergency vehicle. Tears poured down my face. #GeorgeFloyd.
At 12:58pm, I put my phone down, hustled to the bathroom, splashed water on my face, and returned to my chair. I logged back onto Zoom at 1:00pm. On time.
I work with some of the most emotionally attuned people I know, a lot of whom are White. But it was clear no one had seen the video yet. Perhaps they hadn’t even seen the headline. Should I bring it up? What would I say? What would they say? To be fair, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it anyway. What I actually needed was to say, “I can’t be here right now.” But the war inside of me to be a “good employee” forced those words to the back of my throat where they remained lodged for the rest of our day. We wrapped work at around 3:30. Or maybe it was 4:00? Truthfully, it felt like I sat there in my Zoom box for a week. I smiled at my colleagues, blew a kiss, and closed my computer.
As the day went on, every hour seemed more excruciating than the last. I searched for something to quench the pain. This was a familiar pain, the same deep pain that I had felt weeks before when I learned about Breonna Taylor, and the days before that when I learned about Ahmaud Arbery. I know this pain well. And even though it’s familiar territory, I still haven’t figured out how to… “cope”?
I always know another headline is coming. I always know another Black body will be added to a 401-year-old list. And yet, I’m never ready. I’m never prepared. I’m never. I’m never.
The next day, Wednesday, May 27th, two hours after I wrapped at work, I picked up my phone and recorded a video for my Instagram entitled, “To My White Friends.” In seven minutes and twenty-two seconds I answered the questions “What do I want White people to know?” and “What is my hope?” I thought just a handful of my friends would watch it. But as I sit here writing this, it has received over a million views. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll watch it too.
Thursday, May 28th, less than twelve hours after posting my video, I woke up at four in the morning, panicked and restless, unable to sleep. I quietly got out of bed, trying not to disturb my husband and dog. I snuck into our living room, and as the sun slowly and painfully began to rise, I cried. And I couldn’t stop. I felt myself breaking. Shattering. Like when a building meets the face of a bulldozer and crashes down into itself.
Around 6:01am, attempting to carry on with my usual morning routine, I stood in the kitchen preparing egg whites, lit solely by the light above the oven. I became overwhelmed again. I felt exposed. I felt vulnerable. I felt my ancestors. I thought of Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin. I thought of my deceased grandmother, Reverend Dr. Virginia Goodman. I thought of my mother. I stumbled back into my living room and sat on the edge of my coffee table. My body buckled over, unable to stay upright, getting heavier as I felt the weight of slaves ripped from Africa and brought to America to be raped, beaten, lynched. And then I remembered on Tuesday, May 26th, 2020, at 12:48pm, I had watched another unarmed Black man murdered under the light of the same sun that was now creeping through my window. I thought of George Floyd’s mother.
So. White friend. What I want you to know is, for four hundred and one years in this country, Black people have been crying for our breath. We have been asking you to take your knee of Whiteness off our necks.
We have been pleading for our humanity. But you have not listened. And I mean you. YOU. My reader. Not the overtly racist, bigoted person that you’d like me to defer to. YOU. My friend. My colleague. My neighbor. You have not listened. You see what’s going on, but you do not hear us. You have not listened. If you listened, your outrage would become action. You would gather your White and non-Black peers and mobilize. You would educate yourself. You would read about our experiences written by our great thought leaders. You would admit where you fall short. Where you’ve been complicit. Where you’ve benefited. Where you’ve let racism slide. Where you’ve reacted or responded in ways that are racist. You may be a good person, but racism sits safely in your unconscious. Undetected. Unchecked. Laced in the construction of your words, satiated by the space inside your silence.
Your racism is learned in the two dimensional and vicious characters on your TV shows. Your fear is learned in the way News is curated. Your stereotypes are learned in the conversations you may have been exposed to around the dinner table. Your apathy is learned in the silence you were certainly exposed to in your communities. Your inability and unwillingness to acknowledge and unlearn this racism violently permeates our friendship like poison.
White friend, you have some unlearning to do. That unlearning doesn’t just happen. You must commit. You must put forth effort. Even if it’s “not fun.” Even if it’s “embarrassing.” Even if it’s “uncomfortable.” My life and the lives of those who share my Black skin depend on your unlearning.
It will not be easy, but guess what’s harder? Being the mother, father, brother, sister, or best friend of any of those names you’ve seen a hashtag for. Reposting that hashtag is not enough. You must work to become an ally. Not just in name but in action. Storming your local city hall. Investing your money in Black business. Considering your Black neighbors when you vote. Challenging that “joke” at your Sunday brunch. Posting on social media may be a start, but it’s just that—the beginning. Do more for us.
If not for me, then for my unborn Black children. My Black child will have to face all of the animosity and challenges that your White child has to face, and then, they will also have to face your White child. Will my child be safe in a world with you? Will my child be safe in a world with your child? I want to say yes. But in the words of a friend, “I don’t trust the grace that I give to you and yours will always be given back to me and mines.” Prove me wrong.
White person. White friend. Ask yourself: What piece of your privilege are you committed to acknowledging, using, and sacrificing, to make our country just, equitable, and safe for Black lives?
Your answer to that question is the difference between me living or becoming another hashtag.
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