5 Rules for White People with Black Friends

Two people coming together to form a heart with their hands

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Originally published on ATL Redline and republished here with the author’s permission. 

Another black man was shot to death by cops in Florida.

This time it was local drummer Corey Jones who was shot and killed by a plainclothes police officer who stopped to “investigate” Jones’s broken down car.

The cop claimed that Jones pulled a gun, but somehow the cop pulled and shot his gun faster than Jones could explain that his car was broken down. I’m sure the cop gave Jones every opportunity to explain himself before shooting him to death.

The cop says Jones had a gun. And since the cop had neither a body camera nor a dashboard camera, the system is going to end up taking the cop’s word for it.

When Jones’s car broke down, he called his friend and bandmate, Mathew Huntsberger. Huntsberger told the Washington Post that he arrived to help Jones, but couldn’t fix his car. After calling roadside assistance, Huntsberger went back home at 2:30 in the morning. Huntsberger was being a good friend by coming out at all.

None of this is Huntsberger’s fault, but if I’m stranded in freaking Florida, I need my white friends to do more. I need them to follow the rules.

My white friends already know them, but as a public service, here is how a white friend needs to help out a black friend so that your boy doesn’t end up as another victim of cop-on-black violence.

Rule #1: Do Not, Ever, Leave Your Black Friend Alone in a Broken Vehicle

When it’s late at night and your car is broken down, white people are afraid of ghosts, or axe murderers, or bears, or some shit.

Black people are worried about the cops. The cops are the most likely thing to hurt a black person in that situation.

Late at night, cops are jumpy, and scared, and authorized by law to shoot black people first and lie about what happened later. The only thing that might stay their trigger finger is a white person.

To a cop’s eye, a white person might be in trouble and in need of assistance. A black person is a freaking target and a threat who matches the description of some BS.

Now, your black friend might not say all of this, because men have pride and dignity and don’t like to feel like they need the aura of protection provided by white privilege.

But if you are a good friend, you will push through that. You will ignore protestations of, “Oh, I’m fine, buddy, you go on home.” Stay with your black friend on the side of the road. You could save a life.

Rule #2: Do Not Ride Dirty with Your Black Friend Behind the Wheel

Getting stopped for driving while black usually doesn’t end with the stop.

It starts with the stop. It ends with the cop (or cops) tossing your car looking for what’s causing the “suspicious smell” in your vehicle.

One time, I got stopped and the cop asked me what the smell was, and I told him I just had my car washed, and then he said that washing my car didn’t get rid of the “smell of drugs.”

And then when I said that he was twisting my words, I ended up outside of my car with his knee in my back while his partner pulled up my seat cushions.

But another time, I got off with just a ticket. And as we drove off, the white girl I was with (who, you know, was probably the reason I got stopped in the first damn place) goes, “That was close, I’ve got all my stuff in my bag.”

She meant her drugs.

I damn near had an aneurysm. That cop would have pulled the weed out of her bag and thrown me in jail while she drove my car home to her father.

If you must bring drugs, do not let the black guy drive. Better yet, have the black guy meet you there in the “clean” car. Better yet, just don’t put your black friends in a position where you are doing drugs because you are putting them at a much greater risk than you are at yourself.

Rule #3: Do Not Make Your Black Friends Trespass

Black people can participate in some low-level “technically criminal but who cares” activities with their white friends, but they must really draw the line at trespass. Trespass is what gets you shot by a rent-a-cop, or just an ordinary citizen armed like paramilitary militia.

The classic example here is: Who gets the ball when it goes into someone’s yard? And the answer needs to be “a white person.”

Don’t ask me to hop a fence and retrieve something. I don’t care if it’s my turn. I don’t care if I drew the short straw.

Once I put my black ass on somebody else’s property, they can – and probably will – shoot me to death. The white kid over the fence gets the “Why is that kid jumping over my fence?” treatment.

The black kid over the fence gets “HOME INVASION, GET THE SHOTGUN, BANG BANG. Now call 9-1-1.”

If somebody in the group has to go into a restricted area for the good of the mixed-race group, that is the white man’s burden.

Rule #4: Do Not Leave Your Black Friend Alone in a Venue Black People Aren’t Supposed to Be At

Look fellas, if I’m going to come to the effing Kenny Chesney concert, you best not leave me out there. I’m going to need a phalanx of white friends around me at all times, so that when Riley Cooper shows up, I’m not alone.

I don’t know that white people appreciate how quickly things can turn from “good times” to “lynch mob” when you are the only black person for miles surrounded by drunk white people. It’s not a good place.

And the security at such a place, they all work for the drunk white people. All it takes is for one white girl to look at me to engender the wrath of her insecure boyfriend, his drunk friends, and the security guard who feels the need to Tase me to calm down the ruckus.

You know how girls all go to the bathroom together so one of them doesn’t get raped while she’s waiting for the group to come back? That’s how it’s got to be when you take your black friend to the NASCAR race, or the ‘Bama game, or, like, Corpus Christie. I’d say that you should hold hands, but that’ll get your ass kicked just as easily.

If your group has peer pressured your black friend to go to some white cultural phenomenon, then you stay as a group the entire time.

Rule #5: Pick Us the Hell Up From Whatever Local Train Station Or Airport We’re At So We Can Visit

Look, your black friend never says, “Get off at 125th street, make a right, walk two blocks, sit in the barber shop for 20 minutes, when Tito rolls by, ask him where I’m at and he’ll tell you which court is hot.”

We don’t expect white people to navigate our neighborhoods, unprotected, for the mere privilege of hanging out with us.

Similarly, don’t have me show up at some backwoods Amtrak stop in Somewheres, Maine, and expect me to figure out the right moose to get on to make it to your log cabin.

The Sheriff doesn’t know me.

Remember, for black people, the statement “You’re not from around here” is not an offer for help. It’s an implicit threat.

Pick your black friends up. It’s courteous and safer for everybody.


If you can’t remember all of these rules, try to understand the overall concept here. Your goal, as the white friend, is to minimize the interaction between your black friend and the racist white people in your town.

Black people can take care of themselves, but by being friends with you, they are putting themselves at risk. More at risk than you are by being friends with them. Honor that by not putting your black friends in situations where screw-ups result in their deaths.

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Elie Mystal is a writer for Above the Law and ATL Redline. Prior to joining Above the Law, Elie wrote about politics and popular culture at City Hall News and the New York Press. Elie received a degree in Government from Harvard University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He was formerly a litigator at Debevoise & Plimpton but quit the legal profession to pursue a career as an online provocateur. He’s written editorials for the New York Daily News and the New York Times, and he has appeared on both MSNBC and Fox News without having to lie about his politics to either news organization. You can follow him on Twitter at @ElieNYC.

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