When Yseult Polfliet and Hannah Pechter first met, at an event about cross-racial dialogue, they began an important conversation that hasn’t stopped. Now the hosts of the popular podcast The Kinswomen, they have broadened their audience and reach but continue to focus on the gap between white women and women of color and how to effectively navigate difficult conversations surrounding race and allyship. Episodes run the gamut from blackfishing to myths that have been perpetuated over time about Martin Luther King Jr., and the topics are spoken about honestly because of the hosts’ tight-knit bond.
In our latest Cut Chat, Polfliet and Pechter speak with Cut Instagram editor Nana Agyemang about their first encounter and subsequent friendship, how they don’t let white women call themselves allies — “It’s great that you want to be on that journey, but the title comes from the group that feels like you have done that work,” says Yseult — and interracial relationships across the board.
Nana Agyemang: I wanted to touch on the topic of international friendships or, rather, interracial friendships. You are international, too, though!
Yseult Polfliet: Yeah, for sure!
Nana: Should they be treated differently than same-race friendships? And what are some tips for that?
Yseult: We’re actually having an event tomorrow about this, which is interracial relationships and friendships. I’m going to explain from my point of view. I think that as a Black woman who has white friends, I’m very demanding in how you come into my space. It’s like we curate what we want around us. I would say that people don’t realize that we have the power to choose what and who we want in our lives. And so when you are curating, for me, I choose people who are not necessarily like-minded, but at least we have the same base. We understand that the world is complex and we understand that things are not black and white and we can have a conversation, but we … stand on the same ground. I demand that kind of conversation the minute you try to be my friend. And it’s not like grilling and asking a question right away, but it comes naturally. As a Black person and as a Black woman, I do it intentionally because I want to preserve myself from a really awkward moment or situation. So it’s a way of guarding myself and my space, but it’s also a duty that white people have to have towards Black people. It’s usually me initiating these conversations and my friends like going along [with it], but white people should have the same intent — having these conversations and talking about how they feel and how they see the world so you guys know that you can be good friends in all moments. In joy and in difficulties, when you see race and stuff, but also when you see you want to promote cinema that’s really cool that’s from Africa or Asia, and everything else you talk about or do with your friends.
Nana: And what about you, Hannah?
Hannah Pechter: Yeah, I think, like I said earlier, if you have interracial friendships and you’re not talking about race, there’s probably a breakdown of trust there. I think for Yseult and I, we and all the friends that I have that are nonwhite, it’s really on the white person to build trust. I think when I first approached Yseult, she kind of had her guard up and rightfully so, because why should she trust me, you know? I absolutely understand why there is such a lack of trust. I think the trust and the transparency has to be so prioritized in interracial friendships and relationships because, if not, there can be so much harm done on the part of the white person.
Yseult: It’s not genuine. It’s not genuine, because you don’t want to look at the big elephant in the room — because it is a big elephant in the room. You can’t ignore it. We have these questions brought up in our conversations, where people say, “It’s weird. I’ve been friends with someone for years, and we’ve never talked about this.” And it’s like, maybe you have to be the person who initiates that conversation. Maybe this Black person doesn’t feel comfortable with speaking about this because they don’t know where you land and they’re scared of losing a friend because we’re all human.
To hear more about how Polfliet and Pechter feel about sustaining momentum and commitment to the movement, the importance of understanding all the implications of privilege, and ways for white and non-Black people to actively decenter whiteness — “A lot of the times, it requires a total paradigm shift of everything they’ve ever learned,” says Pechter — watch the full video now, both above and on Instagram.