Embracing Life as the "Black Friend"
BY: THERY SANON
Being “The Black Friend” has always been kind of a funny idea to me. Growing up, I went to a high school that was close to 60% black. On TV, I used see the one “black friend” interacting with the main characters, and say “there’s no way it’s actually like that.” According to TV, being “the black friend” means that you’re either one of the quieter kids in the background who’s always “droppin’ knowledge”, or you’re that overly loud black kid that adheres to as many stereotypes as possible to remind everyone just how black you really are. The scary thing is, a lot of the “black friends” I have encountered fall on either side, or are a weird mix of both . I never really gave much thought to the subject until I got to college, and honestly, being a “black friend” at a PWI is one of the single weirdest experiences I’ve ever had. Not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it sure changes the way I go about my days as a student of color.
The weirdest thing about being the “black friend” is how much you tend to stick out when hanging out with your friends. My core friend group consists of 7 people; 5 white guys, 1 arab guy who can sometimes pass as white if he shaves-- and then me, the black friend. It’s always interesting whenever we meet up and decide to go do something, because when we’re together, we get a wide variety of looks. I often get “the look” from other black kids. “The look” can be a variety of things; a small sly little smile, a little head shake, or my personal favorite, the “really bruh?” blank stare. All of these looks mean the same thing though: “how did this happen?”
In my opinion, there has always been a weird stigma surrounding the “black friend” and other black people. It’s like because you don’t have many black friends, or hang out with more white people, something just HAS to be wrong with you. I’ve heard everything, from “do you think you’re too good for black people?” to “do you want to be white?” Apparently, being black and having white friends is the biggest mystery of all time. Literally, everyone wants to know why, and you low-key are seen as being in the wrong for doing it. It gets old after awhile.
When you’re the “black friend,” white people also look at you differently. This perspective is similar to the black perspective. Both want to know how these friendships happened, but at the same time, I think being the “black friend” offers up a whole new spin on black-white interaction One major difference is the level of approachability. When I’m in an all-black group of friends, I’m more likely to say “Hi” to someone (who isn’t black) in passing then they would be to me. It’s like there’s an impenetrable wall around my squad and the only thing you can do is walk around it. But get this: when I’m the “black friend” in my group of white friends, these same exact people will say hi and normally end up stopping to start a conversation. It’s like being “the black friend” makes you a million times more approachable. People will see me with my friends and automatically feel more comfortable around me. It’s funny, but sometimes it also really makes me question how other non-POCs really see me on campus. I personally pride myself on being open and very easy to get comfortable with, but who I hang out with should not be a deciding factor in whether or not I’m “approachable.”
You can find a lot of aspects of being the “black friend” that are good and bad, My biggest pet peeve with being the “black friend” is that on some level, I end up as the TV trope that becomes “the voice of black people,” due to the fact that there are no other black characters on the show. I have no problem answering questions about my race, my culture, and my people, but every now and then, the level of ignorance that I have to put up with becomes too much. To all of my “black friends” reading this, we’ve all been there. Every “black friend” finds themselves having to check someone else’s privilege, or actually drop some knowledge on their friend group, knowing that sadly this is the first time they have been exposed to this information.
I’ll never forget the day one of my closest AU friends asked me if racism was real. We were watching a movie with a lot of cultural context, mainly police brutality and racism, and in complete and sincere honesty, she looked me dead in the face and asked me if stuff like this actually happened. The movie was using the actual footage of the Rodney King beating. As I explained how real the situation is, I watched the entire room begin to shift and start to feel uneasy. Being the “black friend” in discussions about race always ends up going down this road. Being open and comfortable with your friends is easy, until one of them wants to start a conversation on race. These conversations typically go one of two ways; you either get the white friend who thinks they understand “the struggle” and tries to talk about “change,” or you get the friend who honestly doesn’t know a single thing about racial issues.
Both of these conversations are frustrating for two different reasons. The first type of conversation is hard. These people tend have great intentions, but just go overboard all the time. These are the kinds of discussions I try to avoid. In my experience, I’ve had this conversation so many times, I have a mini speech prepared. By the time I’m through the “you don’t understand” portion, discussions become arguments. The second conversation isn’t so much frustrating, as it is sad. Being the “black friend,” I’ve gotten to learn how sheltered some people can be. These are people you interact with on a daily basis and consider to be intelligent. It’s shocking how much I’ve ended up having to teach my group of 20-year-old friends about race, and every conversation typically ends with one of them saying “Thery, I may not understand much because I’m a white kid from [insert very white suburb here], but I want you to know that I don’t think of you like that.” I GET IT. PLEASE DON’T RESTATE THE OBVIOUS.
Everyone needs a “black friend”, plain and simple. I have never, at any point, hated being that. . It gives you a unique perspective on things. It’s just as easy to get swept up in the “whiteness” of your friends as it is to get caught up in your own “blackness.” I’ve seen so many “overtly black” black friends turn the “ratchet friend” idea into a reality, and it’s ugly. At the end of the day, it’s what you make of it. There’s a “balance” that develops, and it’s up to you to decide how much of each side you want. You pick your friends, and if they like you for who you are and not who you appear to be, it shouldn’t matter if you’re the “black friend.” If anything, use that to your advantage. Introduce your friends to your culture and make them aware of the issues going on in your community. If they claim to be “woke,” help them actually wake up. If they’re your friends, they won’t mind you correcting them with the right information. Being the “black friend” is lit, and the best way to do it is to just be yourself. Never be afraid of who you are, embrace it, and help everyone around you to embrace it as well.
PS: to all of the “Black Friends” who read this, the whole “white people can’t dance” is too legit. Please help your friends.