Am I Your Only Black Friend?

September 6, 2014


I found this Huffington Post article “Study Shows Most White Americans Don’t Have Close Black Friends” and corresponding video to be a thought-provoking discourse about the myriad of factors that play into the mix of our friends and the potential impacts of that mix.

Similar to Hillary Crosley’s experience, ethnicity isn’t ALL my non-Black friends and I talk about every time we get together nor do I speak for all Black people when we do, but I think it is beneficial to be able to offer at least one Black person’s perspective on issues and questions like,”Why are so many Black people SO upset over the Michael Brown shooting?” or, “Did all Black people vote for President Obama?”  If you don’t have any Black friends to have a genuine dialogue about those kinds of topics, you really are left with relying on what you can learn from media accounts in which there innumerable motives at play for how stories get shaped. I’ll reiterate the point that while one Black person can’t speak for all, they can offer a personal perspective. Maybe having ten Black friends instead of just one would be even better as you would effectively have a focus group at that point.

I agree that friendships should happen organically. I wouldn’t recommend making it a New Year’s resolution to find a Black friend, but I guess you could try making it your wish before blowing out the candles on your next birthday cake. I would also strongly caution against chasing down the next Black person you see on the street screaming, “Will you be my friend?” That may not result in the positive outcome you intend. Okay, I guarantee that won’t result in a positive outcome.

I remember driving around my son and one of his White childhood friends, maybe around 4th grade or so, when his friend said something to the effect of, “Black people are the coolest!” I never asked him why he felt that way, but given the conviction with which he said it, I have no doubt he truly believed it. Now he is certainly correct in that I am cool way beyond human comprehension, but I would hope no one would seek me out for the sole purpose of checking the box of having a “cool Black friend.”

David in kurta

Sporting my authentic Indian kurta at the 2013 CVS Health Asian Professional Networking Association Diwali celebration.

Geography and socioeconomics undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping your blend of friends, but as someone who is personally driven by lifelong learning, I proactively attempt to put myself in situations where I have an increased  likelihood of meeting diverse people when I can. It doesn’t always work out that way. I currently live in a neighborhood, town and state that do not have great amounts of ethnic diversity, but I do seek out opportunities like getting involved with a variety of my company’s colleague resource groups. I can now say I am the proud owner of a genuine, custom made kurta made in India that I proudly don every year for Diwali. Is it guaranteed participating in these groups will lead to new, deep, meaningful and true friendships? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly increases the opportunity.

Now if you would  like to be my friend, I’m open to exploring it. Just make sure it’s more meaningful than the self-evident fact I am exceptionally cool.


Tagged: black, cross cultural, cultural comp, cultural incompetence, diversity, emotional intelligence, ethnicity, friends, perceptions, relationships