Before I get started, I need to write a disclaimer: I am very cool with several White people, a list that includes a few guys I play basketball with every week, a few guys I’ve grown to know as an adult, and a few teammates from college. These are all people I like and have spent actual time in person with. An actual “friend,” however is different. Let me put it this way: You’re “friendly” with guys you might have an occasional beer with at the bar. You’re “friends” with the person you call if you’re drunk at the bar and need a ride or designated driver or person to help you fight someone at the bar immediately. These are the people you trust, count on, and even depend on when you need someone.
By this definition, I have no White friends. It hasn’t always been this way, though.
My first White friend was a classmate of mine at East Hills Elementary School. We were both in “gifted” classes. We were both also self-conscious about being like the rest of the “nerds” in the gifted program, so we spent a bit too much time cutting up, eventually bonding over fart jokes, fart sounds, and actual farts. I spent a few weekend afternoons at his house. When I had a slumber party to celebrate my 10th birthday, he was one of the kids there.
By 6th grade, though, we began to grow apart. We ended up at different middle schools — he went to a magnet school in the city; I attended a Catholic school in the suburbs (St. Barts) — and since we didn’t live in the same neighborhood, it became increasingly difficult to stay in touch. I also had a new collection of (mostly White) friends at my new school, and I began to spend more time hanging out with them.
Interestingly enough, although I initially was closer to a few of the White kids at St. Barts, by the time 8th grade rolled around, my best friend at the school was the only other Black kid in my class. (Who, for the record, is still one of my best friends.)
I had absolutely no White friends in high school. It feels odd writing that, mainly because I went to a predominately White high school. And also because I didn’t even consider and recognize the truth of that statement until writing that. But, while I was cool with a few White classmates and each of my White teammates, when the weekends came around and the summers broke out, the people I chose to hang with were always all Black. The guys I’d catch rides to Monroeville Mall with? All Black. The guys I’d hoop with all day at Mellon, The Stein, and Boyce Park? All Black. The guys I’d try to sneak into the seedy highway strip clubs with? All Black. The guys I’d “get on” girls with? All Black. The guys I’d occasionally lie to about the girls I got on? All Black.
College though, was a different animal. I was a basketball player, many of my closest friends on campus were also basketball players, and a few of my closest friends on the team were White. Part of this was undoubtedly due to the inherent insularity of a sports team. You spend so much time together that you can’t help but grow close to a few people. But it was mostly due to us just being compatible and having the same sense of humor. We probably would have been friends in any context.
We stayed cool for a few years after college, and still occasionally stay in touch now. But, this current connection is largely due to Facebook. If it didn’t exist, I doubt these connections still would.
The adult me? Well, my adult friendships fall into two categories: friends from my childhood and organic friendships made through some type of personal or professional connection. I imagine most adults follow a similar dynamic. Unless you’re moving to a new city, we seem to very rarely attempt to make new friends. New friends just happen. You meet someone at a party, you hang out with someone after work, you connect with someone through church, whatever. And as I’ve grown older — and have had more choice about where I work and where I live and what parties I attend and which professional organizations I belong to — my world has gotten progressively more Black, so it makes sense my friendships would reflect my surroundings.
I just haven’t had the opportunity to make new White friends. Actually, let me rephrase that. I have had opportunities. But I haven’t had the will to make something inorganic happen. Considering my lifestyle, to make a White friend today would have to be intentional. I would literally have to tell myself “Ok, Damon. Let’s go out and make us a White friend today.” But I’m lazy, and I have no current need to make any new friends, and this is how I’ve gone from a 10-year-old sharing a bunk bed with a White kid to a 35-year-old who didn’t invite any White people to his wedding.
This is that part of that post-racial utopia that’s rarely discussed. While everything from beer spots to new sitcoms seem to attempt diversify their content by showing friendship dynamics that would naturally reflect our country’s changing racial and cultural demographics, those images — the ones with a mixed-race group of friends all clubbing or watching the game together — hasn’t been my experience. Which is why I wasn’t surprised by the recent Washington Post story about the lack of Black friends the average White person has and the lack of White friends the average Black person has. I also wasn’t bothered by it. We do not need to have a arbitrarily set amount of friends of different races to improve our country’s racial condition. Although they have some overlap, the type of work it takes to treat people with kindness and compassion and the type of work it takes to be someone's friend — especially as an adult — are two different types of work. Doing the first thing is necessary. The second thing? Nice, but not necessary.
I have to admit, I misspoke earlier. I did have some White people at my wedding. One of my cousins is married to a White woman, and my wife invited two of her White friends — both of whom I’m pretty cool with.
I wonder if they consider me to be one of their "Black friends." I don't know how I'd feel about that
How diverse is your friend circle? Is it Sesame Street? All Black everything? Are you the only one who looks like you? Sound off in the comments?