Odds Are, You Don't Have A Black Friend (And Why That Matters)

BY VERONICA VARELA

Odds are, you don’t have a black or brown friend. And I’m not talking about a coworker or that kid that sat next to you in undergrad; I’m talking about a ride­-or-­die, we­-do­-life-together, pick-­me-­up-­at-­2am friend. According to a national study, you’re not alone. When listing their ten closest friends, 75% of white people didn’t name a single person that wasn’t white. This isn’t shocking, considering it's human nature to spend time with people like you. As it turns out, people tend to stick to what they know, and white people spend the overwhelming majority of their time with other white people. This isn’t just an observation or an inkling. This is a fact. White people often find themselves in white­-dominated spaces. This isn’t to shame or guilt; this is a call to disrupt. All too often, calls for justice are falling on deaf ears—deaf ears that lack perspective. How are we supposed to understand the experiences of others if we don’t even know the “others?”

Source: Public Religion

Source: Public Religion

Source: Public Religion

The biggest problem with these numbers is that many white Americans are lacking informed perspective from the people calling foul. With the incidents of police brutality piling up by the day, this lack of perspective has become more and more apparent. When there is a 24% gap between how black and white Americans view police treatment of minorities, there is a serious problem. That gap is the problem. It shows that we see things differently, we experience things differently, and if we fail to listen to one another, we aren’t going to be able to understand. If part of our family does not feel like they are being treated fairly, we have an obligation to listen.

We only become more divided if we don’t pause and listen.


When it comes down to it, I believe in the restorative power of community and the healing nature of stories. I believe in friendship. I believe in love. I believe in justice.


The events of this last year have been polarizing to say the least. I’ve lost friends, I have. There were people I thought I knew, but it turns out, I didn’t. There are people who I once trusted, and there are people I thought saw me, but it turns out, they never did. You see, if I am looking you in the eye and telling you that there has been injustice in my life and in the lives of millions, I shouldn’t have to beg you to listen. If someone tells you that they are hurting, you don’t get to tell them, “no.”

Courtesy: Kimberly Johnson

As a person of color and an educator of students from communities much like those of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, my heart has been broken. My heart has been broken, but it has also been set on fire. I don’t believe that this has to be the end of the story for us. I don’t believe that we self ­destruct. I don’t believe that the canyon’s too deep, the chasm’s too wide, and we can’t make it out. Reconciliation can happen, but it’s messy. The work of reconciliation is so dang messy.

When it comes down to it, I believe in the restorative power of community and the healing nature of stories. I believe in friendship. I believe in love. I believe in justice.

So, why does it matter that your friend group lacks diversity? It matters because you’re only getting half the story. When you do life with people who share the same perspective as you, they’re not likely to draw much attention to the perspective of others—especially if those other perspectives challenge your own. Peggy McIntosh, a well­-known writer and speaker in the area of racial identity, compares this problem to asking fish what it’s like to live in the water. Fish breathe in the water. They eat in the water. They sleep in the water. They do life in the water. And, if a fish asks another fish what that experience is like, they would have no way of comparing it to anything else. Life in the water is “normal” for the fish. They have no idea how they may experience life differently than others. It is a privilege to assume that everyone experiences life in the water the same way that they do. The problem, as the analogy points out, is that not everyone is a fish. Ask a bird what it is like to live in the water. I bet their answer will be quite different.


If your media inputs and close circles are not diverse, you are more likely to see these recent events as isolated from a greater system of oppression, but I’m here to tell you that you’re not seeing the full picture.


We’re tired. Those of us who aren’t fish are downright exhausted from constantly trying to navigate a society that continues to value certain identities over others. Even more than that, we’re tired of trying to convince you that what we experience is real—that our pain is valid. We’re tired of trying to explain to members of a dominant group that we don’t experience this world the way they do­, that we have been hurt, and we are tired.

Odds are, if you don’t have a black friend or brown friend, this isn’t on your radar every day. If your media inputs and close circles are not diverse, you are more likely to see these recent events as isolated from a greater system of oppression, but I’m here to tell you that you’re not seeing the full picture. You’re only getting half of the story.

And so, while I continue to cling to the hope that things can be different, I recognize that the process of reconciliation doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes, the work of moving mountains means we must be committed to doing what’s right—One. Stone. At. A. Time. It means we must choose to listen when words come easy, and even when they don’t. It means solidarity with those who suffer, but solidarity only comes if our ears and hearts are listening. I think that’s the first step for you and for me. We have to be willing to listen.