Except for children brought up in extremely bigoted households, most kids aren’t keenly aware of or remotely concerned with the color of the other kids on the playground. As long as you don’t steal their toys or you can kick, catch, and throw a ball of some sort, the rest usually doesn’t matter. But then we get older.
It’s so funny to me now when I think about the fact that my best friends for the first 13 years of my life were white. My next door neighbor from about the age of 5-10 or so was a Polish girl who was a grade older than me, and whose house I frequented faithfully. If the sun was out, I was at Allison’s house. Eventually I got to know practically all of her family and when her cousins came to visit they might as well have been mine too. When we were little girls there was little that could separate us from spending time with one another.
Being in different grade schools though, naturally Allison and I developed other friendships. Mine was another white girl named Tanya. In my catholic school there weren’t a significant number of black girls but Tanya was a part of the group of transplants that came to my school in second grade when their school closed. Among them was a black girl who has eventually come to be one of my life-long friends, but back then you couldn’t tell me much about anyone but Tanya. We both played volleyball and basketball (well, I was mostly on the bench) and were at each other’s houses nearly every other week, along with a few other white girls from the team. But then high school came. She went in one direction and I went in the other and a Facebook post or two in our twenties has been all the contact we’ve had since.
Ironically, I ended up at the same high school as my old pre-teen best friend Allison and throughout the entire four years we were in school we never spoke to each other once. I can’t even recall sharing a smile of recognition. Every time we’d across each other I remember thinking, does she not recognize me, but in the same token I never took the step to go up to her and ask, “hey, remember me?” It was clear by our teens we were already developing our individual personalities and, naturally, gravitating toward what felt familiar — not people who we’d known all our lives but people whose skin color suggested they might know a little something about what it’s like to live our lives.
And so my progression toward befriending people who looked like me began.
Aside from a few exceptions, like the white people I hung out with from my after school job — one of which was another white girl who became my really good friend for several years — my close circle came to consist of only black people, some of whom I went to grade school with. Everyone else was in some sort of qualified category like my friend from class or my friends at work.
By college, forget it. With so many more people to choose from, and a decent percentage of them being black, that was the lot from which my friends came. It wasn’t as though when I was a kid I was only friends with some of the white kids because of their close proximity, but I’m certain that did play into it some. The common interests are just what made the friendships stick. As I got older, I didn’t make a conscious choice to not befriend white people or to only seek out black folks either. It was just as I came into myself and learned more about social constructs and institutional racism, and experienced some of these things myself, I came to value relationships with individuals who could identify with those things. It also helped if they shared my love for rache’ music, could recommend a salon for me to get my hair done, understood why I wanted to write about black women, and knew what I meant by the Divine Nine — and the icebreakers they threw on weekends (heeeey!). Those things came to define my college experience and people who didn’t know anything about that fell by the wayside, which mostly included white friends and associates.
From time to time I randomly think about the fact that I don’t really have any close white friends anymore and reminisce on the juxtaposition from the time when white girls like Dawn, Heather, Amy, and Allison defined my world to sometimes feeling like a white person trying to prove she’s diverse when I mentally scan through my Rolodex of brown-faced friends and think, oh, wait, I do have one Asian friend. Does that count? But in all honesty, my white BFF-less experience is not something I feel bad about. Like with anything in life, things change as you get older and sometimes when you grow up, you grow apart. Losing some white friends along the way has just been apart of that experience for me thus far.
Have some of the white friends you had growing up naturally fallen by the wayside or do you still have a diverse group of friends? Do you find it difficult to befriend white people now that you’re older?