Monday, September 08, 2008

do *you* have friends of another color?

I'm glad Glamour had this panel (h/t Racialicious.) I've always had friends, close friends, of other ethnic backgrounds and I sincerely believe that most of this stuff about race and difference, privilege and white supremacy, would be addressed in a more thoughtful way if folks actually knew people of another ethnicity.

(Like, KNEW them. Not knew OF them. You know?)

Slightly related, but sort of different, over at Stuff White People Do, Macon D. had a really thought provoking post about all-white spaces and the cultural, historical, social blindnesses that kind of monochromaticity can create.

(Hm. 'Monochromaticity.' Perhaps not a real word. But, like, Lollapalooza. Did anyone else notice how White Lolla was and how nearly all the social pairings/groupings seen were monochromatic?)

In a similar way, I think having friends all of one color is...limiting. It speaks to an insularity that I think is really puzzling.

Anyway, Glamour wants to know and I do, too: Do you have intimate friends (not mere acquaintances) from another ethnic group? If so, what's your story?

(I'll show you mine if you show me yours.)


Orange said...

All right, I'll show you mine.

I grew up in a diverse suburb (mostly white, like me; about 15% black, only a few Asians or Latinos, a handful of mixed families in the neighborhood). My next-door neighbor playmate was black. My best friend in fourth grade was black. My four best friends are the ones I made in high school; one of them is B/W biracial. I rarely see her since she moved to Europe, though.

My husband (and his family) are Asian, so my kid's biracial. My husband and I both notice when a crowd or social setting is largely white. My relatives have almost all married other whites; one cousin has a Costa Rican husband, another has a Latino boyfriend, and one had African-American girlfriends.

About half of the mommy friends I have from my son's school are black or biracial; we socialize a few days a week while the kids play at the playground after school.

Most of my mommy friends from my son's toddler years are Asian, and one is Peruvian. The latter group are closer to acquaintances now, as I only see them a couple times a year.

My son's school is incredibly diverse, so he's friends with kids of all colors and national backgrounds in addition to having relatives who are white and Asian.

ding said...

Thank you, Orange.

I'm biracial so half my family's from the Philippines and my brother in law is Latino. (Which makes my niece and nephew cute little BlackIppinoTino mestizos.)

In elementary school one of my favorite friends was a quiet Jewish girl who had a rad tree house (and her dad looked like Bill Bixby and I lurved him.) And then there was the little Indian girl from the 2nd grade (or was it 3rd?)

In junior high and high school, my closest friends were biracial, Asian and Jewish, as well as a couple other kids who were bused with me.

College, my friend circle was totally non-white (they were the radical years) - my closest friends being Chicana/o.

Grad school, my bestest friends were more of the same: white, South Asian, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, black, Chicano, biracial.

And now? It's funny; my best girl friends are mostly white. My friends of color now live mostly on the two coasts or overseas.

But I remember both these groups coming to my mother's funeral - I remember looking across the gravesite at them - white, asian, black, latino - knowing that someone was going to slip me a strong drink and maybe a valium later on.

Those're friends you can count on, man.

shrinkykitten said...

It's interesting because I reflect on this a lot insofar as it relates to my upbringing and my current status.

I grew up in one of the most diverse cities in the US - truly diverse (not segregated diverse like Chicago). My high school was less than 50% white, and growing up most of my friends were of color. It's just how it was - unremarkable and a fact of life.

I got nostalgic for that recently when I was watching firefly on dvd - the world Joss Whedon sees in the future is so much more multicultural - and looked a lot like my childhood.

In college, I went to a very white university in a very white town - hippy and liberal, but white. I noticed while there my gut reactions based on race were changing in some disturbing ways. For example, I noticed one day that I started expecting asians to not speak english. My beliefs abut race and ethnicity had not changed, but my reactions had. I started noticing race and ethnicity more - and had reactions that had never previously been there. I found it really pretty disturbing.

I chose to come to Chicago to kind of unlearn what I'd learned there - I wanted to be in a big city that was diverse. It's been pretty disheartening to see how racial/ethnic differences play out here, and to see the racism that is so endemic.

ding said...

thank you, shrinky.

thinking about your college experience - do you think other people found themselves experiencing similar changes?

Rona said...

I consider myself to be a white, Jewish, straight, second-generation American, middle-class woman. I grew up in a white, Christian suburb of Pittsburgh. Our closest neighbors, both geographically and emotionally, are black and, since both sets of parents have stayed put, have been a constant presence in my life. All but one of my closest friends growing up, though (and they are among my closest friends still), are white and Catholic. The one exception is Lebanese and Syrian and Christian Orthodox.

The central conflict of my life while I was growing up was religious--not so much because I experienced anti-Semitism from my peers (although I did) but because members of my mother's Catholic family didn't like that she converted to Judaism and were never really comfortable with us. That didn't go away until my grandmother died when I was 21 (and only then because the extended family spent significantly less time together).

My sister's husband is Chicano. They have a daughter they are raising to be bilingual.

I didn't have a diverse group of friends until I went to grad school. My friends there were Asian, white, and latina. We definitely talked about race and ethnicity--but we also talked a lot about sex and food and television and politics . . . . I was acutely aware of race, though, whenever I left Grad School "city" and went to one of the surrounding small towns with them. I remember going to a small town with two Asian friends to hear the Asian husband of a latina friend play in a band. The bar was packed, and there was a moment when we were waiting for the music to start that I looked around and noticed just how white the place was. It struck me in a way it never had before. I turned to my three friends and said, "Do you know that you're the only people in this bar who aren't white?" They said in unison, "Yes." And then one said, "And if we hadn't been able to park under a light, we wouldn't have come in." I still feel embarrassed by how naive (?--I don't know if that's the right word) and blunt I had been, but it struck me--and stays with me--how those people were intimates of mine, and for years, and I still don't know about those daily calculuses they made.

(My friend who's latina had a favorite restaurant in a small town outside Grad School "city," and she and I would go regularly. After dinner, when we were happy on wine and food, we would link arms and walk back to the car. She would always ask me to keep my voice down and say, "Let's not drawn attention to the [her ethnically marked last name] and the [my Jewishly marked last name] walking down the street of Small Town!" For the longest time, I thought she was kidding.)

Some of those friendships remain among my closest, although it's certainly harder now that we've graduated and moved away. In my new home, my inner circle is mostly white, although I do have the first close Jewish friends I've ever had in my life. One of my closest friends here is Filipino. Just the other day he was telling me a story about running in the park and seeing a white-looking father playing soccer with his white-looking son. The ball got away from them and came toward my friend, who threw it back to them. The father yelled, "Gracias, amigo!" When my friend told me the story, he was laughing, but he was clearly pissed. He said he should have kept the ball and yelled, "Gracias, amigo!" I can't let go of the WTFness of the story.

I don't know if and how it figures, but a lot of my closest friends, here and away, are queer. My brother is gay. Of the six of us from high school, three of us are gay. Maybe half of my closest friends where I live now are queer. Last year I got a new colleague who has become my most intimate friend here. He is heterosexual and Jewish and not married--and that is so bizarre to me.

ding said...

In grad school, where I met half of my long term friends, I spent the summer of my first year at Large Midwestern University at, basically, Grad Student of Color Camp.

It gave me a baseline of social connections with people from all over the country (and wow did it open my eyes to all the different types of black folk there are - all our different class identities and allegiances) and, without it, I don't think I would have had such a rich experience in GradCity.

Funny enough, those strong bonds with other students of color (Asian, Chicano/Latino and South Asian) also gave me a bravery to develop good friendships with white people. I don't know how to explain it.

Maybe it was the surprise I felt when I looked around and realized that what I knew as 'blackness' or 'brownness' was more diverse in reality than what I had experienced in Los Angeles that the expansiveness I felt in response to that diversity extended to other relationships. Sure, there was the commonality of purpose or shared work - but that wasn't the only thing to keep those friendships going.

Maybe I'm overthinking it.

Back then, it felt like being back in elementary school, sitting on the carpet in kindergarten and sharing carrot sticks with the boy or girl nearest you because that's just what you do.

Thanks, Rona, for your narrative. I really liked the 'daily calculuses' bit. The equations are so second nature, I am barely conscious of them.