Dear Black Girl Who Attended a PWI: This Is Why I Need Both Black and White Friends to Thrive
A few nights ago, I found myself reflecting on my friendships during a FaceTime call with a close friend:
“I don’t know, it’s just so weird. Most of my friends from childhood are White and most of my friends from college are Black. But I couldn’t imagine life without either group because they cater to different parts of my identity that I need,” I told her candidly.
It’s a privilege to say that some of my closest friends from childhood are still my girls for life. Attending all-girls school together for most of our life is what sealed the deal. Starting from elementary school, we ate together at lunch religiously and we had frequent sleepovers where we stayed up all night in our sleeping bags laid in a circle on our parents’ living room floor sharing “secrets” throughout the night. We made it a point to be front and center during sports games and dance recitals and celebrated each and every birthday like it was the last — with cards, baked goods, and Facebook posts decked out with kind words and throwback photos. As we got older, this established bond became more pertinent: we didn’t just like to hang out, we needed each other. We defended each other in front of bullies and popular girls, we counseled each other through every crush and heartbreak, and we felt the magic of our bond. And although we had our fights, as the one of the only Black girls in the squad, I can truly say that I’ve never felt tokenized, I’ve never felt overlooked, and I’ve never felt that different, with this group. I was wanted and I belonged. Because our roots grew together as one, from Day 1, there was never a question.
When I moved onto college, however, and started my tenure at a another PWI, I gravitated towards people who looked like me: mainly Black women, as well as other women of color. I’m not sure why, but it felt necessary, and it felt natural. With my Black friends, I went through the same motions that built our friendships as I had at my PWI lower, middle, and high school — but it was different. Through dorm room hangouts, study sessions, campus activities, and parties they showed me how richly diverse the cultures of the African Diaspora are and they made me more confident in my body, knowledge, and individuality. I no longer just accepted inequality or injustice towards my Black body and mind, but instead I challenged it. On all fronts. Sitting with my Black friends in the dining hall or walking with them into a party made me feel powerful and made me feel seen for who I am. The conversations we would have about our shared experiences as Black at the institution, and in other environments, tapped traumatic or difficult racial and gendered experiences that I forgot I had and made me understand them in a new light. It was healing. Granted, race and gender was not all we talked about, but being around these women made me walk into class with a different sense of importance and urgency, and made me more intentional with how I expended my energy.
So coming home for breaks were…confusing, sometimes, if we’re being honest. The power that I felt with my Black friends was suddenly reduced and instead replaced with a sense of kindred bond that sometimes didn’t feel as passionate. My conversations with my White friends reminisced on our past experiences, our families, our immediate future, and centered around just hanging out. While, I, never one to bite my tongue, would lecture my friends on critical race theory and quickly point out how our college experiences were different on the basis of their White privilege just because I had knowledge that I wanted to give, we mostly did what we were used to and there were no hot racial or political debates or heavy feeling of racial empowerment on my end — but this was okay, even if different from what I was used to with college friends, because they supported (and still support) so many other aspects of my identity that I would be lost without.
Now, especially in an era where it can be harder and harder to connect with friends (regardless of race) in general, I realize that I’m so blessed that I have these two types of friend groups. Because the reality is — without my White friends that I grew up with, I wouldn’t have an initial sense of love or care for others who don’t look like or identify as me. Without having practiced so many values and social skills through my friendship with them, I wouldn’t be me — someone who describes themselves as a person who’s life goal is to connect with and understand others (duh, that’s why I studied cognitive science and psychology!). But I unwaveringly recognize that I also wouldn’t be me without my Black women friends who time after time told me that being a Black girl is always and will always be enough. They showed me through words and actions, in spaces that were never meant for us, to make a big splash anyways. This made college liberating and fueled my education in order to take this first big step into adulthood.
Without either group — my White friends from childhood or my Black friends from college — I wouldn’t be me. They have both contributed so much to who I am in their own way. I am so grateful to have friends who support me regardless of my identity, because it is such a blessing to feel loved in so many ways and in ways that touch different parts of my wholistic identity. And what is even more is that I am unbelievably grateful to have friends who amplify my voice in the fight for racial justice and take it upon themselves to be better allies, better friends, better humans. You know who you are.
To this day, my dad puts it perfectly by explaining that diversity of ideas, experiences, people, places, languages, and so many more categories is truly what makes the world go round. Without that diversity, life is, well, completely boring. Homogeneity whether it be race, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, or religion yields no learning, no excitement, or no substantial good. We need other people and we need what they bring with them.
So in reference to one of my best friends (who happens to be White) coming to our house to hang out by the pool one sunny summer afternoon, my dad referenced his “diversity philosophy” and stated to her: “my life is much richer having you with us. Knowing that you two are friends.”
And I agree. Although I have just outlined one way in which my life is so much richer by being able to connect to friends specifically from different races, I truly strive to embody this notion by inviting and including people of all backgrounds into my life. So the takeaway: Let’s continue to be loved and express love from endless sources. You have something to offer to someone else with your very existence because its different from theirs. Never conform, only celebrate. The more we connect, the better we feel.