Responding to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that found that 40 percent of white people and 25 percent of nonwhites have no friends of another race, Brittney Cooper writes at Salon that it cuts both ways. “All of my close friends are black,” she says, explaining that maintaining white friendships is too much of a struggle.
By the end of junior high school, as adolescent friendships go, Amanda and I had drifted apart, but in an amicable sort of way. We couldn’t giggle about the same kinds of boys since our tastes fell along racial lines, couldn’t trade makeup or hair products, or move through each other’s social circles with ease any longer, because increasingly these things were defined by race. So I decided that I needed black girls for friends, girls who liked the boys I liked, who went to churches sort of like mine, where we didn’t have “youth group” but youth either joined the choir or the usher board, girls whose cultural experiences were and would be closer to my own.
Maintaining integrated friendships past a certain age is more struggle than triumph.
My peer groups in high school did remain mostly white, but with increasing difficulty. I found myself ostracized on the one hand by black classmates who still thought I wanted to be white, and increasingly the target of disdain from my white counterparts, who liked me all right — mostly because as more than one told me, “you aren’t like other black people” — as long as I did not outperform them academically.
My stint on a multiracial, close-knit debate team offered some reprieve, and is the source of my most enduring friendships with white people. But I think now about what it meant that the policy positions I advocated for in debate rounds, often in tandem with my mostly white and Asian teammates, were antithetical to a progressive race politics. For instance, my Taiwanese debate partner and I won our first debate state championship in 1995, advocating for the passage of Proposition 187 in California, a proposal that would have barred undocumented immigrants from receiving education and emergency medical care. My teammates also had a love affair with Ayn Rand’s objectivism. Had I been more cognizant and more confident, I would’ve thought about what it meant for people of color to win rounds advocating for those kinds of positions. What I took to be merely an academic exercise at the time came to be a kind of deep political and ideological training for many of my white counterparts.
Read Brittney Cooper’s entire piece at Salon.
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