Forget Diverse Friends. Learn About Race

In a Reddit Ask Me Anything, our Race Manners columnist advised readers on their tough questions.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

(The Root) — In her fourth Reddit Ask Me Anything, our Race Manners columnist, Jenée Desmond-Harris, opened herself up to more of your burning questions about race. Check out the conversation here.

HannibalHarris: In the wake of a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, which found that 40 percent of white people and 25 percent of nonwhite people have no friends of the opposite race, it occurred to me that even “40 percent” could be a charitable reading of “friendship.” Like, is it possible that white people could or would greatly overstate their relationship with someone of another race so as not to appear racist?

Is there anything wrong, in your eyes, with not having friends of another race or ethnicity? Should people intentionally seek out those kinds of friendships or is it unfair to the people who are being sought?

Jenée Desmond-Harris: If I had the option of assigning every white person in the country a nonwhite “friend” (I agree, that’s a very loose category) or 50 hours of education on the legacy of overt racism and the subtle ways it plays out in all of our lives, I would choose the latter every time. Superficial social relationships are far less valuable than an actual understanding of how race and racism work in this country (combined with a vocabulary for discussing those things).

I don’t think it’s ideal to have a mono-racial group of friends, but it’s far less ideal to have a mono-racial worldview. In fact, I think civil and pleasant cross-racial relationships may cause people to pat themselves on the back just a little too enthusiastically.

I do think people should seek out legitimate, honest, deep friendships with people of other races. If they’re doing that to enhance their lives and increase their sense of perspective and compassion rather than to add color to their list of Facebook friends (or provide cover in case they’re ever accused of racism), that doesn’t strike me as unfair at all.

Brentosclean: How did you feel about the film Fruitvale Station, and what exactly do you think was the purpose of the film being made? I liked the film a lot, but I didn’t quite understand the objective of it. It seems to me that there is a very clear right and wrong with what happened with Oscar Grant, but in my experience discussing the tragedy, everyone clearly understands the right and wrong. Was it targeted to middle America for more exposure on the tragedy? I couldn’t figure it out.

JDH: You say, “In my experience discussing the tragedy, everyone clearly understands the right and wrong.” I’d disagree, just because of some of the comments I’ve heard about the Oscar Grant case and Trayvon Martin’s death, which reveal that some people’s racism makes them absolutely unable to see the loss of a black person’s life as problematic. But those people definitely don’t represent “everyone” (far from it), and they definitely won’t see Fruitvale Station.