Years ago, a woman named Demetria sent me an email. The subject read something like, “The Other Demetria.” I did not know her, but I clicked, solely because she had my name and the narcissist in me figured she must be awesome. Turns out, she was writing to introduce herself because I had her name.
She is also a journalist and blogger, and she wanted me to know that people occasionally confused her work for mine and vice versa. I thought that was hilarious—both the confusion and that there were two writers covering similar terrain, writing for many of the same outlets, with the same, somewhat unusual name; in age, we’re just a year apart.
I looked her up and decided that we were destined to be friends. She is a great writer and she looked almost identical to my childhood best friend. So I went out of my way to meet her in person. Over time, I have learned that she is random (just like me) and more awesome than I could have imagined. We’ve built a great friendship for nearly 10 years based on these simple premises.
So I guess it’s sort of ironic that I would stumble across a Huffington Post essay on the friendships—or lack thereof—between black women on Demetria’s Facebook page. In a hideously titled essay, “The Problem With Black Women,” writer Kim Lute, a black woman, explains why she’s unable to form friendships with other black women, more or less, because she’s so light-skinned and “darker” women can’t deal, but white women can. And no. I’m not making this up.
“I'm frankly ‘Fanny Lou-Hamer [sic] tired’ of the nitpicking among black women,” Lute writes. “Since moving to Atlanta in the millennia [sic], I've befriended mostly white women. Why? The unvarnished truth lies somewhere between my own emotional hangups and the fact that most of the darker black women I’ve met are competitive, strident, pushy and critical of my decisions. As such, it’s been easier to socialize with those women who value my friendship without stipulations and constant backtalk. Thus, my friendships with white women are neat, unfettered and based solely on our likes and dislikes.”
Lute’s entitled to share her personal experiences with black women, however tragic, and she’s further entitled to embrace white women in Atlanta as her soul sisters. Whatever floats her boat. I’d also like to acknowledge that in her essay, she does take some accountability, acknowledging that her fractured relationships with black women could be about many things other than “darker” women’s jealousy of her complexion, including her own relationship with her “darker” sister and her own hangups about “darker” women. (Ya think?) Lute also covers her bases by discussing entrenched colorism, a legacy of slavery, in the black community, which is often missing from popular discussions about this topic. Fine.
And yet I’m still bothered by this essay. Lute deserves to share her story, but it’s another in a long line of narratives that feed into just how allegedly awful black women are to one another. Honestly, in the 20 years between middle school and when cameras rolled for the “reality” show I appeared on, this popular narrative of women’s evilness to other women never rang true in my personal experience.
As I type this, I’m returning from dinner in Los Angeles with a black woman I met in South Africa. I’d arrived in the country just as she was leaving after a holiday of many months. We met at a cookout, which was her goodbye party. After enough red wine and “overserved” conversation, we just “clicked.” Two years later, I do not visit L.A. without seeing her and we pick up like Celie and Nettie, gabbing over cocktails late into the night, catching up on each other’s life.
This weekend, I will connect with another black woman I met while traveling years ago. I haven’t seen her since the initial meeting, since she was living in Asia, but we stayed in touch. I‘ve learned that she likes to museum-hop and chill out in places with cute decor. So do I. We’ll be friends for life. I can say that pretty safely because I vibe with her in about the same way I do with my best friend of more than 20 years (who is black). We met in middle school, and our friendship was built on a mutual desire to get out of the suburbs and move to New York. Everything else was optional.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve left out any description of their complexions, which all vary, because it’s not something I ever think about in determining friendships. Are you cool? Do you get me? Do we have similar likes? Are you funny? These things matter to me.
To be fair to Lute, not all of my friendships have been rosy, but it wasn’t the “black” that was the problem. More likely, there was a clash of personalities, or I realized that I’d misread someone and they were shady and messy, and I no longer wanted to deal with them, or someone felt that way about me. (Like everyone, I certainly have my moments and shortcomings.)
Maybe Lute and I would have clicked. Maybe not. Along the way, I’ve known people who share her perspective and who like to go on (and on) about how many haters are in their lives and how jealous other women are of them. I’ve felt sorry for them, until it became clear that playing the “woe is me” role was some sort of reverse-psychology way of propping themselves up, as if to say, “Look how much I have and how many people want it.”
In short time, the grandstanding and endless conversations about pseudo-martyrdom became obnoxious. Occasionally, I would call that person on his or her ish, but mostly I let people just drift away for the preservation of my sanity.
When considering why she can’t form lasting friendships with black women, maybe Lute’s off-putting behavior is another angle she should consider examining, long before she considers complexion—hers or anyone else’s.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.