A Reuters poll completed in 2013 and cited by NBC News states that “about 40 percent of white Americans and about 25 percent of non-white Americans are surrounded exclusively by friends of their own race.” The United States still remains very segregated today, and racial prejudice is at the heart of this issue. But how do we break past these barriers to form genuine friendships?
“Being immersed in camp where I was the minority was a major change.”
Allow me to start at the beginning with my first experience with a friend group of girls outside of my race. I am Black, and until I attended a majority White summer camp, I did not have any White friends. I went to a Catholic school on the Southside of Chicago, and there were a couple of White and Latinx kids in my class but not in my friend group.
Being immersed in camp where my sister and I were the minority was a major change. The other campers did and said things we were not familiar with, they had likes and interests we had never heard of. Camp songs, Perler beads, and A Walk to Remember filled our time. I was immersed in a new environment for a full summer, so I had the time and opportunity to get to know many kids who looked different from me and came from different backgrounds.
Fast forward through the other experiences in my life where I found myself as a minority. Right before the Stay at Home order was issued earlier this year, one of my best friends was over for vision board making while listening to music. This friend is White, born and raised in Southern Illinois. We met at a party in undergrad, when we locked eyes and approached each other to applaud our style and outfits. We’ve been best friends since. On this evening of vision board arts and crafts, we listened to many different genres and styles of music. She asked if I minded if we listened to the soundtrack for A Walk to Remember, I laughed and told her that was absolutely fine.
Why knowing people of different races isn’t the same as actually developing friendships
If it weren’t for my parents enrolling me in that camp, it would have been another couple years before I considered myself having friends outside my race. Knowing people of different races and actually developing friendships are different in one major way: when you know people outside your race, you want them to be comfortable around you. When you have friends outside your race, it’s more important that you are comfortable to be your true self around them.
Friends invite each other over, share secrets, and meet each other’s family. If you have questions you ask them; you have hard conversations with them, and you want to get to know their heart. The heart of who you are is similar to the heart of many other people no matter their outer differences.
“But…not everyone grew up with the opportunity to experience friendship with people who don’t look like them.”
That is the excuse. That is not a valid reason why you can’t make new friends who don’t look like you.
In these times where race relations are on everyone’s mind, I would encourage us to feel more confident in reaching out to people of other races and backgrounds. I’m not saying force a friendship with your one Black coworker, but instead find comfort in searching out some similarities and shared experiences. You can find friends in your fitness classes, at your favorite coffee spot, or at events around the city. Working actively toward developing a friendship is the most effective way to succeed. If you passively attempt to make friends, the result will be a collection of acquaintances versus true friends.
After you’ve taken the time to ensure the foundation of the friendship is rooted in shared beliefs, experiences, or other similarities, then it’s important to show up for that friend. Show up when your beliefs aren’t aligning to try and understand both points of view. Show up when their choices and their life doesn’t look like yours. Show up when they need you to speak up on their behalf, behind closed doors, and in private moments. I’ve seen my friends show up big for me by hosting events on my behalf, by sending me money and groceries when I’ve fallen on hard times, and by supporting me without the slightest hint of judgement. I show up for these friends by supporting their decisions, being an ally and advocate, and making the time to continue to develop the friendship.
Why it’s so important to diversify your friend group
It’s important to diversify your friend group because it’s important to develop a familiarization and understanding of other people’s backgrounds. I’m saddened by the recent events in this country because racism is a battle I thought we should’ve won years ago. I’m also hopeful because there seems to be an added motivation in everyone.
5 ways to make friends outside your usual circle
- Visit a gym in a neighborhood you’ve never been to before.
- Host a party with your friends where everyone brings someone who isn’t part of the usual friend group (bonus points if you turn it into a potluck and people share food along with their background and culture).
- Join a volunteer group that works in communities different from your own.
- Immerse yourself in the social scene of a different neighborhood. This could include live shows/theatre, bars/clubs, or other social events.
- Attend a fun class or activity you’ve never done before like sip & paint or a dance class.
It’s time to finally get this equality thing right. If we get to know each other, we can come to respect one another. When a race is being held down or left behind we can all work together to help pick them up. This is not a post racial society but when we all work toward eliminating racism in genuine ways such as developing friendships, we’re another step closer.