The kids down the street I played basketball with were my friends. So were the kids at school that shared recess with me. Any and every child I encountered quickly became my "friend," as long as they were willing to share their toys and their time. Hell, I even considered the bully I regularly scrapped with my friend most of the time.
One day, while talking to my mother, I went on and on about all my friends and how popular I was everywhere. You know, some of that random boasting all of us loved to engage in as children to stroke our egos and inflate our importance in the world.
My mom looked at me calmly, and says "What are your friends' last names?" I stammered that I didn't know, but brushed that off as unimportant. Once again she gave me that special look that all mothers have and spat out a pearl of motherly wisdom; "You don't have friends, you have associates."
That was one of my introductions to adulthood. One of those moments where your parents pull back the veil and show you that in the land of bills and jobs, life is much different. I took my Mom's words to heart, and from that day on I became much more cautious about labeling someone a "friend." I didn't always call them my associate, but I found some way to make it clear that they hadn't yet obtained friend status.
To this day, I have very few friends. For years, my younger brother was the only person I considered a friend. My circle expanded a little in high school and a little more in college, but I've always been a solitary kind of guy. Friendship is sacred to me; to call someone my "friend" means I have vetted them, and decided they deserve to see the real me. More importantly, I've decided to care about their livelihood, to take on the responsibility of being there for them in their time of need.
One of the drawbacks of Barack Obama's presidential campaign is that it might have created a false feeling of friendship among his supporters. Sure, all of us are committed to Obama's cause, but we arrived here from different places with different agendas and experiences. And while we've all committed to pulling that lever for him in November, that doesn't mean the boundaries that have kept us separated all these years have been torn down. The Wall Street Journal takes on that topic in an article here.
The article discusses how mainstream university campuses, which have been overwhelmingly supportive of Barack Obama, still remain the bastions of segregation that they have always been. Not segregation in the Bull Connor sense but more in the 'Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria' way.
Check out this passage
But working or voting for an African-American running for president doesn't necessarily bridge differences -- on campus or, later, in the workplace. Following a recent discussion in one of his classes about the campaign, in which most students expressed support for Sen. Obama, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a Duke sociologist, asked his white students how many had a black friend on campus. All the white students raised their hands.
He then asked the black students how many of them had a white friend on campus. None of them raised their hands.
The more he probed, Mr. Bonilla-Silva says, the more he realized that the definition of friendship was different. The white students considered a black a "friend" if they played basketball with him or shared a class. "It was more of an acquaintance," recalls Mr. Bonilla-Silva.
Black students, by contrast, defined a friend as someone they would invite to their home for dinner. By that measure, none of the students had friends from the opposite race. Mr. Bonilla-Silva says when white college students were asked in a series of 1998 surveys about the five people with whom they interacted most on a daily basis, about 68% said none of them were black. When asked if they had invited a black person to lunch or dinner recently, about 68% said "no." He says his own research and more recent studies show similar results.
It's hilarious to me that white folks used the most inclusive definition possible when asked if they had a black friend, while black people kind of peered stonily into the distance when asked the same question.
I mean, if all the white kids have black friends, but none of the black kids have white friends, well that's a pretty effed up relationship. It's kind of like in high school when you're running around telling everybody that the hot girl you were making out with at the last dance is really your girlfriend, and she's telling everybody that her evil twin from Arkansas is in town. (Wait, that only happened to me?)
Truthfully, it's not a surprise that white folks are a bit more generous than black folks when it comes to describing the state of their interracial relationships. Even at the height of racial strife during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement, white folks had a rosy outlook on interaction between the races that not even lynchings or church bombings could destroy.
I guess it's also not so surprising that supporting Obama isn't some sort of racial elixir that cures self-segregation and stereotyping. Despite the progress provoked by Obama's candidacy, he hasn't really challenged the status quo in regards to race except for the massive change his desire for acceptance as a viable candidate represents. His speech on race was amazing, but because of the circumstances under which he delivered it, much of its content became lost in the news cycle.
However, I cannot deny that I was still a little disappointed to see how little real change Obama has created among a population like college students who are willing to try just about anything. While I know that colleges can be hotbeds of racial insensitivity (all those blackface incidents last year proved that), I also know that college is typically the time in your life when you stretch yourself as a person. At least that's how it was for me.
So, if Obama's message can't get these folks to change, then what can? How are we going to clear the hurdles that so clearly exist? How can we counteract the forces working so diligently to keep us apart?
How are we finally going to make some new friends?