Monday, May 5, 2008

Would you like to be my friend?

When I was a kid, just about everybody was my "friend."

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?


Anonymous said...

I dont really have a beef with who sits at what lunch table. If anything, the notion that by hanging out with me (on YOUR terms of course) that you can somehow accumulate cool points to be traded in for when you wanna trade in on stereotypes isnt the kind of relationship I am looking for.

Young white folk support Obama because he is cautious about the change he is seeking to make.

He isnt seeking revolution...just significant, substantive change.

You can get that without tinkering with the institutional white power structure that these kids benefit from.

THAT is why Rev. Wright isnt welcome at the table.

Rev is speaking on REVOLUTION...thi s aint that kinda party.

Anonymous said...

Well, the racial dynamics of college haven't budged in the 17 years since I matriculated. I feel like I should be surprised, but somehow, I'm not.

Disappointed, maybe. Got about 15 more years until the litle girl is eligible for freshman year and her first dorm experience, though...maybe it'll be better by then. (Sudden silence for several minutes, except for the chirp of crickets.)

Or not.

Anonymous said...

One of my best friends is a man that I disagree with strongly on issues of politics, religion and even racial matters at times. We debate, discuss, disagree and have even tossed a few "fuck yous" at each other over the years. Yet, we know that if one of finds ourselves in some sort of nightmarish situation, dead body, no explanation, incurable disease, whathaveyou, a call from the other would result in complete and total support. Bail, courage to do the right and difficult thing, whatever is needed most.

I'm also wary of who earns the friend tag and while I have many friendly acquaintances I would laugh to hear them call me friend. We used to say "you don't know me well enough to call me bitch" and that about sums it up for me.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure how we go about making new friends, Big Man, but it's starting to get a little funny how many things people expect the Obama campaign to do in this race.
The campaign, or Obama himself, is supposed to be somehow bridging the gap between these students and helping them create friendships? The universities don't have a lot of sucess with that in four years, their parents and schools couldn't do it in the previous 18 years, but the Obama campaign can do it in a couple months? OK - myabe I'm overstating a little. The Obama campaign needs to get Obama elected (hopefully as cleanly as possible). The rest of us big boys and girls can learn how to make friends on our own.

Big Man said...


I respect what you are saying. I never expected Obama to solve all the world's problems.

But, his core message is one of change and reconcilliation. And some of the most popular subscribers to that message are college kids, but that doesn't seem to be changing their daily life patterns.

I thought that if people were willing to support Obama to get elected, they might also be willing to look at some of the other issues in this country. Now I'm wondering Ink is right, and folks are supporting change, but not too much change.

It's kind of like during the Civil Rights era when folks up North and in the Midwest were appalled at black folks getting bombed and attacked by dogs. They thought the South needed to shape up. But, when Negroes started asking for equal admittance to unions, schools and the political power structure in their areas, you saw George Wallace getting a a third of the vote in places like Wisconsin.

So, I still want Obama to get elected, but I want to know how this change is going to happen. I know I have to do my part, and I'm really praying about that, but I expected the young folks to be a little more active too.

Unknown said...

I get it Big Man - I just never had my hopes up that high, I guess. As I see it the message is one of POLITICAL change and reconcilliation. And while some of my white 'friends' might see that as the same thing as personal or racial change you and I know better. He's got kids believing that we can work together, through the political system, for a better nation and we don't have to be friends to do that, just allies. More, he has them actually showing up and paying attention to the process. Can we expect that alone to heal thier hearts? Nope. Can we hope that having faith and working for this one black man will change the way they think about black people in general?
you're gonna make me post on this...

Big Man said...

Your last question was great. But, is hoping for that the right thing to do? On one hand, expecting Obama to change the mantle of black people seems to be embracing a vile double standard. On the other hand, the reality is that "Good Negroes" can sometimes cause folks to look at all black people differently. I may have to post on that myself.

Anonymous said...

Now, on the other hand, McCain is already my friend. He says so in every one of his campaign speeches, so it must be truuuuue.

Truthiz said...

“So, if Obama's message can't get these folks to change, then what can?”

Hmmm…mayhaps I misunderstood you Big Man??? I thought that you thought as I do_Obama is NOT the “savior” of America?!

He is but One man, of mixed heritage, confronting the same humongous and High mountain, that Black-Americans have always faced in this country_racism hatred and bigotry (even the subtle kind) deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of Millions of predominantly white Americans...

...and we can also now add the majority of Latinos to that list. Afterall, most of them identify as "white", even though white-Americans couldn't DISagree more!

But I digress.

As i said before, Obama’s Presidency has the potential to represent only the First step in a million mile march. To see Barack as anything more, at this point, I believe is unfair and unrealistic.

And depending on how things play out in Indiana and North Carolina this evening _that mountain he’s facing may get even harder to climb?!

Big Man said...

My apologies to Truth and WNG.

Clearly if two people who read my blog all the time thought I was anointing Obama as the savior, I did a poor job of expressing my point. My bad, I should have caught that problem. Anyway Truth I responded to WNG in an earlier comment about what I meant by that portion of the post.

Thank you both.

Truthiz said...

Hey, no harm NO foul Big Man!

BTW: looks like we may be in for a split decision this evening with Clinton winning Indiana (not yet sure by what margin?)_and Obama taking North Carolina by what appears to be a sizeable margin.

But the votes are still being tallied as i write this_so we shall see.

Truthiz said...

I forgot to mention....

I do NOT think a split-decision bodes well for Obama because it feeds into the concern that he does NOT have what it takes to win over White women and NON-educated, White, low-income, blue collar workers.

After the Rev. Wright debacle and other mishandlings of important "issues" on Barack's part, I'd say his chances are, at present, slim-to-NONE in terms of winning enough White votes to win in November.

Big Man said...

I'm not going to count Obama out. If he gets the nomination, who knows what may happen.

Let's see what the brother can do.

Ms.M said...

I'm 55 years old. Have lived all over this country but was born and raised in the south where I dared not to drink from the "white" water fountain in front of the court house.

I've gone through the stages of being called, colored to Negro to Black to African American and all the other ugly names in between but due to age, prefer the, Black and I’m proud period so forgive me for not adopting the “AA” speak

Loved Obama's speech during the last Dem convention but after his first few debates was not impressed so it took me awhile to come around to the brother and, his dadadada daffy duck thang drives me crazy.

Don't agree with all of his policies and although intellectually I understood his position, I have a personally beef with him throwing Rev. Wright under the bus …BUT… I truly believe he could be (if given a chance) a hell of a president, and exceptional world leader.

Is America ready? Most days, including the day I proudly cast my vote for him in the NC primary, I say to myself...helllll naaaaw but age and experience has taught me, never to say never.

Obama is betting on the American people, personally I think it’s a suckers bet but I’m betting on Obama so what does that make me?

I think many people have missed the message of “change”. If you want to see change happen, it has to start with you, with me, not with the other person. So who cares what these young White kids think, they are honestly trying to make a difference and I applaud them for that whatever their reasons. If it helps get the brother in the White House, works for me! All we can do is the best we can do then, let go and let God. After that and if the brother makes it, we should be on his arse like white on rice but let’s take one step at a time, ok? Engage people when needed, side step the BS and or call it out when necessary but the goal is to get him to the Oval Office and it’s up to us, (you and me) to make it happen, not the other person.

Gye Greene said...

Big Man,

I came across this while looking for something else, and thought it relevant to this [old] post of yours -- specifically, about whites having black "friends".

“Friendship patterns are instrumental for testing important hypotheses about assimilation processes & group boundaries.

Wedding photos provide an opportunity to directly observe a realistic representation of close interracial friendships & race relations. An analysis of 1,135 wedding party photos & related information shows that whites are especially unlikely to have black friends who are close enough to be in their wedding party.

Adjusting for group size, whites & East & Southeast Asians (hereafter, E/SE Asians) are equally likely to be in each other's weddings, but whites invite blacks to be in their wedding parties only half as much as blacks invite whites, & E/SE Asians invite blacks only one-fifth as much as blacks invite E/SE Asians.

In interracial marriages, both E/SE Asian, & black spouses, in marriages to whites are significantly less likely than their white spouses to have close friendships with members of their spouse's race.” (i.e. Minorities "marrying out" have additional Caucasian friends; but for their Caucasian partner, they're probably the only non-white they're close to?)

(source: Brent Berry. 2006. “Friends for Better or for Worse: Interracial Friendship in the United States as Seen through Wedding Party Photos.” DEMOGRAPHY, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 491-510)

Raving Black Lunatic