Posts tagged friendship
The Black Friend

"So can we talk about {insert current racial event}? You know you're my only black friend," she exclaimed, tossing her curly brown hair over her shoulder as she laughed.

And I used to join in. I used to laugh right along with statements like these because I thought they were saying something about me. I thought it indicated I was doing a great job at this racial reconciliation thing. I thought it meant others considered me to be a safe person. I thought it meant my perspective, thoughts, and opinions were valued on hot topics. So I laughed. At this and all the variations:

"I'm so glad to have a black friend." "What would I do if you weren't here to explain this to me?" "Thank you for being my one black friend." "You're going to be the diversity in the pictures."  Statements like these are (almost) always made sarcastically, and yet its usually true. Since I appreciate a bit of sarcasm, statements like these made me smile, roll my eyes and move on.

But I have been at this long enough to have made a decision. I don't want to be your one black friend (OBF). At some point I realized that being your OBF says a lot more about you than it does about me. It usually indicates a certain level of cultural immaturity that doesn't run deep enough for us to develop an equal friendship. Here is how it often feels to be the OBF:  

Its an extraordinarily taxing relationship. There will be many occasions when I'm expected to explain blackness… answer questions, talk about current events, teach history, etc. rather than experiencing and enjoying blackness. 

2. It usually indicates that you believe a relationship with me will teach you everything about black people. I cannot speak for all black people. My experiences in life are not representative of all black people. Looking to me to bridge you and a community containing millions of people is a recipe for disaster for our relationship. In this scenario I am not really an individual in your eyes, with personal thoughts, feelings, opinions, background and baggage. I am just a representative for all black folks. Thats not healthy.

3. It indicates a limit of how cross-cultural you really want your life to be. I cannot be your token into a progressive lifestyle. If you have an OBF, you have work to do. Most people of color (though I realize not all) have friends who are also people of color. To become friends with one, could easily lead to becoming friends with others. But comfort with referring to me as the OBF of your wedding, housewarming, baby shower, small group, or you know, life denotes a certain amount of control. Surely if you met my girlfriends, you'd fall in love with them, too, but you might have to be willing to be the OWF (only white friend) at the dinner table, wedding, shower, small group, etc!   

Once upon a time, I thought it was laughable to be the OBF. Now I realize its actually a red flag. It tells me that our relationship needs to move slowly. Sometimes I am the OBF because you're new to the area or just changed churches. There is some grace and understanding here. But if this continues to be the case year after year, don't be surprised if your OBF is not referring to you as friend, but rather an acquaintance. A friendship might just be too dangerous.  


Pause for Celebration

Every now and then I realize that as much as I teach, train, and quite frankly bemoan how far we have yet to go in racial justice (let alone racial reconciliation), sometimes my pendulum swings a little far. Doing this work comes with great sacrifice, and those sacrifices are easy to name. In fact they must be named for the sake of our health. There are so many wounds that must be healed, confessions that must be released, disappointments that must be swallowed, hope that must be found. I think I do a disservice to this work when I am not honest about what it takes, what it risks, what it means. And yet. 

And yet, there are so many reasons why I find this work incredibly fulfilling.

I have some of the most amazing cross-cultural relationships a girl could ask for in this world. I have friends who come alongside me when I am hurt and wounded and tired and overwhelmed. I have friends who know intimately the experiences I describe, who give voice like prose and poetry when they say, "I understand." They validate my experiences with their own scars and let me rest in their arms. I have friends who get angry before I've even realized I've been cut. Friends who cut off the crazy at the pass when I am too tired to respond. Friends who let me take a break, not because they love me, but because they are just as passionate as I am- if I left this earth, their work would continue. Friends who use their power, their influence, their voice. Friends who would let me sleep on their couch. I have friends who make space for my own learning, growth, mistakes. I have friends with whom I don't have to hide. Don't have to leave half myself at the door. They would never allow it. If I actively tried not to talk about how it feels to colored today, the door would be locked until I talked. If I tried to avoid talking about my womanhood, they would bribe me with chocolate shakes or french fries or cheesecake until I said whats on my heart. I have friends with whom I don't have to hide or edit or sugarcoat anything.  

And I have experienced the most incredible worship. Sometimes it is hundreds of people singing in Mandarin and Spanish and English. Sometimes it is 5 women sitting in a circle giving voice to our diversity, our stories, our experience of America, of Christianity. Sometimes it is hearing the voices of "every nation and every tongue" rise in spontaneous prayer across a sanctuary. Sometimes it is one voice in Spanish, my own in English but united in the Spirit. Sometimes it is coffee dates and more cheesecake as I seek to grow in my own understanding of the experiences of other minorities. It is the grace that I receive when I am completely ignorant. It is the trust we share. 

And I have been on the front lines with the most incredible people. I have learned at their feet. Internalized their passions. Been inspired by their lives. Been challenged by their words. I have been protected in their communities, welcomed by their families, considered life-long friends. I have learned about history, given a new appreciation for politics, connected the dots around similar issues. My life has been impacted by kids and adults, students and teachers, lawyers and the incarcerated, social service workers and those experiencing homelessness, kids in foster care and directors of group homes, the hungry and the wealthy- my world is better because of them all. City or suburbs, even the rural appalachian mountains have widen my lens of my concept of justice. 

This work comes at a cost, but I experience life fully. I am not immune to pain but I appreciate healing- I display my scars proudly. I earned them. The disappointments come, but so does change- small wins, over time- lives changed. I have experienced great joy in this work. I have watched women find their voices, come alive, speak truth with grace and wisdom and depth and per-son-al-it-y! I have watched young men alter their educational careers and vocations to be fully devoted to this work. I have experienced the sacrifices of others. I have watched resistance melt into acceptance and become the fire that lights a new path. I have seen guilt and shame morph into anger and passion for making America better. I sometimes witness the ugliness of humanity, but I've also experienced its wondrous beauty.

So, today, I celebrate.