My only Black friend is my sister.
From ages 3-18, I was surrounded by the few members of my own Black family, and the 2,000 white people of my very small town in Colorado. I learned how to “speak white,” how to make white people comfortable, how to endure the constant stares when slavery was the first thing taught about Black people’s history, and how to properly assimilate, because for over ten years of my school and social life, I had no other choice.
I liked the things my classmates liked: clothes, celebrities, music, sports. The way I made friends was the way everyone does, by bonding over shared interests. These friendships lasted for years, some from kindergarten to present day. Eventually, we graduated, went our separate ways, and I figured college would be a fresh start. Though the percentage of Black students at my university was small, it was still way more than in my town. Instantly, I made new best friends.
And my new best friends, seven of eight, are white.
I love every single one of them to death, but every now and then, I wonder where I fit in: my experiences, my preferences, my dialect…. and my skin. I wonder from time to time if I’m “whitewashed.” I listen to rock as much as hip hop. I don’t have those universal Black memories everyone seems to share.
It hit hard when I came to realize that I make friends easier with white people, because I understand them better than people in my own race. When I tried to tell myself friendship has no color, I realized I was trying to play colorblind. Not anymore.
Being around white people for so long made for nothing but a long trial and error period for 14 years of my life: what not to talk about, what music not to play in the car, what ways to explain my “cultural” habits like my hair, etc.
The first time I ranted about white people to my white friends, I was sixteen, and it was about “all lives matter.” They were mostly quiet. I was prepared to go home and cry, preparing for my most important friendships to be broken. I remember feeling empty and scared and angry. They would never relate—and how could they? None of my white friends had heat damage from straightening their hair to fit in, they never felt ashamed to listen to their white music, they never had to wonder if a boy, even a boy of their own race, wouldn’t like them because of their skin color. I let it all out, piece by piece about how they would never understand. We could like the same things, do the same activities, and yet, they would always be more popular, get more attention and have more success. At sixteen, I did not recognize that as their “privileges,” but I did my best to explain.
A moment after my ranting, I was surprised to find that they fully agreed with me, so I kept going. The first time I expressed my cultural discomfort regarding being the odd one out, my friends actually tried to understand me, because they were my friends. My white friends, whom I loved dearly.
Even after that revelation, it took me until after my first year of college to realize that my choice of friends does not define my Blackness. That my true friends will stay true even when I talk to them about the dictation of whiteness on our society.
In conclusion, young Black girls, I understand you. For years, I felt as though I was not “Black enough” because of where I grew up, who I associated myself with and how that affected my experience with other Black people. There is not just one solution to feeling stuck, and I hope you continue to find and build upon your true selves, as I try to do.