I have no black friends.
I just wanted to dive right in with that confession. It’s not that I never did have any or that I don’t have any black acquaintances. But if I were to pick up my phone right now and make plans this weekend with a friend – any friend – none of them would be black.
It wasn’t always this way. I was blessed between the ages of 11-19 to belong to a wonderful YMCA youth group where I spent countless hours with people of all different races, creeds, orientations, and identities. And we didn’t just play dodgeball or do arts and crafts – we spent hours in deep conversation ABOUT race, religion, social responsibility, and a host of other important topics. I’ve lost touch with those friends, although through the power of Facebook I’ve been able to congratulate them on their degrees, their careers, and their beautiful families.
But I got older, and my world became smaller. I went to a predominately white college. I worked for predominately white companies. Now I’m self employed and I have exactly ZERO coworkers or colleagues that I see more than once a year. It’s not that I’ve become completely myopic, it’s just that there is less to see in my field of vision entirely. Was that my fault? Totally. Could I have chosen a different school, or tried to work for a different company? Absolutely. But the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? And my problem is that it gets much more difficult to make and keep friends the older that you get, and the ones I’ve made or kept seem to all be white.
I recently read an article that Philadelphia has a huge problem with the number of youth (age 16-24) who are both not in school and not employed. They found that this problem was most prevalent in cities that were largely segregated. I certainly can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, but I am a white person living in a city that has as many black people as white people and I have no black friends.
So when HORRIBLE FUCKING TRAGEDIES like (insert recent horrible, racially motivated tragedy) happen, I want to do something but I have no idea where to begin.
Let me make an analogy. If my neighbor’s house burned down in a fire, I would want to do something. I acknowledge that my neighbor is the victim of the fire, not me. And the first responders are primarily responsible for actually SAVING my neighbor. So I might organize a bake sale to raise money or I may bring over a collection of blankets and canned goods, but unless I know for certain that my neighbor NEEDS money, blankets, or canned goods, I’m just doing something for the sake of doing SOMETHING. It’s not my house and I’m not the one who can put the fire out.
I want to do SOMETHING, but I don’t know what to do. And I realized that I don’t have a single black friend who I could turn to and say “Hey, do you NEED blankets and canned goods, or something else?”
I would imagine that there are other people like me. People who understand – at a fundamental level – that all humans are created equal. People who understand that the racial divide in this country is deep and will not go away without effort on the part of the citizens who enjoy unparalleled white privilege. And people who – for one reason or the other – live a very whitewashed life and either run the risk of trying to be the “white savior” or just end up doing nothing at all. So while it might be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for me to take stock of things and admit that I have unintentionally self-segregated my life, it’s even more uncomfortable to keep my mouth shut and continue to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.
So here’s the punchline. Fuck it. Did I literally tag every black friend I had on Facebook when I published this post? Yes. Why? Because I am opening up – not just my heart – but my house. Let’s get drinks. Or catch up on the phone. Or just consider this an open invitation to tell me what I can actually do to help. Maybe we can host a book club at my house or organize a collection for the Emanuel A.M.E. Church. I don’t know what I can do, but sitting by and sharing articles in solidarity on Facebook doesn’t cut it anymore. I don’t want a pat on the back or an electronic “thumbs up,” I want a To Do list.