In an attempt to make new friends and generally be open and accepting to other people in my young adult life, I have extended the hand of companionship to the white women who are my peers, despite the initial feeling of skepticism and cautiousness that almost automatically accompanies any sort of interaction with white people. As much as I have struggled with my own evolving feelings about white people (from being best friends with them as a child to gradually growing farther apart due to the inevitable racial divide), I still make a concerted attempt not to let any of that cloud my openness when meeting new, unique individuals. It is a hard thing to do when so many interactions turn out predictably disappointing, but what is the point of us suffering from the effects of racial discrimination if we cannot learn from it? (Hint: there is no point to suffering from racism). So in an attempt to still follow anti-racist virtues of acceptance and “tolerance,” I open my heart, to white girls.
And at first it can seem okay. I grew up around white people and whiteness is ubiquitous enough in my culture (American culture) for me to know how to connect with them even if I hadn’t. Especially when we interact on those nights out, those nights where everyone is looking to let loose and have a great time, the connection can seem as if I am right back at my elementary school, giggling about boys to a girl whose race is the last thing on my mind: a Barbie to my Christie doll. The connections made on nights with substances can seem downright preordained – all the facades come down and it is straight friends friends friends, and there is nothing like women’s friendship.
Which is why it can be so disconcerting when those connections never seem to make it past the initial spark of camaraderie, like pushing tomatoes through a sieve and all the pulpy bits stay behind while the juice is left wondering like, wtf? In my experience it is hard for white women to get past that initial bit, the part where you go from acquaintances who really like each other to real, actual friends. See real actual friends are people with whom your relationship is mutual; you hold my hair and I’ll hold yours. True friends are interested in knowing about your life, what you’re feeling anxious about and what excites you. True friends can expect that you will listen to them rant about their new boss but also can be counted on to return the favor.
I know white women have the ability to be true friends, so what stops them when it comes to us black women? Maybe it is the stereotype that black women are strong, therefore why would we ever need a shoulder to cry on? Maybe it is the expectation that we will give tough, “no-nonsense” advice, so come to me with all your problems, I’ll tell it to you straight! Maybe it is that white women hold a certain level of uneasiness with black women’s emotions, because once we’re angry nothing can stand in our way, right? Whatever it is rooted in, it has got to stop, because not only is it perpetuating same old racism, but it is also preventing any true solidarity between women, keeping us the proletariat to the ruling powers of men.
See white women do this thing where they don’t ask us any questions about our own lives. It is almost so unbelievable as to not be believable, but even in friendships that have had longevity and supposed depth I have realized, oh this b only wants to talk about her damn self! I have been sista-girled enough times to realize that even in the friendships that look and feel genuine, the level of understanding and concern returned to me by my white gal pals pales in comparison to what they take and expect from me. The moment you stop yourself from sharing your distress about some recent racist current event, the moment your “homegirl” relents about how she could NEVER go to jail – those are the moments that make you think: Can I really be myself around this individual?
It is not only that white girls seem so unwilling to give the support that black women need, it is also that perhaps they cannot; they don’t know how and are afraid to even enter into that territory, lest their delicate white fragility be challenged by the realities of our lives. And then let’s add to the mix men and constructed female competitiveness, and you can see who your real friends are, really really quickly. Perhaps you are nice to have around because their white boyfriends will presumably never find you attractive (you’re safe). Perhaps they will never want you around their “man” in case he has a case of chocolate fever. Bottom line is: white girl envy very much exists within faux friendships.
The most disappointing part is that, it becomes such a waste of invested energy. I don’t extend an olive branch to just any white girl, but when I do it is meaningful. It is me saying: regardless of the legacy of racism and how it could potentially make it impossible for us to ever find common ground (despite the fact that we are women), I am willing to give it a try; I am willing to weather the ignorance and lack of understanding you probably have about my experiences to forge a friendship with you, to enjoy the company of another despite the difficulties. And then when that woman tries to take the whole damn tree and even thinks that she is slick because of her casual racism, it becomes more and more discouraging to want to keep offering damn olive branches.
So white girls, here’s a note to you from a fellow woman, who is black. We are no different than you; we are not your saviors, your sista girl, your go-to pick-me-up to feel alive and sassy (cause white people always be feeling cool when they get to be involved in “black people stuff”), the Jennifer Hudson to your Carrie. While I am happy to share any of my black girl magic deep love vibes with the people I care about, you have to do your part too, to show you care, and to show that even if you don’t “get it” you are willing to try. The quality of our friendships, particularly over racial lines, can be such a powerful source for a broader mind, deeper understanding, and most importantly, a haven of solidarity against the forces of sexism that deeply oppress us.
In my phone I have the number of a white girl I made a wonderful connection with the other night. I’m still deciding on whether or not to call her. Make the first move, ladies. Show us that you are genuine. We are people too, and if you manage to see that clearly, the rewards to our friendships will know no limits.