(Disclaimer: The generalities described in this post do not necessarily reflect the variations of individual personalities and tendencies that exist in American culture. I am simply describing big picture observations as I have experienced them in my own life. Feel free to add your perspective in the comments!)
I’ve always had about as many white friends as I have black friends. I grew up with Cindy, Sue, and Mary, as well as Shay, NeeNee, and Setina.
I learned to navigate the juxtaposed worlds of constant discussion of weight and body image in one group with discussions on race and social politics in another. I’ve gone camping with one set of friends and to jazz clubs with another. I spent my summers beat-boxing (okay, trying to) and watching break-dancing competitions at a mostly African-American church camp, and my winters at predominately white schools. I was in the 9th grade before I entered a school that was thoroughly mixed. I think there are so many things we can learn from one another.
1. I appreciate the fact that being a black woman gives me the freedom to love my body. I’ll never forget my friend Jeanetta exclaiming, “I am so beautiful!” one evening over dinner. Black women tend to love their own curves, thick legs, or rotund backsides. While my white friends were hiding out until they lost another 10 lbs, many of my black friends were dating despite their overweight status. They squeezed themselves into pretty dresses and threw on heels and went out. They laughed and moved about despite their less than perfect bodies. This body positive quality would free many a celery-chomping white woman.
2. White women may cry more easily. They cry over movies, commercials, when others cry, and upon hearing a moving story. Black women do cry, just not as frequently as white women seem to-at least not publicly. Black women tend to value strength over vulnerability, because in our history and mindset, vulnerability can get you killed. However, we can learn from white women today. Vulnerability in a woman is a beautiful, precious thing. It enhances our femininity and even balances our power. This level of emoting is also healthy. We can release so much through our tears, so that we don’t fall back on other behaviors such as eating or depression. So, sisters, weep away!
3. Black women do what has to be done, and rarely complain about it. They raise children, often alone, using side hustles, extra jobs, and prayer. They speak out for total strangers and provide safe nurturing spaces for people in distress. I remember my neighbors providing housing for a young girl who had aged out of foster care and had nowhere to go. One woman provided a bed for her for several weeks while the girl waited to return to college. The other family provided mentoring and resources. My white friends tend to shrink back from entering places they deem “unsafe”, or places where people are poor, of color, urban. But they can learn from their black friends that these places are also full of wonderful, sweet people who sometimes need a helping hand or even just a smile.
4. White women tend to be more adventurous and free-spirited than black women. Many enjoy the outdoors, camp, hike, swim, climb mountains, or canoe down rivers. We black women could loosen up just a bit more, forget about our hair, let ourselves get in touch with nature, feel the power of our bodies, and move past our comfort zones. Recently I have noticed more and more black girls traveling and hiking together. This change is great and makes me happy. I tend to love these types of adventures, but when I do them with others, its often with a white friend in tow. We even make jokes about “white people” activities vs “black people” activities. In the dating scene, I’ve heard white men remark that though they find many black women attractive, they wish they could find more who are outdoorsy or sporty so they could do those types of activities with them…interesting.
5. Black women tell the truth and do the research. If a black woman doesn’t like you, chances are, well, you will eventually know about it. If they see an injustice, they will generally speak out about it. If they need a degree, they will sit in class and work toward it. I’ve noticed that white women sometimes simply don’t speak if what they have to say may ruffle a feather or disappoint someone. Or they will wait to speak until they are extremely emotional, when they will be less likely to be taken seriously. They can learn from black women to value their own perspective and to bring their whole selves to the table.
6. Educated white women tend to have more financial safety nets, which enable them to own homes, travel internationally, and start sustainable businesses. Now, I do have poor white friends, but statistics tell us that the average white household has 10x the wealth of the average black household in the U.S.
While standing in the new home of one of my single white girlfriends, I marveled at the palatial entryway, the chandelier in the walk-in closet, the relaxing pool out back, and her stories of recent trips to Paris, Branson, MO or Southern California. I loved hearing about her new business ventures as well, which she embarked on with the ease most of us employ in buying a car.
Now I do have black friends who travel, run businesses, and own homes of course, but I seem to have many more black friends who can barely pay for a $20 dinner. They seem to have taken poverty on as the norm for themselves. The reality is that money management and investing can be learned. Even though we may have begun our lives at a disadvantage, its up to us to change this and to live lives of financial freedom.
I leave you with this, cross-cultural friendships are wonderful ways to gain perspective on life and to expand your mind and heart. Everyone should make a couple friends who look a little different than them or who grew up in a really different way than they have.
You’ll be glad you did!