Advice for a White Lady Who Wants to Make Black Friends


Welcome to Friendzone, Jezebel’s column devoted to dealing with the valuable people in your life. Got an issue and looking for guidance? Email [email protected].

I’m a white woman in my early twenties and I live in a town where 85% of the residents are white. I value diversity in society and I’d like to meet more people who are not white. Will I just come across as looking for a token black friend? Are my interests (hiking, independent films, craft beer, live music) just too white? I’m uncomfortable just asking myself, “Well, what kinds of things do black people like to do?” because I don’t want to stereotype.

Before anybody freaks out and calls you a tokenistic racist who needs to check her ecru privilege at the door, I have to say that I think you’re coming from a good place.

That said…

From what I can tell, black people love hiking and independent films and craft beer and live music. Also, black people hate hiking and independent films and craft beer and live music. Also, black people are ambivalent about hiking and independent films and craft beer and live music. This is because, as you know, black people are not a uniform group. They are people, which is to say persons, which is to say a collection of individuals who’ve been grouped under one giant label because we are humans and we are fond of easy categories.

Because I am an intrepid investigative advice columnist who is admittedly not a black person, I asked my friend for assistance on this one. He is an expert in the art and science of being black.

Baratunde Thurston, genius comedian and author of “How to Be Black,” said, “The raw/sad truth is that we live in a very, very segregated society when it comes to housing, work, school, church…Friendship is an outcome of circumstances. She will likely have to change her circumstances to encounter new people who will end up being attracted to her for the lovely person she is and vice versa.”

He added, “Or she could just search Facebook for people in her town and click ‘add friend’ on black and brown faces. Results may vary.” He and I both think you should probably not actually try this one, but hey, you never know.

Baratunde pointed me toward a couple of other dudes who had a lot to say about your question.

Christian Lander, the hilarious man behind Stuff White People Like (and the book based on it) joked, “I mean, I live for the day when a black person will pat me on the back and say ‘you’re one of the good ones’ (it hasn’t happened yet).” On a more serious note, he added, “But when skin color is [more] important to the friendship than shared interests, then you won’t ever really have a friend.”

The brilliant Tanner Colby, author of the acclaimed book “Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America,” (as well as the official Chris Farley bio, which will make you cry) has basically spent years studying your very situation. And he had some advice for you to potentially apply in your future years: “If she has children or plans to have children, don’t worry about making magical black friends…but do be aware of what schools and activities and residential areas you put your kids in. True, meaningful racial progress is generational. It takes a long time, and it works best when it’s organic. Expose your children to the new multiracial America and raise them to understand that as the new normal. That’s the most useful thing any of us can do.”

I find it absolutely impossible to get to know people. I always work in very small offices with people far older than I am. When I get involved in volunteering or other activities, I find the other people (generally women) to be interesting, but I lack the social skills that allow me to talk to them and get to know them. And even if I do, I find it impossible to turn that into a friendship. The friends I do have are either from childhood or my boyfriend’s friends whom I have adopted as my own. I feel like such a loser. Please help. I’m getting to be so lonely.

Your email tugged at the strings of my weird little heart. And I think you’re being harder on yourself than is necessary. If you’ve connected with a lover and have kept pals from childhood, you clearly know how to get close to other human beings! You may just be shy. And this is why my suggestion may seem terrifying: you need to put yourself out there more. Join a softball league. Embrace the evil cult that is Reebok Crossfit. Start going to church or another place where bloody Bronze Age fairy tales and magical wine are served up in equal measure. Start with small talk during a break in whatever activity you choose. See if you vibe with anyone. You’re obviously awesome, hardworking and smart, so I think you’ll find at least one really cool friend.

I’ve been in a relationship with my significant other for over 3 years. I have a long personal history of depression but I have always been strong enough to pull through. Now my boyfriend has been down for several months. If I say something he gets worse; if I don’t say something he gets worse. I’m at my wits end. I can’t take care of myself and take care of him. What do I do? He refuses to get help.

Let’s first cast the idea of “strong enough” out the window. Depression is an illness with a biological basis (and, of course, that pesky “nurture” aspect). It’s not helpful to judge whether or not somebody is “strong enough” to get better. Depression is treatable. Your boyfriend will have to make an effort to get better, of course, just as a diabetic has to maintain his or her diet and insulin regimen. But it’s not about being stronger or weaker. That said, I do congratulate you on your personal success in managing this shitty disorder.

I’ve dealt with depression – sometimes including obsessive suicidal thoughts – since I was about 14 years old. I talk about it onstage (because nothing is so hilarious as a comedian cracking jokes about suicidal ideation.) I speak about it at colleges. I wrote a book about it. I take a fuckload of drugs. But I’m not a licensed expert (licensed experts don’t generally use the term “fuckload” in public). And what you need in this case is to bring in the big ammo: a respected psychiatrist or psychologist who comes recommended by people you know (or hell, by Yelp.)

But first, repeat after me: “My job is to take care of myself first.” If his illness is strongly impacting your life in a negative fashion, it’s time to make some changes – not necessarily a breakup, mind you. Ask an expert how you can best take care of yourself during this time. Ask how you should approach your boyfriend about seeking helpKeep asking questions until you are able to form an action plan. Don’t act hastily. Consider your options carefully.

It is very difficult to be with someone who is in the throes of a difficult illness of any kind. Remember to go out with friends, watch funny movies or TV, read good books, get exercise, sleep, drink plenty of water, eat right, and all that other stuff. No martyr shit. You’re not running for sainthood here. And if in the end he refuses to get help, you are not required or obligated to stay with him. Nor are you weak for “abandoning” him. He is ultimately responsible for following a treatment plan. You can help motivate him and encourage him, but you can’t force him to take the pills or go to the appointments or do his daily cardio or sit down for his morning meditation or whatever ends up being his recipe for success.

I wish you the best of luck.

Image by auremar/Shutterstock.

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